Japapa: A Revolutionary Childhood

The phrase ‘young revolutionaries’ has never been so unadulterated before. I mean, how old were we? Ten? Yip, samuele daar! Four lil ghetto kids, revolutionary before even hearing the word.

The oldest is Jasta (henceforth referred to as Jastafari) or Masti as we used to call him ka Sejapapa. Being older and bigger (way bigger, at least two times bigger) Jastafari was naturally our leader, he led the prayers (yes, prayers) and everything, he was always first to get a sip of water and the first bite of whatever was to be bitten. He was almost always the best in everything: keti, topo, diali etc. A true leader, he led from the front, even when we had our lil episode with ugezi, fortunately nobody got injured. Bra Meshack used to call him Nduna, and that he was. Second in command was yours truly, I’d rather not mention my Sejapapa name. I’ll try not to go to great lengths blowing ma own vuvuzela, but if I did it would probably go sumin like ¤PUPUUPUPUUPU-SMART! PUUUUPUUPU-HANDSOME!¤ okay that’s enough for now ¤PUUUUPUUPU-TOP GOAL SCORER!¤ down boy! Eish harde, dilo tse ga di na maitseo waitse. Legale, no too far below me was Sdalingo, or Sdli for short. He was the speedometer of the bunch; the boy could run like a muthaf…Mpho! Oh, askies…He could like bitch in he…MPHO!…Okay ge, he could run really really fast. Very artistic and creative, an asset in any team. Not too far below him was Phaks, or Rradiplastic, coz the boy had a talent for making balls out of plastic Addidas would be proud of. He was our ace on the field, he’d dribble the shi…Mpho we…What? I was gonna say shirt…He’d dribble the SHIRT out of you, that’s if you were not playing for Dikgopo United of course. He held his own ka topo; he’d drive it about 100 meters in a matter of minutes, with about four other guys trying to counter him. He wasn’t too bad either mo keting, methinks he was the closest rival to Jastafari. Although there was a hierarchy, Japapa was a relatively egalitarian organization. We were all equal (of course I was more equal than the rest ¤PUUUU!¤). There it is, the four original and only Majapapa. I know someone is going ‘mxm’ at this stage pretending he doesn’t give a shi…a shiRt for being excluded from this fantastic four, I KNOW U GIVE A SHIrT NIGGA! But you know I got nuthin but love for u man, u just didn’t make the cut, harde, shiRt happens…

What made Majapapa so special was the sense of brotherhood and communalism, we did everything together, shared everything equally, even korobela ya korobela. When one was sent on an errand, he’d round up all the others to accompany him. We were not, however, exclusive. We just didn’t regard the others as bona fide Majapapa coz they didn’t display the Japapa traits unfailingly; that is, lack of self, Mojapapa never had a ball, WE had a ball, Mojapapa never had R1, WE had R1. Something so basic and simple for the four of us seemed alien to most. Hence we called them Majarice. There was one a fifth member, but he was more of an honorary member because being older than us he was never around much to partake in our daily exploits. Daily attendance was mighty important to us. What makes him so special and the reason he ranks so high is because he, together with Jastafari, developed the Sejapapa language. Interestingly enough, only he, Jastafari and I had Sejapapa lingo names. His was the only original, ours were just translations to Sejapapa. Sadly, Mmana Mmanisto is no longer of this world; he died a heroic death saving a toddler from eminent death.

But what makes a bunch of kids revolutionary? Well, let’s first paint a picture of our neighborhood. We lived in a middle-to-upper class neighborhood, all four of us were from working-class blue collar families. Most of the people were either teachers, nurses, policePERSONS (how’s that for PC) and taxi owners. That, in the 90s and to this very day is the crème de la crème of the township (wack neh?). Considering that it was a young neighborhood (we were among the first inhabitants and my lil bro was the first born child there ¤PUUUU!¤) with young parents who came from difficult times, they where hell-bent on ensuring gore their children don’t ‘suffer’. And seemingly to them that meant spoiling them rotten. Maybe our parents wanted to do the same but couldn’t. So there were a lot of spoiled brats, I love them but spoilt they were. The kinda kids that would make u run behind them riding a bicycle with a promise of a ride only to tell u gore bicycle e ‘kgathetse’. So there was a lil class struggle even at this early stage. All four of us seemingly had a ‘modidi oo mabela’ attitude, or maybe instilled it into each other. We were certainly nobody’s punk. But somehow we had to survive coz we were a minority. So we developed our own way of living different from the materialism and individualism of our peers. And given that Sekgoa ga se tsoge, we came up with our own language so that we wouldn’t be the only ones left out of conversations. Of course at the time all this happened naturally and there wasn’t much theory behind it.

We were the embodiment of self-determination; we even decided what is funny. If you were not Mojapapa and dissed one of us with a killer diss that would generally have people in stitches we would ignore it, and one of us would say something stupid like ‘o apara jersey mare ho a bata’ and we’d crack up like we were high on laughing gas. We found strength not in numbers but in unity. We didn’t eat the most Simba chips but because we worked together he had the most Pokémon tazos. Because re ne re le seoposengwe and the rest were just spoilt individuals and their hangons, we managed to run that hood. We initiated most things, we had the most the most fun and generally whatever shiRt happened 90% of the time we were to blame. (And of course the ladyz were all over me ¤PUUUUPUUU!¤). Like I said we were nobody’s punks, matter-of-fact we had our own punks. My lil bro chief among them, Mimo he was called, he could run like a u-know-what so naturally he was our resident ‘stir-boy’.

Danger ingozi
Ya mathambo!
Ingozi
Ya mathambo!
Danger ngozi ya mathambo

Danger ke kotsi
Ya masapo!
Ke kotsi
Ya masapo!
Danger kotsi ya masapo
That was our one and only hymn. We sang accompanied by a march that was in rhythm with the song. Of course, Jastafari led it or a high ranking member if he was not available. It wasn’t just sung mo spacing; it was part of our daily ritual. It was inspired by the skull and cross bone danger sign (“Danger. Ingozi. Gevaar”) on electricity transformers/transmitters whatever they are called, we call them ‘danger’. There was one such ‘danger’ in our neighborhood, conveniently placed on our way to the shops, so every time we passed (which was very often) we paid homage to our ‘danger.’ We paid homage to other skull and bone ‘dangers’ wherever we came across them, but we shunned the ‘dangers’ with the electricity current/lightning danger signs because ke tsa Majarice.
We would march in a straight line as per rank towards ‘danger’ singing the hymn wholeheartedly, on reaching it we would all stand straight facing ‘danger’, make the skull and cross bone sign then say in unison: “Danger. Ingozi ya mathambo.” That, ladies and gentlepersons, was our prayer. After which we would march past ‘danger’ in song. There were variations to the ritual, sometimes we would not sing the hymn out loud but just listen to our feet as we marched to the rhythm of the hymn playing in our hearts. If we had money notes, we would tear off a lil piece and offer it to ‘danger’ after the prayer, or give ‘danger’ a piece of whatever food we had. Because ‘danger’, like any other deity, had to eat and needed some money. Fortunately for us though, unlike His more famous counterpart, ‘danger’ did not demand ten percent. He was kind like that. Someone, I have my suspicions, decided to dorn our ‘danger’ with a golden map of Afrika. But to us it was no train smash, all it did was to alter our prayer: “Danger. Ingozi ya mathambo. Na se Afrika.” A little pan-Afrikanism seeping in perhaps? Legale, we had our own quasi-religion, complete with its rituals and shirt. How gangster is that?

“Aichu…Aichu…Aichu ya Mojapapa. Japapa!”
One of the earlier songs of Majapapa, it was my then-baby cousin’s favorite mainly because of its funny dance. I don’t know why, but I have this urge to credit Mmana Mmanisto with this one, but given their equal craziness, Jastafari is also a strong contender. I will not fancy a guess on who penned the hymn, that would be blasphemous. But between the hymn, ‘Aichu ya Mojapapa’ and ‘Sekgalekgale’ lies the first song of Majapapa.

“Sekgalekgale…Sekgalekgale…Sekgalekgale re ne re dumedisana.”
That was my brainchild, my only contribution to the Sejapapa song archives. This one was created, like all of them, as a spur of the moment thing. I wanted, for some unknown reason, to distribute peanuts (I think) unnoticed. So I gave each person his share on the pretext of go mo dumedisa by shaking his hand, with the song to boot. Looking at the words of this song now, and given my yearning (a sometimes dangerous romantic yearning) for the old life, the old unbastardised Afrikan lifestyle, when we didn’t just greet each other, but loved and cared for each other and determined our own destiny as a people, I realize that the seed was long planted before I became ‘conscious’ of these and other issues.

“Madiba style! Dontsi do do…Madiba style! Dontsi do do…”
Long before Winnie whined to the British press, we knew that Madiba o tlo re dontsa (cut us out). I mean it was all in the dance, the ‘Madiba Style’, an elbow sticking out meant only one thing and that was ‘ka go tima’. And it still does to this very day, think Spikiri’s ‘Current’, that is what an elbow sticking out means. It’s a nationally recognized sign. And Tata did with both elbows, which meant double current. See? Kids see things adults don’t, even when they are obvious. This song wasn’t an original Japapa song, but it was among the favorites. It was accompanied by the Madiba dance, but a bit faster paced.

“Maburu….Tswang mo tseleng…Maburu…Tswang mo tseleng.”
No it’s not Julius’ latest release, its straight from the archives of Majapapa. Mimo’s brainchild. We were playing our many games, not just Majapapa but most of the hood. Mimo was our designated ‘radio’. And this is what he blurted out. What would make a 7 year old sing something like this I don’t know, but he did. And as Majapapa we sang it to-come-nice. It is more of a chant. The lead would shout ‘Maburu!’ and the rest would follow ‘Tswang mo tseleng’. Question I would pose at this moment is ‘a Maburu ba dule na mo tseleng ya rona?’ I think not, them are still blocking us from true liberation, them and a many other parties of all races who have a vested interest in the status quo. So the song still needs to be sung, only now it will not be directed only to Maburu.

There. We were four lil ghetto kids who changed the way we looked at society, friendship, language and even religion. All this we did without much thought to it, it was all on instinct and out of the need for fun. We were just doing our very best to survive, and I am glad to report that we didn’t adapt to the situation but adapted the situation to us, thus I say with confidence that our best was good enough in the end. We lived (and still live) in a world where the affluent call the shots, but we refused to dance their tune but played our own tune and even managed to make them dance to it sometimes, but that was never our intention. I think what drove us most was that pride in self, that pride that wouldn’t let us be reduced to ‘hangons’ of the more affluent kids for some petty material benefits. I hope that pride never dies. And ja, almost forgot…FEEL IT! ITZ HERE…

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