The Village Invades the Cityby Dudumalingani Mqombothi / Images by Buhle Ndamase / 24.10.2013
A vacant land above the valley turns into a battlefield. The sun is setting behind it. Dust rises and fades into nothing. Visibility is obscured. There is a distant cacophony of women ululating, men whistling and the rattling sounds of sticks coming to contact. But this is all false – the obscured vision and distant cacophony do not exist. At least not in real life, they exist in the mind of a listener when Qula kwedini by Zim Ngqawana plays. Qula kwedini is an old Xhosa song. Zim Ngqawana’s version of it received wide spread popularity. Now, to continue to read this piece without Zim Ngqawana- Qula kwedini playing in the background is to commit a grave sin.
The first time I see the poster for the stick fighting competition, I stare at it for a long while, long enough that I begin to hear Zim Ngqawana’s Qula kwedini playing in my head. In the villages, stick fighting is a hobby. Men cherish their knobkierries so much that they marinade them in animal fat and lay them in the sun so that they do not crack. The poster reads– Date: 20 October 2013. Venue: LookOut Hill, Khayelitsha. Time: 10:30.
LookOut Hill is a recreational space in Khayelitsha. It also has a mound where visitors can view the township from up high. From the mound, one can see the planes taking off and landing at Cape Town International Airport. Miles and miles away is Monwabisi beach. From the mound, Monwabisi beach is but a haze, nothing more. Even with the obscured view of Monwabisi beach, the smell of the ocean assures you that the beach is there, sitting pretty in its enormous presence.
The event begins with a prayer to the Gods. “We are gathered here to witness an original sport, from before soccer balls were invented,” the CEO of Stick fighting Qula Kwedini Federation, Vuyisile Dyolotana says to me. “What we want is to bring the sport to the mainstream. We want it to be as popular as soccer is.”
His ambition is adorable, albeit it sets a tall order for him. But he has made strides: in 2011, he was featured on CNN’s Inside Africa and earlier this year he met with the tourism Ministry of Finance, Economic Development and Tourism, Alan Winde and they made plans to forge a relationship. Perhaps the minister got carried away and made promises he did not think through because that relationship has not yet yielded any fruits. Vuyisile self funded the event. A decision he does not regret.
A cultural group, Nkanyezi Group, provided the music between the fights. Through out the event, they kept singing ‘Qula Kwedini”. I doing so, bringing Zim Ngqawana to be among us. Stick fighting has the barbaric tone of rugby, if it has to be likened to any mainstream sport, it will have to be rugby. The fighters wore cricket, skateboard helmets and protective gear sewn together by hand and expected to withstand the vicious blows. And on the day they were bruised hands, cracked helmets, tears, dancing, singing and broken sticks scattered about the hall.
Yibanathi Tyatyeka walked away with the title in the adult division and Solomzi Yaya took the under 12 division. The runners up got medals.
Vuyisile’s dream of making the stick fighting sport into a formal might be realised but a few things need to be ironed out. One is the absence of a first aid kit and the other is that stick fighting has a specific audience. LookOut Hill was the wrong venue for the event and the thin audience echoes my sentiments. Stick fighting, in its audience at least, and not so much in itself maintains a following of traditionalists. The kind of men that insists on being rural even though they have stayed in the city for many years. However, stick fighting has the potential to be a real tourist attraction. Vuyisile is not sure when the next event is happening but he remains hopeful that it will. I tell him he should invade the Cape Town CBD and stage an event in front of the City Hall. He chuckles and says nothing.
* Images © Buhle Ndamase