A resident phones the police. She’s hysterical. A naked black man, armed with a revolver, is roaming a Johannesburg neighbourhood, she tells them. “Hurry,” she says. The flying squad is dispatched. Sirens wail. Lights flash. Cops aim
their guns at the gunman. He is surrounded.
Panic flashes across his eyes. “Don’t shoot.”
In 1976 a six-year-old boy plays a role in bringing The Revolution to a quiet suburb of Joburg.
The boy, oblivious to the rising political temperature, just wants to play. The gunman is Professor M’Jakes. “I’m a professor of the stars,” he tells the boy. The professor works for the boy’s parents – in the garden, but also looks after the boy.
It’s an endless summer. They play soccer. The professor loves Moroka Swallows (“Follow the Birds”) and the boy is a Buccaneer (“Once a Pirate always a Pirate”). They have marathon soccer showdowns and whoop when goals are scored.
The professor teaches the boy The Peacemaker and they sing it non-stop.
Get out, damn it. Close the door, don’t slam it. If you’ll take good care of me I’ll be your caretaker. You’ll be the maker of the peace and I’ll be the peacemaker.
But there’s not much peace in South Africa in 1976.
The professor and the boy are armed with water pistols. They chase each other. There is a commotion at the gate and the professor goes to investigate. He is wearing the boy’s father’s brown swimming trunks and is still brandishing the boy’s water pistol when a neighbour spots him and alerts the police.
Fast forward 10 years: the professor has landed a job as a driver. Occasionally he visits the boy, who is now a teenager.
The teenager gets ready for school. There is a call for “concerned South Africans” to boycott school to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the uprising. The air is thick with the State of Emergency.
The teen knots his tie. The teachers at his government school don’t teach him and his classmates about being peacemakers. They teach them to hate.
There’s a knock on the teen’s door. It’s his father, who was one of the lawyers who defended the Soweto 11, the “seditious” leaders accused of inciting the uprising.
The teen’s dad explains to his boy that June 16 was a day when young people took on the guns of the police to protest against being taught in Afrikaans. “They wanted to be treated like human beings,” he says.
As his father speaks about what happened on June 16 the teen gets a glimpse of what is really going on in his country. It’s a turning point in his life.
On June 16, 1986 he stays at home.
The years go by and the professor stops visiting the teen, who is transforming into a man. He thinks of the professor whenever Swallows and Pirates square off.
Fast forward another 20 years: A middle-aged man is doing a crossword puzzle and stumbles upon this clue: Press political type endlessly to become a peacemaker (8)*.
You’ll be the maker of the peace and I’ll be the peacemaker.
The clue transports him back in time and he thinks of the professor. He doesn’t know what has become of the professor but is sure that wherever he is he is still shouting for the Birds. He wonders if the professor ever thinks of the boy he once played soccer with and with whom he engaged in water pistol battles. He wonders if he ever thinks of the day that, with the help of the boy, he brought The Revolution to a quiet suburb.
The man tells his own children about the professor – a man who worked in a garden, but a man who in a different world – a world of peacemakers – could have been a real professor.
*MEDIATOR: A word sum of MEDIA (“press”) + TORY (“a political type”) minus “Y” (“endlessly”).