25 December 1929: Crocodile River Farm - Transvaal.
"They're scared of me," boasted Cestshewayo."*
Hennie tried to think of a reply that would elevate his status in his friend's eyes. He couldn't.
Henry Claridge-Lyon's ancestry might have given him an interesting pedigree, but Ouma's** reassurances didn't mean much to a six year old. The mischievous child with sun-bleached hair looked up at his Zulu friend, four years his senior. "I'm hot. Let's go and swim in the river."
A frayed rope dangled from the branch of a tree where they'd tied it, months ago. The boys had climbed trees since they could scarcely walk.
Hennie gripped one of the knots, ran with the rope then let go, splashing into the deeper water. He swam back to the bank while Cetshewayo stood in the shallows, throwing maroelas*** at him. He couldn't swim.
They lay on the bank, wincing as they bit into the unripe fruit.
"Why are they scared of you, Cets?"
"'Cos I'm a Zulu."
"I'm not scared of you."
"They're Tswanas, you're not."
Hennie frowned. "Why are Tswanas scared of Zulus?"
"It's about the difi-something."^
"What's the difi-thing...?" Hennie paused, trying to look scared. "Shh.., don't turn round, move slowly, there's a crocodile behind you."
Cetshewayo leapt forward in alarm, then turned to confront the danger. He'd missed the impish twitch of his friend's face. Hennie was rocking back and forth, giggling at the tease.
"That's a leguuan,^^ not a crocodile," complained Cetshewayo.
"Silly," laughed Hennie, elated at catching out his older friend. "You should know there's no crocodiles here since the dam was finished."
The creature regarded them with a stoney-eyed glare.
"She's big though," It's too hot. Let's go. Maybe Christmas dinner's ready. What do you think we're having?"
"Don't know. My pa was talking to your pa earlier. They'd got a bush-pig on a spit and some guinea-fowl. Maybe some mopane worms just for you, Hennie." He gave his friend a playful shove.
*Named for the Zulu king, the victor of Isandlwana, who also endowed the world with the story of Rorke's Drift on the next day, 50 years earlier. The 10 year old was the grandson of Ntshingwayo, King Cetshewayo's lieutenant.
**Ouma: Afrikaans name for grandma.
***Maroelas: Wild fruit endemic to the bushveld of Southern Africa.
^Dificane: 1821 invasion of Transvaal area by Zulu renegade, Mzilikaze.
^^Leguaan: Giant lizard.
25 December 1939: Simpson's in the Strand - London.
"You look the part," commented Cetshewayo, regarding his friend up and down. "I bet the RAF blue is a magnet to the ladies."
They shook hands then embraced. "Glad you could come early. We can catch up before the others get here and everyone gets too drunk," said Henry.
"Is this where we're eating?" Cetshewayo gave the doorman a doubtful glance. He returned an icy stare.
Flying Officer Lyon stepped up to the man, confronting him with unblinking confidence. "This is my guest, Prince Cetshewayo from Zululand. We're expected."
The doorman touched the brim of his top-hat in deference and opened the gate.
"Where are you staying, Cets?"
"South of the river, in a dingy bed-sit. It's cheap and the landlady has grudgingly accepted a black face for cash in advance."
Hennie frowned. "Why don't you come and stay with us in Surrey? That wouldn't cost you anything."
"Thanks for the offer my friend. Ouma Teddy also also told me I was welcome, but I need to be near the seat of power. When I get the opportunity for an audience, it's usually at short notice, then only a five minute interview if it's anyone with influence."
What are you expecting to achieve, Cets?"
"Probably nothing since war was declared. No one wants to hear about the objectives of the ANC* now. I'm trying to book a cheap passage back. I'm just wasting the movement's money here."
"Remind me, what's the ANC?"
Cetshewayo laughed. "You were in Rhodesia too long with your aeroplanes. Ouma Teddy would have told you. We're the African National Congress. I'm one of the few Zulu members but we're trying to present a united front, irrespective of tribal differences. Without unity, we'll never have a voice."
"Is anyone listening to your voice, Cets?"
"No. That's why I'm here. Smuts** is about as liberal as we're likely to see, but he has no interest in uplifting the non-white majority. He'd lose support within the ruling United Party. Ouma Teddy suggested I come to London to try and raise some backing from here."
"Timing wasn't great, Cets."
"Except for Mr. Churchill, no one really expected another war, but now I agree. I'm wasting my time. There's one good thing, it will keep Ouma busy here. It's not safe for her to be in South Africa after the support she gave us. Anyway, tell me what you're up to Hennie."
"Bit naughty really. You know I'm not even seventeen yet, but keep it to yourself. I've got so many flying hours logged and my license says I'm eighteen. I didn't forge it, they made a mistake which I admit I didn't correct. Now I'm needed here and all I want to do is fly. Uncle Albert in Rhodesia started it. He showed me the photos of my Dad's brother James in a BE2 before he died in 1916. Then my uncle took me up in the de Havilland Moth he'd bought. There was no turning back. Within a month he admitted that I was the better pilot. Back in Johannesburg, I hung around Palmietfontein airport, day after day. When they saw I was competent, I took visitors for flips over the city and the gold mines in a Tiger Moth. That was my life, flying. I didn't care about politics. After I saw the pictures of the Me109s in the Spanish war, I told my parents I was going to the German embassy to see if the Luftwaffe would take me. Ouma said she'd disown me if I did. You know how determined she can be. I was brought back here so she could pull some strings. That got me fast tracked through officer training. So here I am, a fighter pilot based at Hornchurch. The squadron there and one at Duxford were the first to get Spitfires. My squadron leader is a South African too. I've been lucky, so far we've not seen one German plane."
Cetshewayo smiled. "Yes, I know Ouma Teddy's determination. She always saw us as equal human beings and was very vocal about it. She's opened a few doors for me here but with the war, even Ouma has little influence."
Henry Lyon shook his head. "I don't know, Cets. We'd both hoped for a better world but it seems to be getting darker with each day. Anyway, here come the rest of the clan. It's Christmas, so let's enjoy our dinner and forget politics for a few hours."
*ANC: African National Congress, a movement attempting to unite all non white South Africans and achieve full voting rights and freedoms.
**Jan Smuts: Prime minister of the Union of South Africa in second world war.
25 December 2019: Crocodile River Farm - North of Johannesburg.
At ninety six, Henry Lyon's progress was slow. His stick tapped as he negotiated the ramp onto the old farmhouse stoep*. It had changed little since the days when the farmstead was owned by his parents. The bougainvillia encroached a little closer, the overhanging tree fuchsias brushed his broad-brim sun hat as he turned the corner, disturbing a nectar feeding sunbird. The title to the farmstead had passed to Cetshewayo Nkosi at the death of his mother, as specified in the will of Edwina Claridge-Lyon, his grandmother. He suppressed a pang of jealousy, convincing himself it was only nostalgia for the place where he was born, the holding claimed by his adoptive grandfather, for whom he was named.
Cets, his lifetime friend, sat in a wheelchair, parked in the shade of the overhang, snoozing.
Hennie rested a sun-spotted hand on his shoulder. "Are you dead or just ignoring me, you old savage?" The eyelids flickered. "It would be very inconsiderate of you to die just when I was coming to visit, but what else should I expect from a Zulu?" He felt the ripple of amusement as the centenarian opened his eyes. He leaned down to embrace him. "Belated Congratulations, Cets. Sorry I didn't get here for your birthday. Did you get a message from the queen?"
The old Zulu shook his head. "No, but I forgot hers, so we're even."
"Well I'm on time for this," said Henry. He handed his friend a bottle of Glenlivet. "Happy Christmas, you heathen. Don't drink it all at once."
"Good choice," said Cetshewayo. I've got a bottle for you too. Very rare local product."
"Not Oupa van Doorn's mampoer?"** Is the still functioning? Must be older than you."
"It is. Nandi, my daughter does most of the work. She'll start pressing peaches again next month, but your bottle is five years old. Hard to keep it closed that long, especially on cold Highveld*** nights."
"I'll take it back to Surrey. No one believes me when I describe it. Should be entertaining at family gatherings. Talking of family, will we see all of yours for Christmas dinner?"
"Only one wife. The senior wife died last year. I'm thinking of getting a new one. Most of the children and grandchildren are here, some great grandchildren too."
"How many now?"
"A lot. I can't recall. It changes every month. I can remember two Cetshewayos, a Ntshingwayo and a Nandi, but I don't know which ones they are. My eldest, Walter, is here for a few days. He's in a lead role unravelling the corruption which wrecked our economy these last ten years."
"I wish him luck with that. It will be a long hard road back for South Africa. Anyway, its good to see see you and hear a logical brain still functioning under that grey fuzz. How are you feeling?"
The Zulu chuckled. "Better than I did on Robben Island, and more likely to live a few more days than when my address was Pretoria Central****."
Henry felt a dark shadow come over him. He shook his head to clear it.
"What's up, my old friend?" said Cetshewayo. One hundred years had not dulled his perception.
"What happened to you and your comrades was inhuman. It's hard to believe what you suffered while I lived a comfortable life."
The old Zulu smiled. "Do you remember those halcyon times here when we were kids? They were the best, for me at least. Then and later, you and your family and a few like you did your utmost for us, not without risk to yourselves. We don't forget. I've read your book, Hennie. You too had hard times when living one extra day was a bonus. A Spitfire pilot at Hornchurch in the last half of 1940, with a life expectancy of three days? Your words could have been an epitaph for either of us. We should drink a toast to the comrades no longer with us, honour their memory, then move on. I have. There goes Ouma's dinner gong. We still use it on special days. Let's see what we've got for Christmas dinner."
A grandson appeared through the open door into the dining room. A long table was laid but the doors to the garden on the other side were closed, blinds drawn. The old friends glanced at each other in surprise as the teenager halted the wheelchair in front of them, then rapped on a wooden panel. Silence. Cetshewayo turned to his grandson with a look of impatience, just as the doors were hurled back to the thunder of drums.
"Bayete Nkosi."^ The roar went up from from dozens of Zulus, clad in their black and white kilts and cow tails, waving their shields and glinting assegais^^, feet stamping in a rhythm, the origin intended to strike terror in an enemy. Hennie smiled and followed Cetshewayo, beaming from his wheelchair as the young man pushed him to the centre of the semi-circle. The drummer's bodies were wet from from their effort as the horns of the bull^^^ closed around them. The ground shook from the circling dancers. The noise, the scent of millet beer, wood smoke and sweat was overpowering, then in an instant, the drumming ceased, the dancers still. A guard of honour had formed, leaving a tunnel beneath crossed assegais. Eight stout warriors lifted the two old men and carried them to their place of honour at the head of the dining table. A single drum beat slowly. Then with a final Zulu roar of salute, they were gone.
The goat and the guinea fowl, served on a bed of mealie^^^^ tasted good. "What's in that delicious garnish?" asked Henry.
"The crunchy bits are mopane worms,"^^^^^ replied Nandi.
Cetshewayo, watching his face, guffawed at the expression.
Henry swallowed hard. "It's hot in here, Cets. Shall we go and swim in the river, like we used to?"
"You know, Hennie, I never did learn to swim."
"Come, I'll teach you."
"In another lifetime, my friend. Now the pollution would probably kill you."
*Stoep: Covered veranda.
**Mampoer: Illicitly distilled liquor, usually based on peaces or maroela fruit.
****Highveld: Transvaal plateau mostly above 1500 metres.
^Bayete Nkosi: Salute the King.
^^Assegai: Short stabbing spear said to have been designed by Shaka, father of the Zulu nation.
^^^Horns of the Bull: Zulu military manoeuvre to surround an enemy.
^^^^Mealie: Ground white maize.
^^^^^Mopane worms: Larvae of a type of emperor moth, found in mopane trees.