"I would really love to meet this Sangoma of yours," our American guest said.
I did not take him seriously at first, because I thought that he may have already been satiated by all my silly stories about Africa, and might have merely been being polite. To be honest, I thought that maybe they had had enough of our continent.
Over the last two weeks, we had shown them the Zulu craft villages at 'nChanga, and the Zulu rickshaw drivers on the beachfront, as well as the dancers at the traditional kraal near Mpuphulhema, and the battlefields and cemeteries of the soldiers and warriors who had died in the Anglo-Zulu wars.
We had also taken him and his charming wife Christine to the Hluhluwe and M'folozi game parks and to the many coastal-forest beaches between St. Lucia and Cape Vidal, and driven them up to the foothills of majestic peaks at Giants' Castle -- in the Drakensberg Mountains -- and shown them a sunset over the Inanda Dam.
We had grown to like them enormously, but I thought that possibly I had 'gushed' too much.
But as we enjoyed a braai and a few cool drinks on our stoep -- and their last evening in South Africa was wearing very pleasantly to its conclusion -- Tom kept returning to the subject of the Sangoma: whom he wanted to meet.
For some reason, it seemed very important to him.
"It is impossible, Tom ..." I told him. "... NkosiMkhize is a very busy man. He has the weight of the problems of the whole district upon his shoulders, and it takes a month or more even to arrange an hearing with him, which is only granted if the matters to be discussed are weighty, and cannot be handled by his amasekela.
"But don't you visit him, sometimes, on a social basis ?" Tom asked me.
"Very occasionally, yes; but only if NkosiMkhize has specifically invited me. I would not presume to invite myself. And when he does instruct me to visit him, I always take some prime rump steak and a bottle of good whiskey".
"I would happily do the same," Tom replied.
I laughed. "That would be considered very disrespectful, my friend. In fact you would probably be shot !"
But he would not let the matter drop, and kept returning to it as the evening drifted by.
I think that Christine was a little embarrassed by his perseverance, but I was actually quite impressed that he was not only interested in the glitz of tourist Africa.
When we had finished eating, and Tom and I were having a pee in the garden, he broached the subject once again. "We are flying out tomorrow night, and I doubt if we will ever be able to get back here. Won't you at least try to arrange for us to meet with the Sangoma ?"
"Tom, NkosiMkhize is not only a Sangoma, he is also a Zulu tribal Chief. Christine would not even be allowed to wait at the boma fence."
"What about just you and me, then ?" he wheedled.
"No. I have never asked him for an audience since that day when some umfaans from his clan pinched my little boat on the Inanda Dam."
"But he got it back for you, didn't he ?"
"Sure, but he made me wait outside for more than three hours, and when I left his kraal, it was with the certain knowledge that he thought I was an impertinent bastard. It was only his inherent sense of justice that made him order the kids who had jonja'd the boat to give it back, and to punish them for the theft."
"So why did he invite you back ?" he asked.
"I think it was because someone told him that I had paid the two kids' fathers back the R 100 that he had fined each of them, because their kids had jonja'd my boat. I think that surprised him, and that he wanted to have another look at this mad mulungu."
"But you are friends, now ?" Tom asked.
"God, no ! He is my Chief. I think that he may quite like me in a strange way, but I'm sure that neither of us would consider our relationship to be 'friendship,' as you know it."
Well. I shall not bore you with all the details of how I managed to set up a meeting between NkoziMkhize and 'American Tom.' Suffice it to say that a crate of Jack Daniels and quite a few Rands changed hands, although that involved Mkhize's assistant, not the great man himself.
But anyway, Tom did get the hearing that he had so ardently wanted -- and I made a few Rands out of it, myself.
But those grubby details are unimportant.
May I now 'fast-forward' to the time -- the next evening -- when Tom's audience with the Chief had been concluded ?
Tom was escorted from the boma by a couple of the Nkosi's security amasekela, and I wound down the Jag's window, and addressed him sternly.
"Tom, you have certainly missed your airoplane tonight, my friend, and Christine is not at all happy with you. I've had sixteen 'phone calls from her this afternoon on my cell, whilst I have been waiting here. At first she was worried. Now she is really pissed off."
Tom smiled. "I will explain it to her. This has been our best holiday ever,but more importantly, I have learned one of the most important lessons of my life, this afternoon."
I put the car into gear resignedly. Would Christine be placated by such knowledge, particularly as it was obvious that Tom had had a puff or two of something that NkosiMkize had been smoking?
"And what was that lesson, my friend ?" I asked, glancing at him and waving a polite farewell to the Sangoma's Security Warriors, as they opened the barbed wire gate.
Even in the fast-gathering dusk I could see Tom's smile of absolute contentment, as he spoke.
"I learned that African time is very different from anyone else's time.
"And I learned that African time is far more important than anyone else's time: in the eyes of Mwari."
Although I knew that Christine was cross, I could not disagree with him.
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