Artwork by Kevin Ngwenya, A Fishers Tale, 2021
As I grew up, I took a liking to fishing. I started at a very young age, between 8 and 10 years old. At first, I was a bait boy in charge of cutting the bait to ensure that the guys that are fishing have sufficient bait to continue fishing. As time went on, I eventually acquired a rod and a reel and some tackle and I fell hook, line and sinker for it. I used to look forward to the weekends after school and my dad used to say, ‘no, you’re not allowed to go’, but we used to jump through the window Des and I. And when we got back from fishing on Sunday, irrespective of whether we’ve caught a fish or not, we were faced with the good possibility of a hiding because we had absconded and went against the old man’s will. We were still youngsters and my dad didn’t like the thought of us going fishing at that particular time but being a youngster, you get up to mischief, you want to explore. Back in those days I started fishing out at the entrance of the Durban harbour. We used to travel to our fishing spot by train because there was no other means of transport to that area. It grew into a habit; every weekend we were away. And it was exciting because we used to see these huge sea vessels coming into the harbour mouth with whales. They would winch them up the slipway onto a locomotive low bed. To get bait which was whale skin at that time, you had to have a 5l paint bucket with a galvanised strip of iron called a hook iron which you bend in a spear shape and we used to sharpen the one end and we’d use that to scrape off the whale skin. We had to be very alert when we were scraping the skin because we weren’t allowed in the slipway because they were busy winching up the whales. Those whales weighed over 2-3 tons and if the cable had to snap while they were winching, there’s a good possibility that we would have been cut in half. Due to the stress on the cable pulling the whale up the slipway onto the low bed they didn’t allow us in but we actually still got in there. That was one danger that we were faced with while acquiring the whale skin. The second one was the foreman that was in charge of the slipway, he didn’t allow us in there. When he saw people there, he used to take one of the big wooden screws used to screw down the wooden sleepers on the railway line and throw it. He wouldn’t throw it directly at you, he would throw it at the whale so when it ricochets off the whale it’s coming to you at twice the speed. So that was another danger we were faced with besides falling into the water and being eaten by the sharks.