“This is your chance to prove yourselves, trolls,” Lieutenant Colonel Coetzee shouted at the six rookies before him. They are fresh-faced and eager now, he thought, I hope they won’t become jaded too soon – or even worse – corrupt.
“Yes, sir,” they answered.
“Semenya, you’re in charge. I’m going to the travel agency,” he said, glancing at the clock on the wall, “two and a half hours should give you enough time to come up with a contingency plan.” Lieutenant Colonel Coetzee looked forward to his retirement from the Police Service. He was making arrangements for a belated honeymoon on a cruise ship to surprise his wife.
“Yes, sir,” Lesiba Semenya stood next to the white board and in front of his five colleagues. He familiarized himself with the terrain the previous day and had every confidence in the security plan which was forming as he spoke.
The Diepsloot Community Hall was a rectangular A-frame structure presented to the people of Diepsloot by the opposition to the ruling party in 2000. The organisers of the event hired a few metal tables and packed them in front of the hall. This was to serve as the ramp for the beauty contest.
“Constables Mathebula and Tleane, you will do visible policing in front of the ramp. Gumunya will mingle with the crowd as a plain clothes policeman and Maseka and Matsemela will do duty at the hotspots of the premises such as the entrance and the beer tent.”
“And you, what will you do?” Constable Benny Gumunya asked.
Lesiba cleared his throat, “Well, uh … I will escort the contestants to safety backstage.”
“And then?” asked Morgan Tleane.
“And then I will continue to assure the ladies of their safety throughout the proceedings.” He wrapped up by arranging to meet them in front of the Diepsloot Community Hall at five o’ clock sharp.
Lesiba was on his way out of Lieutenant Colonel Coetzee’s office at chaile[*] time, the door handle in his hand, when he was called to a halt.
“Rookie, you realise that if you pull this off, you’ll be considered for the position of sergeant next year?” Lieutenant Colonel Coetzee’s beer belly dwarfed the desk behind which he was sitting. He had the contingency plan Lesiba had just given him in his hand.
Lesiba nodded and closed the door behind him. Yes, he realised very well that he would stand in line for a promotion if tonight’s proceedings were to run without incident. A promotion would mean an increase and an increase would be a way to save up for a lobola[†].
At the pageant, Lesiba was glad that he had brought along shoe polish and a lint remover because besides himself, it was only Mpho Maseka who looked smart. He brushed the other constables’ jackets, “Ja, now you look good, né,” he said.
“Who is policing the Miss HIV/AIDS Pageant?” Mpho asked.
“Hè?” Lesiba said.
“The Miss HIV/AIDS Pageant in the school hall….”
“When?” Benny Gumunya asked.
Mpho shrugged, “I heard it was tonight.”
“I don’t know anything about that. We were asked to assist with the Miss Diepsloot event only,” Lesiba instructed everybody to report to their posts and to inform him of any irregularities.
Once the contestants arrived in the taxi, Lesiba scanned the crowd for suspects while remaining in the background of the proceedings. The ladies were absorbed in themselves—they treated him as an oddity for a few minutes before they changed into their outfits and applied their cheap perfume and make-up.
Not that Constable Lesiba cared. He was there to complete a mission, not to find a girlfriend.
“Bravo in, Alpha come in, Bravo out,” a static voice called over the two-way radio at his side.
“Alpha in, yes Bravo, Alpha out,” he answered.
“Bravo in, we urgently need your assistance at the entrance, Bravo out.”
“Alpha in, on my way, Alpha out,” Lesiba grabbed the nearest contestant by the arm, “I’m
going now, but you needn’t worry, ma’m. There are two policemen in uniform in front of the ramp.”
The girl was dressed in a swimsuit, “Me? I wasn’t worried, but you can hurry back, né,” she winked at him. “My name’s Kate.”
The cool air was refreshing after being in the stuffy hall. It seemed as if most of the Diepsloot residents were at the pageant. Lesiba smiled as he jogged to the entrance, but his smile soon dropped when he saw the raucous at the gate. A dissatisfied-looking crowd was shouting insults at the two policemen on duty.
“What’s going on, Mpho?” Lesiba asked.
“They are from the Miss HIV/AIDS Pageant. They say that Miss Diepsloot is getting all the security and the prize money.”
He shifted his weight.
“They are threatening to disrupt proceedings if government and the municipality do not stop discriminating against people with AIDS.”
“Hé?” Lesiba said.
“Dan, the loudspeaker is in the car,” Lesiba threw him the keys.
As Dan ran off, Lesiba called in the rest of the officers on their two-way radios. He placed them at strategic points as he was trained to do during the months of the Riot Prevention Course. He then turned on the loudspeaker’s siren and the mob gave him its involuntary attention.
“Thôbêla!” he greeted.
“Hah, voetsek wena! Tsamaya!”[‡] the crowd greeted back.
Lesiba started singing an old freedom song ‘Sikalela Izwe Lakithi’ (We Protest for Our Land). The crowd joined in and raised the dust with their feet. Somebody started a second song before the first was even finished. Lesiba signalled his colleagues to join in, as he noticed distrustful glares from members of the crowd being thrown in their direction like spears.
Before the last war cry died away, Lesiba announced that they should all take their grievances to the municipality because it was the corrupt officials who were discriminating against them and feeding their own stomachs while everybody else’s were empty.
“Amandla!”[§] Lesiba shouted and raised his fist.
“Ayethu!” the crowd answered and started toyi-toying up the street to the municipal offices.
“The rest of you, stay here and take orders from Mpho,” Lesiba told his colleagues, “I’m going to disperse the crowd.”
“It’s very risky for you to try to do something like that on your own. Let me call for back up from Blouberg,” Mpho said.
Lesiba was already running after the crowd, “I have a plan!” he shouted back over his shoulder. He chanted “hoes-hoes-hoes” with the crowd until he was in front and lead the way to the municipal offices where he stood on the front steps, the crowd below him.
“Who has the letter of grievances?” he asked over the loudspeaker.
“The what?” somebody from the faceless crowd said.
“The letter of grievances … I have the sellotape to stick it here,” Lesiba rapped on the door. “Tomorrow morning, first thing, those fat cats will find it.”
The crowd murmured among itself, “Ja, we will bring that letter, otherwise everything will just get swept unda the carpet.”
“Ja, we’ll bring the letter tomorrow, Comrade Bopape will write it,” the crowd said and dispersed like apparitions in the night.
Lesiba returned to the Miss Diepsloot proceedings, relieved. His colleagues were waiting for him at the entrance.
“How did you do it?” Mpho asked.
Lesiba laughed and tapped his temple with his index finger, “Let us return to our posts,” he said.
The pageant was almost over. All the contestants were lined up on the stage in their evening dresses as they waited for the judges’ final decision.
Lesiba secured the perimeter by clearing away a few drunken youths at the back door.
The girls returned backstage. Some of them were crying and some of them looked very angry. Only one girl was wearing a smile, a tiara and a sash that read “Miss Diepsloot 2010”.
She winked at him, “Let’s go and celebrate.”
[†] the practice of paying a bride price
[‡] Hah, go away you! Go!
Post image by Michelle Robinson via Manufactoriel
About the Author:
Judith Joubert grew up on a farm in the North of South Africa where she learned to perceive people of different cultures. She worked as a proofreader at a newspaper printing company for three years and have since been a writing housewife. A South African magazine (Vision Magazine) published a series of articles she wrote titled ‘Township Legends’. Ancient Paths Christian Literary Magazine published ‘Women’ as the March 2013 feature story and ‘Violet’s Journey’ was posted on The Kalahari Review in September 2014.