The Shangaanator

rito head

“And if you like fish and grits and all that pimp shit, everybody let me hear you say oh yea yer” – Outkast

Name: Rito Hlungwani
Age: 30
Hometown: Cape Town by way of Giyani
Occupation: Meat Smoker, Quantity Surveyor and Rugby Coach
Hobbies: mpuluto, makwaya and walking his pet dog

The Shanganaator. Something tells me that this blog will be lorded over my head for years to come. You see, a household can only handle one alpha; Rito and I have been battling for position since we met. By writing this, I admit I revere the guy.  He will inevitably take it to mean submission and try to stake new territory. Ah well, I was bound to lose eventually.

rito and mpho

This is normal, right?

Rito carries around a coffee mug that reads “Teamwork – a lot of people doing things my way”.  Recently, he over-estimated his athletic prowess (ie. under-estimated his oldman-ness), dusted off his rugby boots and played in a full tackle beer league game that left him crippled. In less than 80 minutes he both dislocated his shoulder and got a hematoma in his knee.  And his team lost. That evening, instead of going out, we played a sympathy board game in his living room. Neither sling nor crutch could stop him from commandeering the game. No, he shall overcome!  With knee raised and one functional arm, he held tightly to both the deck and his own card. Rather than give up control, he leaned awkwardly and painfully across himself and others every 30-odd seconds until the game was up.  Now that’s commitment.

Rito was my husband’s first love. They lived together for 4 years before I showed up and wrecked home. To ease shock for them both, we brought him along for the first 6 months before releasing him into the big bad world. He was the best man and MC at our wedding, is executor of our will, uncle to our daughter and, by all standards, a “brother from another mother”.

World Cup 2010. Without speaking a word of Spanish, became head Spain cheerleader

World Cup 2010. Without speaking a word of Spanish, became head Spain cheerleader

Rito is smart, determined and upwardly mobile. An engineer by training, he works full-time as a quantity surveyor. On the side, he is an aspiring coach with big ambitions and just custom-made an industrial sized meat smoker as his first entrepreneurial venture. He played professional ruby for a decade and a couple of years ago became the first ever black head coach at the oldest rugby club in South Africa. He is friendly, generous and loves to laugh. At a lanky 6 foot 5 and with a booming voice, he commands more presence than anyone I have ever met. Above all, he is the most principled person I know.

I once got stuck in a car with him on a road trip. He spent it telling me his family history.

Rito Shangaan

Xcibelani – the reason old Shangaan men end up in wheelchairs

A purebred through and through, both his parents and grandparents hail from the Limpopo Province, cradle of the Shangaan people.  Under the apartheid government, black people were forced to live in Bantustans – independent homelands within the borders of South Africa. Each of the 9 ‘official’ black ethnicities was designated a region. When needed by the ‘real’ South Africa, men were allowed to seek work in the mines or cities. The politics of the Bantustans were horrific – puppet leaders propped up by the apartheid government. Additionally, Bantu education, the system that trained blacks instead of educating them, helped ensure progress was slow or non-existent. Despite this, Gazankulu, the Shangaan homeland, prioritized education and managed to establish a sophisticated system.

With my Dad

With my Dad

For fifty years, Rito’s father George was an educator, one of the few professions available to black men. Teaching in a small village outside the thriving metropolis of Giyani, he met his wife-to-be Engy, the daughter of a World War II Prisoner of War. Conscripted to the Native Military Corps and shipped to Europe to provide labour for the white troops, his Infantry Brigade was captured by the Germans and handed over to an Italian POW camp. By the time he returned to Gazankulu years later, all of his children had passed away.  He and his wife started anew and had 4 more kids.

Rito dance(Yes I just told a jaw-dropping story in a casual matter-of-fact paragraph. As did Rito on that road trip, over Naija music and a greasy gas station pie.)

Soon after George and Engy were married, he lost both his parents.  Still in his twenties, he became the primary caretaker for his 5 younger siblings, one of whom was still a toddler. Over the the next 40 years, George fulfilled a promise to his own father to educate his entire family. He became a school Principal, sent Engy to teacher’s college, his 5 siblings and all 4 of his children to Universities.  It took decades and a lot of sacrifices, but from a 2-roomed house in a tiny Limpopo Village, one man had the patience and focus to raise two full generations of engineers, scientists, IT consultants, business executives and entrepreneurs.  Today, including their children’s children, over 30 people live empowered, self-determined, quality lives their grandparents could only dream of.  When his youngest daughter graduated as a phyiscal therapist, he retired and bought a Benz.

F*#k me. That’s a legacy if ever I have heard one.

I dream of having Rito’s vision, righteousness and composure under pressure. As a brand new employee he once told his angry CEO to please leave until he had calmed down. He refused to speak to someone using an angry tone of voice! When he told me his family’s history, the pieces started to come together.

Rito with KhayaI lose patience waiting in line at the grocery store and panic if I miss a flight connection. I get stuck in one moment after another and am uncertain that “the bigger picture” even exists. I get frustrated at both Rito and my husband when they promise “things will come right” and launch into a tirade of evidence to the contrary. Shitty frequently wins over righteous, and justice, if ever it may rule, it sure ain’t here.  But patience and integrity, by their very definitions, are uncompromising. They cannot promise rewards, but they always make us better people.

Next month, Rito becomes a Dad and Khaya gets a cousin. As much as I would like to download these lessons from him in one fell swoop, I do consider myself lucky to be able to absorb them as learned by our next generation.

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil


6 thoughts on “The Shangaanator

  1. “When his youngest daughter graduated as a phyiscal therapist, he retired and bought a Benz.”

    Enough said : LEGEND!

  2. Very nice Aimeeand touchingly well-written! Yes Dad had a vision and the one person who took after Dad is Rito.

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