Neville checked his watch. It was still light out at eight o’clock on a February evening, although the sun had gone behind the mountain a time ago. In the distance Table Mountain was a slab of black stone carved into a sky slowly darkening from blue to purple.
He made his way down Lemon Road. On the wall of the next block down, Orchid Court, he saw something that made him stop in his tracks. An American flag had been painted on the wall flanking the pavement. The wall was stained dark from the fires the young men guarding the flag kept going through night. The strong smell of piss on the walls was proof that they never left their posts. There were three young men on duty tonight, squatting with their backs against the flag, their backsides hovering above the grey sand.
Although he walked past Orchid Court every weekday on his way to the taxi rank, Neville saw for the first time that someone had attacked the flag with a thick paintbrush and black paint. The letters JFK were evenly spaced across the stars and the stripes. It meant nothing to him, but he was sure it meant something to the Americans, who had marked Orchid Court as their turf.
Neville stared at the wall and hoped there wouldn’t be trouble. Children often got hit in the gangsters’ crossfire. Their grieving parents always said the same thing afterwards: “He was just going to the shop. He was just going to buy bread.” It was time to keep a close eye on his children, specially Anthony who was getting to that difficult age. Thirteen-year-old boys never listened; they always thought they knew
better than everyone.
He reached the park; shards of broken glass, scattered across the grey sandy field, glittered in the last of the sunlight. Grass tried and failed to grow in patches of litter at the edges. The park had a set of swings, a metal climbing frame and a roundabout. It wasn’t much, but it kept the children off the streets.
He spotted Anthony playing soccer on the field with five other boys. Four of them were still in their school uniforms. Their school bags were the goalposts; they probably hadn’t been home since they left for school that morning. Anthony had been home for supper; he had left to play outside seconds after he cleaned his plate.
He was about to call his boy over when he heard a mighty crash. Neville’s head swivelled towards a group of young men circling the roundabout. A concrete kerbstone lay on top of the shattered wooden floor of one of its sections. One of the youngsters had another slab lifted above his head, his T-shirt riding up his skinny torso as his arms
strained to hold the weight.
”Hey, you!” Neville shouted. “What you think you doing?”
The boy holding the slab turned towards him, gave him a dark look, faced the roundabout and smashed the slab through its floor. Neville ran towards him. “Hey, stop it! Stop right now! Are you out of your mind?”
The skinny boy split off from the group as Neville came close “What the fok is got to do with you what we doing, timer? Does this fokken place belong to you, huh? Fok off.”
Neville tried not to show his panic as the six young men drew close and made a semicircle around him. He lifted his hands, palms facing front, and spoke in a slow, even voice.
”This park belongs to all of us. We get little enough from the council for our children. The least we can do is look after what we got.”
“Fok the council. Give your laaities to me, Ougat will show them a good time. You got any girls?” The young man grabbed his crotch and cackled. His friends laughed in tune.
So this was Ougat. Neville had heard a lot about him, from the neighbours. He had been released from Pollsmoor Prison a few months back; he had finally made the big time after two spells in the Ottery School for Juvenile Offenders. Neville heard that Ougat had caught the eye of a gang general in prison. Some said he was the general’s wife. There was also a story going around that he had stabbed a prisoner who tried to make him a wife in the showers; and the general was impressed with the way he took a life.
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Neville was surprised at how small Ougat was, and how young. He must be older than eighteen if he served time in Pollsmoor, although with his baby face he could pass for fifteen. The boy was short; his closely shaven head barely touched Neville’s shoulder. But dynamite came in small packages and the youngster looked ready to explode. His eyes were bulging in his head like the small, ugly dog in the Hendricks’s flat downstairs.
Neville wasn’t taking any chances with the kortgat gangster; he tried to make the peace.
“Look, I don’t want any trouble. All I’m saying is think about the children who use this park. What must they do now?”
Ougat leaned forward and pushed his face into Neville’s. The two gold teeth flanking the gap in his mouth where his four front teeth were missing gleamed in the last of the twilight. “I can take care of the laaities, moenie worry nie. This here is Ougat’s turf and he got a lot to offer, you know mos?”
Neville couldn’t make out what Ougat was saying. The other young men were nodding their heads in agreement and one reached out and shared a complicated hand-slap with Ougat that looked like congratulations for wise words. He tried again to stop the boys from wrecking the park. “Just think of the children. Some of us are trying to raise our children decent, and it’s hard enough in a place like this.”
Ougat’s eyes swelled in his face “You saying Ougat is not decent? Is that what you fokken saying, you naaier? You can’t come here and talk such kak to me. Nooit, my man.”
The semicircle of young men took a few steps forward. Neville started to sweat. What had he started here? How did it get out of hand so quickly? He couldn’t see a weapon in Ougat’s hand but he was sure there was one nearby.
“Dedda? What’s going on Dedda?”
Anthony and his friends had abandoned their soccer game and came to stand next to him. Neville drew his boy close and put an arm around his shoulder, smiling and hoping he was hiding how poepscared he was.
“Is okay, Anthony. I was just leaving. Isn’t that so?” Neville looked up at Ougat hopefully.
© Rehana Rossouw
About the book
In What Will People Say? a rich variety of township characters—the preachers, the teachers, the gangsters and the defeated—come to life in vivid language as they eke out their lives in the shadows of gray concrete blocks of flats. It is the story of the Fourie family, residents of Hanover Park in the Cape Flats during the height of the struggle era. Which members of the Fourie family will thrive, which ones will not survive? Generously spiced with Cape Flats slang, the novel features vivid and gritty descriptions of the difficult issues faced by those living in this marginalized and disadvantaged community.
- Rehana Rossouw was born on the 21 March 1964 in Cape Town.
- She has a son called Jihad.
- After being accepted into Rhodes University she was declined residence due to apartheid law.
- Rossouw then went on to study law at the University of Cape Town but dropped out after two years.
- However, it was at UCT, that she started her journalism career. She joined a community newspaper called Grassroots through a youth organization and it was at the age of 17 that her first article got published.
- It was also with the paper that she was involved in the political struggle.
- Her involvement in workshops and having the mentorship of famous journalists she looked up to, was what allowed her to gain most of her expertise.
- It was only in 1985 that she enrolled into what was formerly known as Peninsula Technikon to study journalism.
- Rossouw was extensively involved in alternative left-wing community media in the Cape Flats during the 1980s and started her first full-time professional job as a journalist in 1986.
- From this auspicious start as the deputy editor of South newspaper which alongside The Weekly Mail and Vrye Weekbald challenged the old South African government, Rossouw has gone on to hold the following positions: managing editor and an assistant editor of Business Day newspaper, deputy editor of the Mail & Guardian newspaper and Rossouw is also a weekly columnist on social issues for The Weekender.
- Rehana has also written essays on journalism for South African publications such as Changing the Fourth Estate: Essays on South African Journalism, edited by A. Hadland, and Black, White and Grey: Ethics in South African Journalism, edited by F. Kruger.