When I was called up to the army in 1979 my friend Tabs Fyvie offered to deliver me to the (not so pearly) gates of Voortrekkerhoogte (or as Barks always insisted: Roberts’ Heights. Now thankfully at last it has a non-bullshit name: Thaba Tshwane!).
Off we went to Pretoria and sought out a pub. A kroeg, really – we were on the Central Gevangenis side of downtown Pretoria. A final drink before disappearing into uniform.
Many drinks later the 5pm deadline was approaching. Walking to the car we passed a sangoma’s emporium with enticing offers and claims written crudely on the window. Opportunity beckoned.
Turning in we were met by the great consultant himself. Tabs explained he would like to get rid of his paunch, and the man indicated this was a very minor thing which he could do with one hand tied behind his back. We were not sharp enough at that particular juncture to enquire how come he didn’t use it on himself . As in, y’know: “Physician, Heal Thyself .”
He reached for a metal rasp, took down a piece of bark from the many shelves behind him piled with bark, skins, leaves, string, dead animals, bottles of various sizes, seeds, skulls and who knows what else and grated off a pile of sawdust onto a newspaper, folded it up and said “Twenty bucks”.
Shit! Twenty Ront! In 1979! We were both pickled and we hadn’t spent that much on beer! Still, Tabs coughed up and the great man asked me my pleasure.
“I want to get out of going to the army”, I said, “Two years is too long, I’d rather dodge it altogether”. “Not a problem” he said, and “That is easy” he said. He whipped around, reached for the same metal rasp, took down the same piece of bark, grated the same amount into the next page of the same newspaper, folded it up and said – you guessed it: “Twenty bucks.”
We paid him quite solemnly, not wanting to damage or weaken the muti with any faint tinges of doubt and repaired to a nearby dive for two more beers to wash down the potion. It was vile, bitter and powder-dry, but we managed, one pinch at a time.
Well, it worked for me: Days later* I emerged from the army a free man – just like the man said.
* OK, 730 days later to be exact.
Tabs, I’m sorry to say, on the other hand, still had his little paunch. Maybe he’d harboured secret doubts? Or maybe the Sangoma had specialised in psychiatry rather than physiology? **
** Decades later Tabbo DID lose his paunch. He credits it to Tim Noakes’ eating plan, but I can’t help wondering . . . .
Peter Brauer wrote:
Clearly he mistakenly gave you the “slow release” version and probly just underestimated the dosage required for Tabs.
I replied: Or maybe it’s because we were “double blind”?
Here’s the gumtree ad that reminded me of that day:
Roberts Heights !! Barks was indeed the last of the colonials in Gauteng. The only others who called it that were my grandparents. I see your cynicism was masked by several litres of ale. That’s a. A great story Pete. Does he anti-aging treatments 😄
Oh, yes! For that he rasps some bark into a fold of newspaper. Twenty Rand. Same outcome.