The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

By Paula Edwards,2014-11-04 17:08
17 views 0
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

    No. 1 Ladies' detective Agency 01 - No. 1

    Ladies' Detective Agency

    No. 1 Ladies' detective Agency 01 - No. 1

    Ladies' Detective Agency


    No. 1 Ladies' detective Agency 01 - No. 1

    Ladies' Detective Agency

    No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

    No. 1 Ladies' detective Agency 01 - No. 1

    Ladies' Detective Agency

    by Alexander McCall Smith


    Alexander McCall Smith is a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University. He was born inwhat is now known as Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He is the authorof over fifty books on a wide range of subjects, including specialist titles such as ForensicAspects of Sleep and The Criminal Law of Botswana, children's books such as The PerfectHamburger, and a collection of stories called Portuguese Irregular Verbs.


    THE NO. 1



    Alexander McCall Smith

    Anchor Books

    A Division of Random House, Inc. New York



    This book is for

    Anne Gordon-Gillies

    in Scotland

    and for

    ???Joe and Mimi McKnight in Dallas, Texas




    THE NO. 1




    First Anchor Books Edition, August 2002

    Copyright ? 1998 by Alexander McCall Smith

    ISBN 1-4000-3477-9 (pbk.)

    No. 1 Ladies' detective Agency 01 - No. 1

    Ladies' Detective Agency





    MMA RAMOTSWE had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were itsassets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then therewas a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe—the only lady private detective in Botswana—brewedredbush tea. And three mugs—one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client.What else does a detective agency really need? Detective agencies rely on human intuition and

    intelligence, both of which Mma Ramotswe had in abundance. No inventory would ever includethose, of course.

    But there was also the view, which again could appear on no inventory. How could any such listdescribe what one saw when one looked out from Mma Ramotswe's door? To the front, an acaciatree, the thorn tree which dots the wide edges of the Kalahari; the great white thorns, awarning; the olive-grey leaves, by contrast, so delicate. In its branches, in the lateafternoon, or in the cool of the early morning, one might see a Go-Away Bird, or hear it,rather. And beyond the acacia, over the dusty road, the roofs of the town under a cover oftrees and scrub bush; on the horizon, in a blue shimmer of heat, the hills, like improbable,overgrown termite mounds.

    Everybody called her Mma Ramotswe, although if people had wanted to be formal, they would haveaddressed her as Mme Mma Ramotswe. This is the right thing for a person of stature, but whichshe had never used of herself. So it was always Mma Ramotswe, rather than Precious Ramotswe, aname which very few people employed.

    She was a good detective, and a good woman. A good woman in a good country, one might say. Sheloved her country, Botswana, which is a place of peace, and she loved Africa, for all itstrials. I am not ashamed to be called an African patriot, said Mma Ramotswe. I love all thepeople whom God made, but I especially know how to love the people who live in this place. Theyare my people, my brothers and sisters. It is my duty to help them to solve the mysteries intheir lives. That is what I am called to do.

    In idle moments, when there were no pressing matters to be dealt with, and when everybodyseemed to be sleepy from the heat, she would sit under her acacia tree. It was a dusty place tosit, and the chickens would occasionally come and peck about her feet, but it was a place whichseemed to encourage thought. It was here that Mma Ramotswe would contemplate some of the issueswhich, in everyday life, may so easily be pushed to one side.

    Everything, thought Mma Ramotswe, has been something before. Here I am, the only lady privatedetective in the whole of Botswana, sitting in front of my detective agency. But only a fewyears ago there was no detective agency, and before that, before there were even any buildingshere, there were just the acacia trees, and the riverbed in the distance, and the Kalahari overthere, so close.

    In those days there was no Botswana even, just the Bechua? naland Protectorate, and before thatagain there was Khama's Country, and lions with the dry wind in their manes. But look at itnow: a detective agency, right here in Gaborone, with me, the fat lady detective, sittingoutside and thinking these thoughts about how what is one thing today becomes quite anotherthing tomorrow.

    Mma Ramotswe set up the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency with the proceeds of the sale of herfather's cattle. He had owned a big herd, and had no other children; so every single beast, allone hundred and eighty of them, including the white Brahmin bulls whose grandparents he hadbred himself, went to her. The cattle were moved from the cattle post, back to Mochudi wherethey waited, in the dust, under the eyes of the chattering herd boys, until the livestock agentcame.

    They fetched a good price, as there had been heavy rains that year, and the grass had beenlush. Had it been the year before, when most of that southern part of Africa had been wrackedby drought, it would have been a different matter. People had dithered then, wanting to hold onto their cattle, as without your cattle you were naked; others, feeling more desperate, sold,because the rains had failed year after year and they had seen the animals become thinner andthinner. Mma Ramotswe was pleased that her father's illness had prevented his making anydecision, as now the price had gone up and those who had held on were well rewarded.

    “I want you to have your own business,” he said to her on his death bed. 'You'll get a goodprice for the cattle now. Sell them and buy a business. A butchery maybe. A bottle store.Whatever you like."

    She held her father's hand and looked into the eyes of the man she loved beyond all others, herDaddy, her wise Daddy, whose lungs had been filled with dust in those mines and who hadscrimped and saved to make life good for her.

    It was difficult to talk through her tears, but she managed to say: “I'm going to set up adetective agency. Down in Gaborone. It will be the best one in Botswana. The No. 1 Agency.”

    For a moment her father's eyes opened wide and it seemed as if he was struggling to speak.

    “But ... but .. .”

    But he died before he could say anything more, and Mma Ramotswe fell on his chest and wept forall the dignity, love and suffering that died with him.


    SHE HAD a sign painted in bright colours, which was then set up just off the Lobatse Road, onthe edge of town, pointing to the small building she had purchased: THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVEAGENCY. FOR ALL CONFIDENTIAL MATTERS AND ENQUIRIES. SATISFACTION GUARANTEED FOR ALL PARTIES.UNDER PERSONAL MANAGEMENT.

    There was considerable public interest in the setting up of her agency. There was an interviewon Radio Botswana, in which she thought she was rather rudely pressed to reveal herqualifications, and a rather more satisfactory article in The Botswana News, which drewattention to the fact that she was the only lady private detective in the country. This articlewas cut out, copied, and placed prominently on a small board beside the front door of theagency.

    After a slow start, she was rather surprised to find that her services were in considerabledemand. She was consulted about missing husbands, about the creditworthiness of potentialbusiness partners, and about suspected fraud by employees. In almost every case, she was ableto come up with at least some information for the client; when she could not, she waived herfee, which meant that virtually nobody who consulted her was dissatisfied. People in Botswanaliked to talk, she discovered, and the mere mention of the fact that she was a privatedetective would let loose a positive outpouring of information on all sorts of subjects. Itflattered people, she concluded, to be approached by a private detective, and this effectivelyloosened their tongues. This happened with Happy Bapetsi, one of her earlier clients. PoorHappy! To have lost your daddy and then found him, and then lost him again . . .


    “I USED to have a happy life,” said Happy Bapetsi. “A very happy life. Then this thinghappened, and I can't say that anymore.”

    Mma Ramotswe watched her client as she sipped her bush tea. Everything you wanted to know abouta person was written in the face, she believed. It's not that she believed that the shape ofthe head was what counted—even if there were many who still clung to that belief; it was morea question of taking care to scrutinise the lines and the general look. And the eyes, ofcourse; they were very important. The eyes allowed you to see right into a person, to penetratetheir very essence, and that was why people with something to hide wore sunglasses indoors.They were the ones you had to watch very carefully.

    Now this Happy Bapetsi was intelligent; that was immediately apparent. She also had fewworries—this was shown by the fact that there were no lines on her face, other than smilelines of course. So it was man trouble, thought Mma Ramotswe. Some man has turned up and spoilteverything, destroying her happiness with his bad behaviour.

    “Let me tell you a little about myself first,” said Happy Bapetsi. "I come from Maun, yousee, right up on the Oka-vango. My mother had a small shop and I lived with her in the house atthe back. We had lots of chickens and we were very happy.

    “My mother told me that my Daddy had left a long time ago, when I was still a little baby. Hehad gone off to work in Bul-awayo and he had never come back. Somebody had written tous—another Motswana living there—to say that he thought that my Daddy was dead, but he wasn't

    sure. He said that he had gone to see somebody at Mpilo Hospital one day and as he was walkingalong a corridor he saw them wheeling somebody out on a stretcher and that the dead person onthe stretcher looked remarkably like my Daddy. But he couldn't be certain. ”So we decided thathe was probably dead, but my mother did not mind a great deal because she had never reallyliked him very much. And of course I couldn't even remember him, so it did not make muchdifference to me.

    “I went to school in Maun at a place run by some Catholic missionaries. One of them discoveredthat I could do arithmetic rather well and he spent a lot of time helping me. He said that hehad never met a girl who could count so well. ”I suppose it was very odd. I could see a groupof figures and I would just remember it. Then I would find that I had added the figures in myhead, even without thinking about it. It just came very easily—I didn't have to work at it atall.

    "I did very well in my exams and at the end of the day I went off to Gaborone and learned howto be a bookkeeper. Again it was very simple for me; I could look at a whole sheet of figuresand understand it immediately. Then, the next day, I could remember every figure exactly andwrite them all down if I needed to.

    “I got a job in the bank and I was given promotion after promotion. Now I am the No. 1subaccountant and I don't think I can go any further because all the men are worried that I'llmake them look stupid. But I don't mind. I get very good pay and I can finish all my work bythree in the afternoon, sometimes earlier. I go shopping after that. I have a nice house withfour rooms and I am very happy. To have all that by the time you are thirty-eight is goodenough, I think.”

    Mma Ramotswe smiled. “That is all very interesting. You're right. You've done well.”

    “I'm very lucky,” said Happy Bapetsi. “But then this thing happened. My Daddy arrived at thehouse.”

    Mma Ramotswe drew in her breath. She had not expected this; she had thought it would be aboyfriend problem. Fathers were a different matter altogether.

    “He just knocked on the door,” said Happy Bapetsi. "It was a Saturday afternoon and I wastaking a rest on my bed when I heard his knocking. I got up, went to the door, and there wasthis man, about sixty or so, standing there with his hat in his hands. He told me that he wasmy Daddy, and that he had been living in Bulawayo for a long time but was now back in Botswanaand had come to see me.

    "You can understand how shocked I was. I had to sit down, or I think I would have fainted. Inthe meantime, he spoke. He told me my mother's name, which was correct, and he said that he wassorry that he hadn't been in touch before. Then he asked if he could stay in one of the sparerooms, as he had nowhere else to go.

    “I said that of course he could. In a way I was very excited to see my Daddy and I thoughtthat it would be good to be able to make up for all those lost years and to have him stayingwith me, particularly since my poor mother died. So I made a bed for him in one of the roomsand cooked him a large meal of steak and potatoes, which he ate very quickly. Then he asked formore. ”That was about three months ago. Since then, he has been living in that room and I havebeen doing all the work for him. I make his breakfast, cook him some lunch, which I leave inthe kitchen, and then make his supper at night. I buy him one bottle of beer a day and havealso bought him some new clothes and a pair of good shoes. All he does is sit in his chairoutside the front door and tell me what to do for him next.“ ”Many men are like that,“interrupted Mma Ramotswe. Happy Bapetsi nodded. ”This one is especially like that. He has notwashed a single cooking pot since he arrived and I have been getting very tired running afterhim. He also spends a lot of my money on vitamin pills and biltong.

    “I would not resent this, you know, except for one thing. I do not think that he is my realDaddy. I have no way of proving this, but I think that this man is an impostor and that heheard about our family from my real Daddy before he died and is now just pretending. I think he

    is a man who has been looking for a retirement home and who is very pleased because he hasfound a good one.”

    Mma Ramotswe found herself staring in frank wonderment at Happy Bapetsi. There was no doubt butthat she was telling the truth; what astonished her was the effrontery, the sheer, nakedeffrontery of men. How dare this person come and impose on this helpful, happy person! What apiece of chicanery, of fraud! What a piece of outright theft in fact!

    “Can you help me?” asked Happy Bapetsi. “Can you find out whether this man is really myDaddy? If he is, then I will be a dutiful daughter and put up with him. If he is not, then Ishould prefer for him to go somewhere else.”

    Mma Ramotswe did not hesitate. “I'll find out,” she said. “It may take me a day or two, butI'll find out!”

    Of course it was easier said than done. There were blood tests these days, but she doubted verymuch whether this person would agree to that. No, she would have to try something more subtle,something that would show beyond any argument whether he was the Daddy or not. She stopped inher line of thought. Yes! There was something biblical about this story. What, she thought,would Solomon have done?


    MMA RAMOTSWE picked up the nurse's uniform from her friend Sister Gogwe. It was a bit tight,especially round the arms, as Sister Gogwe, although generously proportioned, was slightly moreslender than Mma Ramotswe. But once she was in it, and had pinned the nurse's watch to herfront, she was a perfect picture of a staff sister at the Princess Marina Hospital. It was agood disguise, she thought, and she made a mental note to use it at some time in the future.

    As she drove to Happy Bapetsi's house in her tiny white van, she reflected on how the Africantradition of support for relatives could cripple people. She knew of one man, a sergeant ofpolice, who was supporting an uncle, two aunts, and a second cousin. If you believed in the oldSetswana morality, you couldn't turn a relative away, and there was a lot to be said for that.But it did mean that charlatans and parasites had a very much easier time of it than they didelsewhere. They were the people who ruined the system, she thought. They're the ones who aregiving the old ways a bad name.

    As she neared the house, she increased her speed. This was an errand of mercy, after all, andif the Daddy were sitting in his chair outside the front door he would have to see her arrivein a cloud of dust. The Daddy was there, of course, enjoying the morning sun, and he sat upstraight in his chair as he saw the tiny white van sweep up to the gate. Mma Ramotswe turnedoff the engine and ran out of the car up to the house.

    “Dumela Rra,” she greeted him rapidly. ''Are you Happy Bapetsi's Daddy?"

    The Daddy rose to his feet. “Yes,” he said proudly. “I am the Daddy.”

    Mma Ramotswe panted, as if trying to get her breath back.

    “I'm sorry to say that there has been an accident. Happy was run over and is very sick at thehospital. Even now they are performing a big operation on her.”

    The Daddy let out a wail. “Aiee! My daughter! My little baby Happy!”

    A good actor, thought Mma Ramotswe, unless . . . No, she preferred to trust Happy Bapetsi'sinstinct. A girl should know her own Daddy even if she had not seen him since she was a baby.

    “Yes,” she went on. "It is very sad. She is very sick, very sick.

    And they need lots of blood to make up for all the blood she's lost."

    The Daddy frowned. “They must give her that blood. Lots of blood. I can pay.”

    “It's not the money,” said Mma Ramotswe. “Blood is free. We don't have the right sort. Wewill have to get some from her family, and you are the only one she has. We must ask you forsome blood.”

The Daddy sat down heavily.

    “I am an old man,” he said.

    Mma Ramotswe sensed that it would work. Yes, this man was an impostor.

    “That is why we are asking you,” she said. “Because she needs so much blood, they will haveto take about half your blood. And that is very dangerous for you. In fact, you might die.”

    The Daddy's mouth fell open.


    “Yes,” said Mma Ramotswe. “But then you are her father and we know that you would do thisthing for your daughter. Now could you come quickly, or it will be too late. Doctor Moghile iswaiting.”

    The Daddy opened his mouth, and then closed it.

    “Come on,” said Mma Ramotswe, reaching down and taking his wrist. “I'll help you to thevan.”

    The Daddy rose to his feet, and then tried to sit down again. Mma Ramotswe gave him a tug,

    “No,” he said. “I don't want to.”

    “You must,” said Mma Ramotswe. “Now come on.”

    The Daddy shook his head. “No,” he said faintly. “I won't. You see, I'm not really herDaddy. There has been a mistake.”

    Mma Ramotswe let go of his wrist. Then, her arms folded, she stood before him and addressed himdirectly.

    “So you are not the Daddy! I see! I see! Then what are you doing sitting in that chair andeating her food? Have you heard of the Botswana Penal Code and what it says about people likeyou? Have you?”

    The Daddy looked down at the ground and shook his head.

    “Well,” said Mma Ramotswe. “You go inside that house and get your things. You have fiveminutes. Then I am going to take you to the bus station and you are going to get on a bus.Where do you really live?”

    “Lobatse,” said the Daddy. “But I don't like it down there.”

    “Well,” said Mma Ramotswe. “Maybe if you started doing something instead of just sitting ina chair you might like it a bit more. There are lots of melons to grow down there. How aboutthat, for a start?”

    The Daddy looked miserable.

    “Inside!” she ordered. “Four minutes left now!”


    WHEN HAPPY Bapetsi returned home she found the Daddy gone and his room cleared out. There was anote from Mma Ramotswe on the kitchen table, which she read, and as she did so, her smilereturned.


    THAT WAS not your Daddy after all. I found out the best way. I got him to tell me himself.Maybe you will find the real Daddy one day. Maybe not. But in the meantime, you can be happyagain.



    No. 1 Ladies' detective Agency 01 - No. 1

    Ladies' Detective Agency





    WE DON'T forget, thought Mma Ramotswe. Our heads may be small, but they are as full of memoriesas the sky may sometimes be full of swarming bees, thousands and thousands of memories, ofsmells, of places, of little things that happened to us and which come back, unexpectedly, toremind us who we are. And who am I? I am Precious Ramotswe, citizen of Botswana, daughter ofObed Ramotswe who died because he had been a miner and could no longer breathe. His life wasunrecorded; who is there to write down the lives of ordinary people?


    I AM Obed Ramotswe, and I was born near Mahalapye in 1930. Mahalapye is halfway betweenGaborone and Francis-town, on that road that seems to go on and on forever. It was a dirt roadin those days, of course, and the railway line was much more important. The track came downfrom Bulawayo, crossed into Botswana at Plumtree, and then headed south down the side of thecountry all the way to Mafikeng, on the other side.

    As a boy I used to watch the trains as they drew up at the siding. They let out great clouds ofsteam, and we would dare one another to run as close as we could to it. The stokers would shoutat us, and the station master would blow his whistle, but they never managed to get rid of us.We hid behind plants and boxes and dashed out to ask for coins from the closed windows of thetrains. We saw the white people look out of their windows, like ghosts, and sometimes theywould toss us one of their Rhodesian pennies—large copper coins with a hole in the middle—or,if we were lucky, a tiny silver coin we called a tickey, which could buy us a small tin ofsyrup. Mahalapye was a straggling village of huts made of brown, sun-baked mud bricks and a fewtin-roofed buildings. These belonged to the Government or the Railways, and they seemed to usto represent distant, unattainable luxury. There was a school run by an old Anglican priest anda white woman whose face had been half-destroyed by the sun. They both spoke Setswana, whichwas unusual, but they taught us in English, insisting, on the pain of a thrashing, that we leftour own language outside in the playground.

    On the other side of the road was the beginning of the plain that stretched out into theKalahari. It was featureless land, cluttered with low thorn trees, on the branches of whichthere perched the hornbills and the fluttering molopes, with their long, trailing tailfeathers. It was a world that seemed to have no end, and that, I think, is what made Africa inthose days so different. There was no end to it. A man could walk, or ride, forever, and hewould never get anywhere.

    I am sixty now, and I do not think God wants me to live much longer. Perhaps there will be afew years more, but I doubt it; I saw Dr Moffat at the Dutch Reformed Hospital in Mochudi wholistened to my chest. He could tell that I had been a miner, just by listening, and he shookhis head and said that the mines have many different ways of hurting a man. As he spoke, Iremembered a song which the Sotho miners used to sing. They sang: “The mines eat men. Evenwhen you have left them, the mines may still be eating you.” We all knew this was true. Youcould be killed by falling rock or you could be killed years later, when going underground wasjust a memory, or even a bad dream that visited you at night. The mines would come back fortheir payment, just as they were coming back for me now. So I was not surprised by what DrMoffat said.

    Some people cannot bear news like that. They think they must live forever, and they cry andwail when they realise that their time is coming. I do not feel that, and I did not weep atthat news which the doctor gave me. The only thing that makes me sad is that I shall be leavingAfrica when I die. I love Africa, which is my mother and my father. When I am dead, I shallmiss the smell of Africa, because they say that where you go, wherever that may be, there is nosmell and no taste.

    I'm not saying that I'm a brave man—I'm not—but I really don't seem to mind this news I havebeen given. I can look back over my sixty years and think of everything that I have seen and ofhow I started with nothing and ended up with almost two hundred cattle. And I have a gooddaughter, a loyal daughter, who looks after me well and makes me tea while I sit here in thesun and look out to the hills in the distance. When you see these hills from a distance, theyare blue; as all the distances in this country are. We are far from the sea here, with Angolaand Namibia between us and the coast, and yet we have this great empty ocean of blue above usand around us. No sailor could be lonelier than a man standing in the middle of our land, withthe miles and miles of blue about him.

    I have never seen the sea, although a man I worked with in the mines once invited me to hisplace down in Zululand. He told me that it had green hills that reached down to the IndianOcean and that he could look out of his doorway and see ships in the distance. He said that thewomen in his village brewed the best beer in the country and that a man could sit in the sunthere for many years and never do anything except make children and drink maize beer. He saidthat if I went with him, he might be able to get me a wife and that they might overlook thefact that I was not a Zulu—if I was prepared to pay the father enough money for the girl.

    But why should I want to go to Zululand? Why should I ever want anything but to live inBotswana, and to marry a Tswana girl? I said to him that Zululand sounded fine, but that everyman has a map in his heart of his own country and that the heart will never allow you to forgetthis map. I told him that in Botswana we did not have the green hills that he had in his place,nor the sea, but we had the Kalahari and land that stretched farther than one could imagine. Itold him that if a man is born in a dry place, then although he may dream of rain, he does notwant too much, and that he will not mind the sun that beats down and down. So I never went withhim to Zululand and I never saw the sea, ever. But that has not made me unhappy, not once.

    So I sit here now, quite near the end, and think of everything that has happened to me. Not aday passes, though, that my mind does not go to God and to thoughts of what it will be like todie. I am not frightened of this, because I do not mind pain, and the pain that I feel isreally quite bearable. They gave me pills—large white ones—and they told me to take these ifthe pain in my chest became too great. But these pills make me sleepy, and I prefer to beawake. So I think of God and wonder what he will say to me when I stand before him.

    Some people think of God as a white man, which is an idea which the missionaries brought withthem all those years ago and which seems to have stuck in people's mind. I do not think this isso, because there is no difference between white men and black men; we are all the same; we arejust people. And God was here anyway, before the missionaries came. We called him by adifferent name, then, and he did not live over at the Jews' place; he lived here in Africa, inthe rocks, in the sky, in places where we knew he liked to be. When you died, you wentsomewhere else, and God would have been there too, but you would not be able to get speciallyclose to him. Why should he want that?

    We have a story in Botswana about two children, a brother and sister, who are taken up toheaven by a whirlwind and find that heaven is full of beautiful white cattle. That is how Ilike to think of it, and I hope that it is true. I hope that when I die I find myself in aplace where there are cattle like that, who have sweet breath, and who are all about me. Ifthat is what awaits me, then I am happy to go tomorrow, or even now, right at this moment. Ishould like to say goodbye to Precious, though, and to hold my daughter's hand as I went. Thatwould be a happy way to go.




    I LOVE our country, and I am proud to be a Motswana. There's no other country in Africa thatcan hold its head up as we can. We have no political prisoners, and never have had any. We havedemocracy. We have been careful. The Bank of Botswana is full of money, from our diamonds. Weowe nothing.

    But things were bad in the past. Before we built our country we had to go off to South Africato work. We went to the mines, just as people did from Lesotho and Mozambique and Malawi andall those countries. The mines sucked our men in and left the old men and the children at home.We dug for gold and diamonds and made those white men rich. They built their big houses, withtheir walls and their cars. And we dug down below them and brought out the rock on which theybuilt it all.

    I went to the mines when I was eighteen. We were the Bechuanaland Protectorate then,?and theBritish ran our country, to protect us from the Boers (or that is what they said). There was aCommissioner down in Mafikeng, over the border into South Africa, and he would come up the roadand speak to the chiefs. He would say: “You do this thing; you do that thing.” And the chiefsall obeyed him because they knew that if they did not he would have them deposed. But some ofthem were clever, and while the British said “You do this,” they would say “Yes, yes, sir, Iwill do that” and all the time, behind their backs, they did the other thing or they justpretended to do something. So for many years, nothing at all happened. It was a good system ofgovernment, because most people want nothing to happen. That is the problem with governmentsthese days. They want to do things all the time; they are always very busy thinking of whatthings they can do next. That is not whatpeople want. People want to be left alone to lookafter their cattle.

    We had left Mahalapye by then, and gone to live in Mochudi, where my mother's people lived. Iliked Mochudi, and would have been happy to stay there, but my father said I should go to themines, as his lands were not good enough to support me and a wife. We did not have many cattle,and we grew just enough crops to keep us through the year. So when the recruiting truck camefrom over the border I went to them and they put me on a scale and listened to my chest andmade me run up and down a ladder for ten minutes. Then a man said that I would be a good minerand they made me write my name on a piece of paper. They asked me the name of my chief andasked me whether I had ever been in any trouble with the police. That was all.

    I went off on the truck the next day. I had one trunk, which my father had bought for me at theIndian Store. I only had one pair of shoes, but I had a spare shirt and some spare trousers.These were all the things I had, apart from some biltong which my mother had made for me. Iloaded my trunk on top of the truck and then all the families who had come to say goodbyestarted to sing. The women cried and we waved goodbye. Young men always try not to cry or looksad, but I knew that within us all our hearts were cold.

    It took twelve hours to reach Johannesburg, as the roads were rough in those days and if thetruck went too fast it could break an axle. We travelled through the Western Transvaal, throughthe heat, cooped up in the truck like cattle. Every hour, the driver would stop and come roundto the back and pass out canteens of water which they filled at each town we went through. Youwere allowed the canteen for a few secondsonly, and in that time you had to take as much wateras you could. Men who were on their second or third contract knew all about this, and they hadbottles of water which they would share if you were desperate. We were all Batswana together,and a man would not see a fellow Motswana suffer.

    The older men were about the younger ones. They told them that now that they had signed on forthe mines, they were no longer boys. They told us that we would see things in Johannesburgwhich we could never have imagined existing, and that if we were weak, or stupid, or if we didnot work hard enough, our life from now on would be nothing but suffering. They told us that wewould see cruelty and wickedness, but that if we stuck with other Batswana and did what we weretold by the older men, we would survive. I thought that perhaps they were exaggerating. Iremembered the older boys telling us about the initiation school that we all had to go to andwarning us of what lay ahead of us. They said all this to frighten us, and the reality wasquite different. But these men spoke the absolute truth. What lay ahead of us was exactly whatthey had predicted, and even worse.

    In Johannesburg they spent two weeks training us. We were all quite fit and strong, but nobodycould be sent down the mines until he had been made even stronger. So they took us to abuilding which they had heated with steam and they made us jump up and down onto benches for

Report this document

For any questions or suggestions please email