I bought a little doll at O.R. Tambo Airport. It’s a small, colourfully beaded doll with long dreadlocks that are also beaded. The beads are the national colours of Mzanzi. I bought it because I figured it looked very South African. Plus it was better than buying another fridge magnet. Or a branded mug. God, I hate branded mugs!
Anyway, I wanted to hang the doll on my rear view mirror in the car but then when I did it made me look like a hangman because it swung from a string like it had been strangled. I canned that idea. I opted to leave it on my desk as decoration. I thought it would give my desk a more bohemian cool. You know, something artsy and all. It didn’t. Everybody thought it was a voodoo doll. I mean everybody who came to our office looked at it and without touching it asked, ”Is that a voodoo doll?” and I said, “No, that’s a doll.” And they would say, “It looks like a voodoo doll” and I would retort indignantly, “Why, because it has beads? There are people who walk around with beads on their braids – are they voodoo people?” Then they would look at me and say, “Cool it, Biko. No need to get your knickers in a twist, I just said it looks like a voodoo doll, that’s all.” Then they’d pick it up and I’d say in a very slow drawl, “Put. Down. The. Doll. And. Step. Away. PLEASE!”
Increasingly, everybody who has visited our offices has commented that the doll looks like a voodoo doll and it peeves me. I want to scream, “Can’t a black man have a doll on his desk without it being a voodoo?!”
Then something happened recently; our office got burgled. I was in Sweden when it happened. My partner sent me a Whatsapp message saying simply, “They broke into the office last night and stole the TV in the boardroom, one laptop, the printer, water heater, coat hanger and the wall clock.” I was shocked because our office is in a fairly decent address. Plus, who burgles anymore in this day and age of online fraud? How so 1987! Then he added in another message, “Curiously they didn’t steal your doll.” Smiley at the end. It sounded so accusatory: as if the doll had powers of repelling theft.
I wanted to write back, “If that doll is a voodoo doll it would have prevented the burglary in the first place. Or we would have found those thugs stuck on our desks, writing on a piece of paper over and over again, ‘We are sorry we broke into your office’.”
But I opted not to respond. Silence is golden.
This is a testimony that it’s become increasingly hard to support local artisans these days. You buy a lovely, beaded doll and all of a sudden you are branded a juju man.