The People Shall Smell

From the vantage point provided by the high-raised veranda overlooking the lake, he could barely make out the image of the children chattering away excitedly as only innocent souls can in the far distance. What his diminishing eyesight and non-sonic hearing denied him was that an argument proportional only to revolutionary warfare itself (at least in the minds of the young ones) had ensued amongst them. It had been a long day, and though he loved having them around – a weekend was too much for a man well past his capitalist retirement age. He smiled at the thought that the little ones would never know anything about retirement age apart from textbooks. Surely this is what the years of struggle were for. He was about to give in to a short dose of temporary death with those thoughts lingering in his mind when he thought he saw the group of children heading his way, still animated in their arguments. But that usually happens when he squints eyes; seeing a bit clearer and objects moving a bit closer. Pity it always gives him a headache, otherwise he would have kept his eyes permanently ajar. He allowed himself to slowly descend into his famous rocking chair afternoon nap.

Hare!” a girl shrieked as she was being pulled by the shirt by a boy who kept repeating how much of a liar she was. The rest were just spectators by the look of things. The two protagonists had clearly come for the whitehead’s counsel; vindication rather, as they both seemed committed to their convictions. He on the hand regretted not seeing this coming, or rather refusing to see it coming. In his youth he struggled to sleep, due to energy of youth or stress caused by the hellish reality that was life, or a combination of both, so naturally he hated being woken up. Though in his old age he fell asleep at will, due to the weariness of age or fulfilment of his generational mission, or a combination of both, he still harboured a deep seated resentment for anything that so much as dared disturb his sleep. But he was supposed to be minding the children either way, so he had no recourse but to offer them his full attention.

“Sankara!” he chided the boy for calling his older sister a liar. He tried to protest but caught himself mid-stream. He usually lost this argument. In fact he always lost it. It was not so much that the word was forbidden, just that he had been taught to never attach a label to anyone without having evidence to back it up. This how the revolution was almost lost, his grandfather would always recall. To him, every abhorrent behaviour was how the revolution was almost lost.

“We should always learn from the past,” these words usually kick-started another lecture of how the lessons of revolution should guide our daily lives. “Everybody was labelling everybody,” he relayed the story with vigour: No one was beyond the labels. Some had multiple contradictory labels. You could even be labelled for not partaking in the labelling orgy. Gratuitous violence. More often than not there wasn’t much behind these labels. All that had to happen was that one would label you whatever, nit-pick and thumb-suck whatever proof she needed and present it in a convincing argument. And the rest would just follow suit. The accused only needed a better counter-argument to disabuse oneself from the label, this would be helped greatly by attaching a label to his accuser(s). It was a matter of who had a better argument. Not facts. “Comrades would fall out based on these arguments, and some still harbour great resentment to this very day.”

“We had a stack of sticky labelling cards, we would just wait for someone to say something, and before we could even try to understand, SHEW! off went the card!” He said as he demonstrated a card being thrown at a fast pace, much to the amusement of the young ones. “And PLA! it would land right on the forehead.” He hit his forehead so hard the kids would all shout ouch.

“Reactionary!” he continued his demonstration drawing the imaginary cards from his hand and throwing them at each of his audience – those who were accustomed to the game would hit their foreheads with their hands to demonstrate that it had landed.

PLA! Misogynist! Backward! Charterist! Liberal! Malamogodist! Skhothane! Quack! Anti-black! Philander! PLA!” He would continue with the game until everyone in the audience had a unique label, there were always as many labels as there were people. In his best-selling memoirs he had listed the most popular 100 and explained what each meant and who was considered the leader in that label.

“Some of it stuck,” he would calm down his audience. Not because the argument was too good to be countered, but because it was true. Some in trying to defend themselves against these labels, actually ended up proving themselves to be what they were labelled as. Some in labelling others, proved themselves to be whatever it is they labelled others. Sometimes they revealed themselves as something just as despicable as the label thrown at them or that they had thrown. As destructive as it was – it severed relationships amongst comrades, it repelled potential comrades, it caused mistrust and disunity within the revolutionary movement, it hampered the work that needed to be done, and we cannot promise that some have not lost their lives due to such libel – it had some positive impact. Its first victory was exposing posers – those who were in the movement but were not prepared for revolution, who could not even stand the heat of labels. It was generally agreed that anyone who left the movement due to such, was just waiting for their ‘get out of jail free’ ticket. Another important positive was that it helped iron out contradictions and sharpen the political line. “All’s well that ends well.”

On this particular day though, he chose to spare the young ones the lecture; there was a serious matter to be attended to.

Banaake, what seems to be the problem?” he continued once the boy had stopped labelling his sister a liar. Both seemed to hesitate, all looked to the boy to lay out his accusations. He didn’t oblige. So the sister decided to take initiative but the old man was having none of it. “Wait a while Nehanda, let your brother lay his,” he said much to the chagrin of the young girl. “Ee hare,” she succumbed to the whitehead’s counsel.

Hare,” the boy started “Nehanda says that in South Africa people didn’t have noses, and couldn’t smell, and had nowhere to sleep and lived in tins with rats and they ate curry that was too hot and the curry burnt the tins and they didn’t know because they couldn’t smell the smoke and the fire cooked everybody but not the rats because the rats run faster and then…” he continued without so much as a pause, but didn’t seem to run out of air. The story got more bizarre with every ‘and’, amusing both the audience and the accused. The old man suppressed his amusement behind his stern solemn face. It was always a treat to hear the young ones talk of South Africa as one would of a horrific legend. Well, it was a legend for them.

The girl just stood there with a satisfied smirk on her face. She caught her grandfather looking at her with a smile, he shook his head and she her shoulders. Basically confessing; ‘I couldn’t resist’. She had really gone to town on this one. The boy, like all healthy Azanian children, had an active imagination. Coupled with ignorance of childhood, he proved to be an entertaining playing field for her. She was only two years into elementary history, and had read her grandfather’s memoir cover to cover. Whatever she learnt she relayed, with a good dose of the spectacular, to her younger brother. Much like her grandfather she had the gift of the gab.

“Nehanda,” the whitehead turned to the accused to plead her case. She vehemently denied her brother’s exaggerated version. “What is yours then?” the old man was already readying himself for a tale and a half. The teen cleared her throat and relayed it exactly as she had done to the rest of the grandchildren a few moments ago by the lake, even adding voiceovers – the one thing that made her a better storyteller than her grandfather:

There gathered the broad masses of our people, in their kaleidoscope of colours – each having nailed their colours to the mast. The communists in their red, liberals in their blue, nationalists in the yellow, and Africanists green. Not with envy. No not this time; the masses were yet to develop the skill for envy. They could not have; for they could not as yet smell the coffee. There was general euphoria, it was an era of dreams. Dangerous, dangerous dreams. For a new world. A fresh paradigm. So patiently they queued. For their noses. Given to everyone for free. Some chose theirs; some took whatever was available.

“I remember my first nose vividly. There was a sheet of paper with all different noses on it. All one had to do was place an X next to your preferred one. If you didn’t you’d be given one in any case.”

The mood was that of exuberance. Many of the broad masses of our people had been denied noses for far too long. Now it was their turn to smell. The privileged few who always had noses were a bit worried about what the masses would do with their noses. They worried even though they knew their leaders had had some hand in curating the noses available for selection. Those noses that could not be tempered with they had worked hard to discourage the masses from picking them.

“My nose in the first period only picked up the sweetest of scents. I was so happy; everything smelled like a rainbow. A kaleidoscope of scents, united in diversity. It was so wonderful.”

As predicted the masses in their numbers chose the rosiest of noses; the one that the givers of noses had been surreptitiously nudging them towards. It was a joyous affairs, those who’d chosen other noses felt left out as all they could smell was repugnant. Some thought something was the matter with their nose. And quickly jumped ship, floor crossing to the side where the coffee smelt delectable and enticing. Coloured with milk, honey and all things sweet. But some stuck to their strong black coffee guns.

“I often tell people that bitter as it may be, it is good for us. Strong. Black. Unadulterated. This way we can really stay woke.”

The rosy affair did not last for long. Nothing ever does. Soon the rosy fragrance lined up inside the nostrils wore off, all the repugnant scents all about came rushing in causing great confusion. In the beginning no one would even admit the dawning reality to themselves. People just walked around with frowns on their faces. Fearing being ostracised should they be found out that they had faulty noses. Then everybody started walking about with their hands covering their nostrils. When that failed to achieve the desired results everybody covered themselves in strong perfume. There was a boom in the fragrance industry. Every second person was a peddler of perfumes. They went door to door promising people liberation from bad odours.

“Everybody showered in some fragrance or the other. The market was booming. I was the first to sell Avon in the city. My house is built on that fortune. Three kids through varsity on perfumes.”

All had somehow arrived to the conclusion that the unfavourable scents emanated from their bodies. So whenever the scent hit them they’d look at the next person to check if that individual had taken proper care of his odours. Accusing glances were passed all around. The Mineworker specifically was never spared the wrath of those dignity piercing glances. He was always to blame for the repugnant smell. Mshangani too; she was said to be averse to Avon. However; they were not always around, yet the repugnant scent was omnipresent. There was another who was omnipresent and equally infamous for antiperspirant phobia; Comrade Grigamba. It was then decided by all that if there was to be liberation of the noses, Comrade Grigamba must fall.

“I was completely flabbergasted when they rocked up at my house demanding I leave, telling me I am stinking up the place. For fuck’s sake (in Azania language was liberated from the straitjacket of pseudo-moralism) I was there when we all fought for the noses to call our scents our own! Today I am the one who smells? I said to hell with this stinking place I’ll go back home where at least everybody acknowledges that the stench is our collective burden. Here people sit around a pail of shit like its fire accusing each other of farting. The fuck!?”

With Comrade Grigamba gone, the stench only got worse. A growing number of people took to the streets demanding better noses. It was decided that there must another general selection. “Better Noses For All” was the motif of that selection. Again the broad masses went in to have their old noses lined up with the stink-repelling substance. Others went in for new noses altogether. Others begged to have no nose at all – “life was better before” they pleaded. The authorities declared that having a nose was recommended but not required. More than ever before people took no part in the nosey business.

“I honestly could not say what I needed a nose for. I mean my mother went and got one at the previous general selection and all she ever does is complain about one scent or the other. What has the noses done for them? Imma just take care of my business and not stick a nose where it doesn’t belong.”

Thus a generation with no sense of scent was born. They were born free of smelling. They needed neither fragrance nor scapegoats. Everything was acceptable for them. Even Comrade Grigamba. They loved the Mineworker. They PVR’d Moshangane every Sunday. The older generation found them repugnant, they deemed this their progeny without ability to smell to be a lost generation. They could neither sniff out respectability of certain people who apparently deserved respect for one arbitrary reason or another nor could they appreciate the long protracted struggle for the broad masses to gain their noses. “Ingrates!” They called them. “Apathetic!” But even that could not last long.

“Most of us did not even get our noses at the general selection. They came attached to that letter inside our scrolls on graduation day informing us that all we get is a picture and ululation not the certificate until such a time we can somehow, with no form of income or prospects thereof, fork out sums of money no one in our immediate family has ever come across. And bang! The reek hit you all at once. It was overwhelming. We couldn’t breathe.”

Then came another wave of smelling the coffee. There was panic all around. “Heads will roll,” the Deputy Leader said, referring to those who he said were handing out the wrong kind of noses to the people. ‘The Third Force’ he called them. The people protested; “These are our noses!” The Deputy Leader would hear none of it – “These noses are sponsored by the Western Imperialists” he insisted. But this time he had no wherewithal as to what to do with the said problematic noses. Chopping them off didn’t work; he had learnt as much with the Thirsty Rebel of Ficksburg and the Mineworker of Marikana. It is said that the latter took a long deserved break atop a hill, took off his facemask for the first time in forever and the stench hit him hard. He wore a green cloak to repel the reek and refused to go down the reef. The work of The Third Force, the Deputy Leader insisted, off with their social cohesion corroding noses! That cause of concomitant action only exacerbates the stench – dead bodies stink. He found middle ground:

“There is a stench it is true. However, this is not a general stench, it is specific case to case. It is not the whole bag that is rotten, just a few potatoes. We just have to pick those out and deal with them accordingly. Even in the Leadership we can smell this rot. It reeks of curry. Too many among us have been indulging in this rot, and the sooner we deal with this the better for us all.”

The noses of the people were thus attuned to smell the curry. Get rid of the curry-eaters and all will be well; the message rang out from all corners. Thus began the Curry Revolution. For curry is far too easy to spot among the cacophony of scents. No one can miss a curry fart. Anything that did not point to the curry as the source of the stench automatically became such a curry fart. For the first time ever the broad masses of our people and the leaders were united in identifying curry as the stench that had colonised every fibre of society since time immemorial. They embraced each other as they marched hand in hand: “Curry Must Go! Curry Must Go! Curry Must GoooOOOoooOOOooo!”

“Everybody knows that curry can be spotted a mile away. We don’t need any time-wasting nonsense such as investigations and the likes. It must just go! We are done negotiating – we exhausted that at Codesa. Right now is the time for action. In any case who doesn’t know that the law enforcement agencies are also curry munchers? How do you report a curryist to a curryist? C’mon man it doesn’t make any sense. This is all there for everybody to see. We must all just wake up and smell the curry.”

Finally, the dreams of the founding fathers had come true; all the people united in their diversity; the communists in their red, liberals in their blues, nationalists in the yellow, and Africanists green. This time with envy – they could not smell the curry. The poor sods. They still insisted on strong black coffee. Positing that the stench comes with the milk and honey of Canaan. But nobody listened to them for everybody loved milk and honey. So the Africanists, green with envy, grumbled in the dark corners about how people were drunk on the rainbow nyaope. “Free the mind free the land” they shouted in hollow halls. They did not have the numbers – the Curry Revolutionaries in blue whipped up sixty thousand bodies, the ones in red upped the ante to a hundred thousand, whereas the envious green land essentialists could hardly fill up a Quantum. They were inconsequential and useless; the broad masses of the people held their noses up high and went to war with curry. The core dream of the Charter the Africanists loathed so much was bearing fruit: “The people” – in their non-racial, non-sexist, non-partisan, non-ableist, non-queerphobe, non-cis-heteronormative, non-patriarchal, intersectional whole – “shall smell.”

The old man mustered all his revolutionary high discipline to keep from bursting with laughter or beaming with pride at his granddaughter’s imagination and sheer clarity of thought for such a young age.

“Nehanda.” He said sternly.

Hara,” she played along.

“Don’t use your knowledge and talent to confuse your siblings,”

“But hara you said ‘stories carry far greater truth than facts’” she quoted from his book.

“Don’t ‘but’ me!” he said genuinely irritated. The young boy knew that this was as far as him calling her out would go, she was his favourite after all, but even at his tender age he knew that to accuse his grandfather of favouritism was tantamount to calling him a counter-revolutionary, so he hid his exasperation in the celebration of the small victory. “I told you guys,” he turned to his playmates, “people always had noses!” He announced victoriously. He was too young to understand nuance; he could only see as far as his nose.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *