Magqubu walking with rifle over his shoulder and carrying a small three-legged cooking pot is a familiar sight on Wilderness Leadership School trails. I know that pot well and have eaten putu and meat from it many times.
The pot is often the cause of much comment and sometimes amusement by the trailers, but to Magqubu it is a treasured possession and his care of it has become a ritual. After cooking it is washed then wiped with just the right amount of animal fat and put away. For most of his life Magqubu has cooked his own food for two reasons: religious and survival.
He is a Samba so any form of pork or its byproducts are taboo. His strict Zulu discipline over other guards and his arrest of many poachers that have at times ended in death have made him many enemies. They don’t bother him; they are a fact of life. But revenge could be fatal.
“You white men know nothing of poison. If someone wanted to kill me and used one of our plant poisons no one would ever know why I died. I intend to live until my time comes too,” he added emphatically. So wherever Magqubu goes so does the little three-legged pot, even to the smartest hotels.
Once we had a blazing row over that pot. It happened some years back when we had an unpleasant encounter with lions on a trail. Magqubu had put his pot down and unslung his rifle as we retreated from a pride of lions. We were in thick bush and the pot was left behind as we moved away into a clearing.
When everything had quietened down Magqubu said he was going to get his pot. I said irritably, “Forget about the damned thing, it’s too dangerous in there. I’ll buy you another.” A somewhat typical white man’s reaction I suppose. “Ca,” Magqubu said, the word exploding from his lips. To argue with him would have been hopeless, to order him unfair, so I pleaded. “Your life is too valuable; you still have so much to teach us all.”
He was adamant. It was his pot and his life and no true Zulu was afraid to die. He walked off into the bush and I heard the lions coughing as he approached. Not a nice sound. He was back in ten minutes with the pot and we walked on as though nothing had happened.
There are many lessons to be learned from that little pot. Once Magqubu was shining it carefully and he said, “What are you people doing to money? You see this pot,” and he tapped it for emphasis. “I bought it in 1938 for five shillings. Today a new one costs four rand. Why?”
He expected a one sentence answer. I had to shrug my shoulders. I know that it is inflation, but how can you explain something you don’t understand yourself, particularly if your knowledge of the language is limited. “What are we doing to money? – Magqubu, I don’t know.” I answered.
That night in the bush there was another lesson which I notice every time I go out with him. The trailers gathered a pile of wood and set about making a huge blazing fire, which was absolutely unnecessary. I pointed to Magqubu and said, “Watch how he does it.” He gathered a few sticks, made a small fire, cooked his whole meal in the pot then got one ntombothi branch that would give him light and keep him warm for the night.
I have often lain in my sleeping bag on a trail where one takes the minimum of possessions and wondered whether most of our problems did not lie in our mania to acquire too much. What, for example, would Magqubu do with two pots on a trail?
If you would like to listen Ian Player telling this story, please play this audio clip.Magqubu’s cooking pot.