Kayamandi Fight Clubby Andy Davis / 11.03.2011
Kayamandi is a festering chorbe on the otherwise pristine white arse of Stellenbosch. The antithesis of all those neat tree-lined avenues and the old gabled houses Simon van der Stel and his chommies had their slaves build. Just behind the new, modern polished glass and steel of the visitor’s centre, a mass of homemade wood and corrugated iron shacks shimmer in the midday heat. It’s hot and dry and the wind is doing nothing but shift the stifle back and forth.
I stop to ask two pantsulas directions to the stick fighting, they’re dressed in their sunday best, immaculate, shiny grey suits, trilby hats and rolled up pants to reveal Chuck Taylors with no socks. They point up the road towards a large crowd spilling into the street, partially obscured by heavy braai smoke from one of the spazas.
At the fight, a tight circle is packed around a small patch of pavement in front of an old rusting shipping container. There’s another crowd across the road, using the slope of the hill to get a better view, while cars and taxis cruise slowly in between the two masses of people, honking and peering at the action as they drive by.
Vuyisile Dyolotana stands in between two young fighters ready to batter each other. He’s the driving force, (the organiser and arbiter) behind the stick fighting tournaments that have been taking place on most weekends in the townships of Cape Town. He greets me warmly between shrill blasts on his whistle to try and stamp some semblance of order on what is becoming a pretty unruly crowd. I notice he has a gash on his chin. I point to it and ask him what happened.
“Hey man, tsotsis broke my house, they took my stuff. So I collected some guys who are stick fighters in my community and we went to get it back.” He says matter of factly.
He steps away from the melée to finish the story.
“We declared a war!” He smiles. “They had bottles, knives, stones. We just had sticks. This one guy tried to grab my stick, so I hit him with my hands, but he had a metal pole and he hit me on my shin.” He rolls up his pants to show a long blue scab.
“Where did this happen?” I ask.
“At my place, in Lower Crossroads. Philippi East.
“Ja it was us stick fighters and some other community members, maybe 9 or 10 against 15 gangsters – a crew, smoking tik-tik.”
I look at him incredulously. His deputies are still trying to organise the next stick fight, but a lot of the potential Kayamandi participants are too inebriated to fight. This leads to a series of arguments that invariably slows down proceedings. Vuyisile laughs at the slurred protestations of a particularly drunk wannabe combatant and continues his story.
“Ja man, I was sleeping and at about 3am I just think, ay I’m getting cold. I step out of the bedroom and see that the window is open and the light is on in the kitchen and my stuff is gone. Right then I went to wake up a couple of community members who are stick fighters… I went to wake up my army.” He smiles at that. “There was another boy. He was at school, but we knew he was running with that gang. We went to his mom and waited for him when the school came out. He had some of my stuff, but he said he didn’t know it was mine. So I said, ‘OK boy, let’s go and collect the rest of it!’ And he led us to that other house with the gangsters. We had no doubt that my stuff was in that place. They are the housebreakers. I did guess right.”
“How come you didn’t go to the police?” I ask.
“Police? In this community if you consult the police, they accept bribes and they are part of these criminal things. They don’t follow your advice. They don’t come when you want them. If you go to the police – just hang on – we don’t have a transport. They don’t help us. They always come after everything is done.”
“And how does your community respond to your stick fighting army?”
“The community likes what I’m doing. It reminds them of the good old days. We disciplined those tsotsis. We are not vigilantes. That could be dangerous sometimes. But as a community we stand up for ourselves. We are a group of stick fighters. So if we have a problem we sort out the problem.”
Eventually the stick fighting tournament commences, the first bout is between two teenagers in rugby scrum caps, which gets pretty heated, Vuyisile blowing harshly on his whistle while his deputies get in between the fighters while they swing their sticks regardless. A big guy in a Maties rugby jersey batters a very young, skillful, but obviously drunk fighter in the next round. He took off his shirt and came on strong, but halfway through the fight the alcohol in his system seemed to get the better of him and as his energy waned, the Maties rugby fan took advantage and delivered some swift, sharp blows that won him the fight. By the early evening a winner had worked his way through the rounds. The champion of Kayamandi that day was a 28 year old weight lifter by the name of Khayaloxolo Ngesi, his arms as big as most men’s thighs. The next day he went back to being a bricklayer.
*All images ©Andy Davis.