Trully Romantic: My grandparent’s romantic story for the ages

May 10, 2013 § 2 Comments

Extract from my book, In My Arrogant Opinion



The very first sound I ever made was neither in Xhosa nor English; it was that universal wail all babies make. I cried, at least that’s what I imagine happened. Maybe I cried because I was naked and was feeling a little embarrassed. Or was it because I was aware of how small my penis was and my hands were too short, and my muscles too weak, for me to stretch my hands to hide it? I will never remember. It could be argued that I suffered a premature onslaught of Alzheimer’s, but it’s something all babies share – forgetting where they come from. No memory of their history …

It was a dark and stormy night in April when I was born. I’m not joking. I was born in a hut in the house of my grandfather, Alfred Kaiser Boyce, uSnama, Rhadu, Somadoda, amalandelwa yintombi ithindizeke nobaawunankomo! (S’nama, Rhadu, Somadoda, the ones who get followed by girls saying, ‘marry me even if you have no cows!’). You will be excused for thinking that Alfred Kaiser Boyce was a white man. He was not; he was as Xhosa as they come.

I was born in the small rural village of Dutyini just outside the small town of Mount Ayliff in the Transkei. My grandfather was married to Marhadebe, Victoria Boyce. The story of how they got married is as romantic as any one I have heard. Xhosa men back then were not known for their romance, not that they are now. However, I imagine I am, rather (Hello, ladies). Perhaps I should tell the story of how they got married, very briefly.

Before they got married, my grandfather (Kaiser or K as he was called by everyone in the village) and grandmother had been dating. Kaiser was very popular with the ladies because of his looks, charm, wit and his above-average education. Unlike many young black men in his time, he had gone all the way to Grade 8. A major achievement.

My grandmother, Victoria Mthimkhulu, wasn’t known as the best-looking woman around. But she had the most incredible sprit of any human being I have ever met. My grandfather had four sisters. As anyone with many sisters will know, they always have an opinion about any woman you decide you like. They could never understand his fixation on my grandmother. According to them, he was far superior to her in looks. They even called her ugly. He would respond by saying, ‘Ifigure yakhe!’ (‘What a fine figure she has!’).

He was also taken with her conservatism, politeness, steadfastness, Christian poise and the fact that she could read and write, something uncommon for women in her village at the time. I’ll never forget that when some white came to our distant village once, my grandfather was away and there was only one person who could speak to that person — my grandmother. I was too young and my English nonexistent, so I have no clue what they talked about.

My grandfather didn’t have much money so he wasn’t able to pay her lobola (dowry) right away. While he was chilling, some other fellow, a rich man in the area, paid lobola for my grandmother. Custom dictated then that if your parents had an agreement with another girl’s parents, you were supposed to marry that person, even though you had never dated. It was effectively an arranged marriage. And so it was that my grandmother was married to another man.

Upon hearing the news, Kaiser would have none of it. He hatched a plan immediately. He was in love so there was no chance in hell that some random dude, no matter how much money he had, would beat him to the punch, even if he had already beaten him to the punch.

He sent a message to my grandmother that he planned to take her from her new in-laws. She agreed to the plan only if he promised that he would pay lobola by a certain time.

In a cavalier fashion, within days of my grandmother’s marriage, my grandfather and his friends invaded the new home of his now married lover and took her. She was basically kidnapped (‘waathwalwa’).

Ukuthwalwa was not unheard of then. But to ukuthwala a woman who was already married to another man was something new altogether.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, my grandfather eventually gathered a few cattle and paid lobola for my grandmother and they lived happily until death parted them.

These were the people who raised me for the first ten years of my life. The idea that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be is something that I observed in them; it’s not something that I would say they taught me.

My mother would come to visit Dutyini from the township of Mdanstane, just outside East London where she worked. I never really knew what to say to her because she was this beautiful woman who I was too scared to touch because I was afraid of making her dirty. She always seemed so out of place and too beautiful to be in the village. Years later, I found out that she would cry every time she left for East London, she found it unbearable that she had to leave her children behind in the rural life while she went back to an easier existence in the township.

My early education happened in this village. The teachers had an inferior education, which meant they transferred inferior knowledge to children who were already disadvantaged by life. One of my classrooms accommodated both the Grade 1s and Grade 2s. There were times when we couldn’t use the classrooms because they were being used for something else.

They say that these early years are what make us who we are. If those years made me who I am, I am grateful for them. By the time I was ten, I was a certified delinquent. I had already quit smoking weed and moved on to other things. I guess what I’m saying is that it is a miracle that I have written this book. And I want to thank everyone who has played a part in my life.

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