Xolani Hlabisa is a security guard.
There is no boom by which he stands, or padlocked entrance. He has no glass fronted hut to sit behind with high tech cameras, and there are no telephone directory sized manuals of paper on which to sign. I have often wondered what happens to those reams of illegible scribbles which one finds at office blocks and housing estates? The cynic in me says they are sold to call center sales agents, but if I’ve learned one thing from my time with Xolani, it is not to live with a cynical mindset.
Armed only with a torch and some old batteries, his calm presence and fading torchlight guide us around the open camp at night, and he is wide awake to the presence not of criminals, but of creatures – every kind of creature which a hugely diverse African wilderness could throw at one.
He speaks from the heart of his two young sons, and his home in KwaNibela close to Lake St Lucia, and one can imagine him exhibiting the same form of courageous protection towards his own family.
Here he carries out his duties with an old torch and even older batteries. I wonder how similarly under-resourced he must be in looking after his two boys?
I wonder if such measurable resources, or lack of them ever hold him back? He has others in abundance.
Courage being just one.
The last time we were here, our colleague suffered a bloody nose. It was no ordinary bleed, as it went on for over 18 hours. In his stubborn Rhodesian bush war and farmland manner he was not too perturbed, and was more anxious in missing the evening’s proceedings round the fire.
We were a lot more worried.
Xolani gently but firmly guided our wounded friend back to his tent, and then unbeknown to us around the fire popped in every half an hour for the whole night to check in on the thankfully sleeping man.
It turns out that Xolani’s real love is as a caregiver. He practiced this for four years in Johannesburg, and is also an HIV-Aids Counsellor. I asked him where he thought this passion came from. He replied that he was just born with it. It is in his name.
Xolani means ‘Peace’, or to be at peace, and he sees himself as a bringer of peace.
Perhaps his parents were onto something when they named him. They would be immensely proud of another of his immeasurable attributes:
Not a few weeks later, a news story hits the CNN headlines. A 22 year old Malian immigrant on his way to a football match in Paris, France. (The News Channel makes this seemingly ridiculous differentiation because there are apparently around 25 places called Paris in the US, and we wouldn’t want anyone from the flyover States to get confused – although they are probably watching Fox news anyway.) This illegal, and largely unwanted immigrant of a few months notices a commotion on the street. Hooters are honking and people are panicking. He looks up and there from four stories up on the ledge of an apartment block is a four year old child dangling from his fingertips.
Like a human Spiderman he ascends the front façade of the building. His physique is way stronger than his fear, and he is encouraged from the streets by loud chants of ‘Allez, allez, allez.” Balcony by balcony he jumps in a cross between PT and Parkour, and with seemingly effortless pull ups, he reaches his target and swings him to safety.
From street to sheet took 36 seconds.
Mamoudou Gassama met with French President Emmanuel Macron. He was given French citizenship and a job as A Parisian Fireman. An obvious occupation for a man who doesn’t even need the ladders!
But this is not why he did what he did. He just loves children he said, and would not have wanted him to get hurt.
In a world trying hard to isolate itself, the mere mention of the word immigrant is enough to swing a National vote, and true heroes like this would be expelled and turned away at the borders. Marginalised back to the masses. People like that are not welcome here – send them back to where they belong. Aliens.
Perhaps the only thing ‘Alien’ about him was his exquisite blend of courage and care?
I wonder what the parents of the dangling toddler are thinking now with their son safely cocooned in the comfort of a fine Parisian percale?
Care does not just arrive because of an exorbitant medical aid, and courage has no need for capes. They arrive quietly and unexpectedly in the heat of the moment or in the dead of night.
They arrive to save your child.
Or to quietly check your pulse.
Could we show a little care in our courage, and heaven knows it takes courage to show how much we care.