Piet Retief is where I was born, then lived the first year of my life in a caravan near Commondale – okay, enough now with the trailer trash jokes, – and near Commondale, as well – that’s so funny you couldn’t make it up). Then my parents moved to Moolman for 4 or 5 years before the great trek to KZN and Winterton. They have my largest respect for coping with a baby for a year in a caravan.
My ‘hometown’ is officially Winterton in the Drakensberg. There’s no reason why this should be so, since I spent from my fifth year to my 18th year there. Then I married, and after three years we moved to Estcourt which smells either of wet Masonite sludge being ironed through huge rollers or burning coffee from the Nestle factory, depending on which way the wind blows. That was the flavour of the air for 11 years. Oh I forgot about the Escort Bacon Factory but that’s probably for the best.
After Estcourt we lived in Durban for 15 years before I moved to Cape Town in 2000. Many suburbs later, I’m now in Wynberg which I love. Thing is – where is one’s hometown? Is it where you were born? Is it where you lived the longest? Where you were happiest?
‘So where are you from?’ In the African culture generally, it’s considered polite to volunteer that information when one is introduced. In more ancient and languid times, that was embellished with the clan one came from, and a recitation of one’s ancestors for several generations back. You really knew who you were dealing with, after that. But now, things are more like: ‘I am Sibongile Ngcobo and I live in Site 5’.
There is something beautiful about this elaborate courtesy. I still don’t really know how to answer that question… My soul lives in the Drakensberg. My body lives and works in Cape Town – and who couldn’t love Cape Town? So maybe I should do some soul retrieval, then I’ll be all of a piece. Or peace.
These are two of my favourite places. I have asked that when I die, my ashes be scattered on Monk’s Cowl on the spot shown below. Once that’s happened, and I’ve traversed the River Styx and reached the Summerlands, there are bound to be the same old questions…because people don’t change.
‘So… where are you from?’
And at last I’ll say with a degree of conviction never known in life: ‘Monk’s Cowl, in the Drakensberg, South Africa…and you?’