In December, my mother, sister and I took a long drive up to Esmero Location in Pietermaritzurg, the location where my mom and her five siblings grew up. When we arrived, my mother's older brother was just walking out the gate. He stopped and swayed a bit as the car drove up to the gate to my grandmother's house where he lives. His sister, my mom, greeted him and I watched my uncle's glazed eyes take in the scene and after a few moments his words slightly slurred "Hawu Mam', senifikile njalo? Ngisaya la kamakhelwane". I hadn't seen my uncle since the funeral in June, and he'd visibly diminished since then.
In June last year, the matriarch of our family - my maternal grandmother - passed away. It was devastating in all the ways it is to lose a loved one, I cried myself to sleep the week before her funeral because she was my "mamakho" and because her leaving this world signified the end of an era in our family.
Now, like most families, my family has seen its fair share of drama. And like most African families in this country, the drunk uncle quite often takes centre stage in the playing out of many family dramas over the years.
I have two living uncles on my mother's side - and somehow in the course of doing life and absorbing the disappointments, burdens and pain that come with living as a black man on this earth - both of them are the family's drunk uncles.
These are two men who were raised under the same roof as my mother and my 'little mother' (my Mother's younger sister in our culture is not my aunt but umam' ncane). Today, both my mothers are doing very well for themselves in life. These women have careers, have raised and are raising families of their own and when my grandmother died, they took responsibility for the funeral preparations and the aftermath of looking after mamakho's estate. My uncles went to the same schools as my mothers and were given access to the same, if not better, opportunities as their sisters.
So, in the course of becoming young adults and growing up - what happened? How did it end up that my mother's youngest brother never left the nest and dropped out of, I think, college when his sisters before him had been able to finish?
What is it that breaks young men growing up in our "ghettos" beyond repair?
While thinking about my uncles breaks my heart even more now that my grandmother is not around to make sure that they are looking after themselves and eating at least one meal everyday, theirs is not a unique tale in South Africa.
What is it that breaks young men growing up in our "ghettos" beyond repair? Why is it that my uncles - both amazing men with big hearts and sharp brains - drink themselves into (or maybe out of) despair?
I was at Abantu Book Festival in December last year, and someone got up on stage and said "we all know that drunk uncle" and the audience laughed, because sometimes we need to share lighthearted moments over the deep hurts and wounds that we carry - so that we can carry on living.
We laugh about our drunk uncles, and we regale stories of their antics at family weddings, funerals and emicimbini. But I wonder if our "druncles" laugh at themselves when they wake up in a drunken stupor in the morning. I wonder if before my mamakho died, if in her last few moments she cried out to the heavens for her sons. Her sons who, despite being given everything, continue to pursue a life of nothing. Waking up to the bottle and leaving their dreams at the bottom of the bottle everyday.
I wonder what we, as a generation, can do so that our young men coming out of our townships believe in themselves the same way we believe in them and their ability to change the narrative, and the nation. Or was our mistake that we believed in young men like my uncles too much and the pressure became too much to bear?Suggest a correction