Phumelela Residence in its heyday was the least known residences of CPUT. Located on the corner of Malleson Road and Durban Road opposite UCT’s Liesbeek Residence in downtown Mowbray, the residence resembled more a private house than a student dwelling. The university’s decision to purchase the house was not planned, more a desperate knee-jerk reaction. Having realised that they had admitted more students than a number they could handle, the school’s management, with egg on their face, hurried to buy the property. The residence had two buildings – the larger building housed about seventeen students while the smaller one – The White House – accommodated only three students. The White House which was slightly to the back of the larger house yet directly faced with the electric gate and had more style and finesse, thus warranting its naming after the official residence of America’s presidents by Pule.
So just like that, the university had purchased the house, filled it with male students only and then to forget about it. The students benefited from the amnesia, or faked amnesia, for it never made sense how a property in a suburb like Mowbray could be so ‘conveniently abandoned’. It is not like the students were staying for free. Evidently someone, or some people, were benefiting from the forgotten existence of Phumelela; not that students were complaining about being left alone. To them the absence of authorities from university fit perfectly with the lives they imagined about tertiary life. The freedom and privacy they were afforded, a privilege unheard of in all the university’s student residences. In addition to the privacy and freedom, the near anonymity of the residence among other students made Phumelela a romantic myth. This romanticism could always be gleaned on the faces of the girls brought over to visit. ‘Is this a really a res of CPUT?’ Mohau was asked one day by one of his string of ‘girlfriends’. He would playfully refer to them as his ‘perpetrators’. He on the other hand was their ‘cooperative victim’. ‘Welcome to The Lodge ma’am’, he said. ‘Hayibo! You even call it The Lodge? Akusemnandi apha.’ The young lady was impressed. The young men who stayed at cnr Malleson and Durban Road nicknamed Phumelela ‘The Lodge’ because of its exotic white setting tucked away between large trees in the discreet southern suburb of Mowbray. Pule called the larger house Khayelitsha because the building resembled poverty and suffering. This comparison never sat well with Mohau and Olwethu, the only two in the group who were part of the residents of the larger house. Despite what was a futile protest on their part, the name stuck. Anyone who knew of Phumelela – or The Lodge as its denizens preferred it to be called – understood very well that the property had two houses: one large and called Khayelitsha and the smaller one known as The White House.
The food was ready. Pule had finished preparing pap, chakalaka gravy and Olwethu who was trusted with the meat was also done. In other words, lunch was served. The boys stood up and gathered at the tap outside the house to wash their hands. A cellphone rang. By now their faces were proof that with enough alcohol in his system, man can momentarily lose his natural looks. No matter how dashing he may be, liquor had the power to change all that, transforming him into a creature that could upset the most delicate and sensitive among a family of men. The overflowing of cans in the dustbin when you entered the common area in The White House was another visible sign that this chorus of young men had not been drinking milk. They had been praying something higher and mightier than they could ever handle.
‘Hey you.’ Tumelo answered his mobile phone.
Yonda, Mohau and Olwethu took turns to wash their hands. Tshepo stood a few meters, talking on the phone.
‘How are you doing? Did you manage to wake up after last night?’
Instead of proceeding into the common area where Pule was dishing, the gang decided to stick around and eavesdrop on their friend’s conversation. Leading the pack was the nosy Yonda who kept on asking in hushed tones, ‘A ke ene? A ke ngwana wa maabane?’ Being a natural Isizulu speaker, he was coming along well in mastering leleme la marena – King Moshoeshoe’s language. The crew tried very hard to repress their cackles. Tshepo walked away, ignoring Yonda as if to swat away an irritating fly. The boys laughed some more and entered the common area to join Pule, who like an overbearing mother, kept calling for them to come and eat.
Beer can in hand, Tshepo continued with his conversation while the boys walked in the house to eat. On the other side of the phone was a voice of a lady whose call had suddenly put a big smile on Tshepo’s face.