Nyebho is short, without looking like less. He is lean, extremely well toned, more so for someone who suffers hunger on a regular basis. Nyebho is an actor. And that is how I met him: on stage. He was acting in an Afrikaans play, struggling to bits with the language. I suffered watching him. Not because he was not able. But because he was far more able than the constraints of the piece allowed him to be.
I spoke to him after the last performance. I wanted to connect with him. With some people colour, culture and history plays a faint role in the light of a shining humanity.
At the time I was resident in Grahamstown and I proposed to Nyebho: let us go to a special spot every week or so and speak to the people of South Africa. He was keen. Keen with eyes darting with truth (how do some poor people lose their souls to begging and others become purified, glowing with a rare spirituality? How do some rich flattens into self-absorbtion and others raise the world around them?)
So every week or so we drove to the top-end of Ecca pass, just north of Grahamstown, and jumped a fence to reach an abandoned look-out formation. From there one looks over one of the most transporting vistas on earth. A vast valley consisting of thorn-bush covered hills, darkly pulsed by mysterious ravines leads to a far horizon of edge-to-edge moon-blue mountains. Here the English marauded the Xhosa right through the nineteenth century, finding them no walkover like the Apachee or Aboriginee. Here the rumbling engine of imperialism were gnawed at, at its very roots, just like the insects of Africa continually test the supremacy of man.
And here we stood, a Xhosa athlete and a Boer-dazed whitey. And we took it upon ourselves to talk. To talk like we never talked before, gushing forth like the Fish River through lines of seperation; sprouting words like the wild and feisty vegetation; sing and dance and believe that we are heard by an entire nation. No plans, no preparation: just a place, a sky and minds lost to freedom.
And so a friendship started. I moved away and travelled far. But always my path returned to Nyebho, his wood-and-mud shack on the plains, his quiet girl-friend who became pregnant. By the time the baby was born, I filmed Nyebho and his friends acting a play that he had written before. By the time the editing was done and we could watch “The Chicken Thief” on my laptop, his child had died from a pot of porridge falling over his head.
Recently his brother died, too. Nyebho’s grief is real, yet I am perplexed by the solidity he has within. Life and death has not yet become a brittle oddness to him. To him it is much more part of the rhythm of all things than it is for most westeners. Perhaps rather more devastating to him and his family, are the costs involved with burying. It takes months, years for them to recover financially (his girlfriend is pregnant again. Life goes on).
Nyebho is a pearl in my experience. Apart from his brilliance on stage and his sharp and keen mind, his incredible surviving skills and enduring physique, he is a son of humanity, heir to Makana, to black sages of old. There will be more look-out points for me and him, more shouts to the air that condenses and falls back like rain onto a thirsting earth.