“Kippie Moeketsi is not dead yet”

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In the old days everybody knew Kippie Moeketsi. He was the best saxophone player around. He played with big bands like the Jazz Maniacs and the Harlem Swingsters. He played with Hugh Masekela and Dollar Brand. He played in big shows like King Kong.

Now Kippie’s life is different. He cannot find work. He lost his house in Soweto last year. He had no money for rent.

Kippie now lives in Mabopane. This is a township near Pretoria. He lives with Dolly Rathebe and her family. Dolly was a famous singer in the Sophiatown days.

Learn and Teach went to visit Kippie Moeketsi in Mabopane. He told us about his life.

Kippie Moeketsi was born in the slums of Johannesburg in 1925. When he was a baby, his family moved to George Goch location. Kippie’s father was a clerk in the municipality.

Kippie’s father loved music. He played the organ for the church choir. He wanted his six children to play music. All the children became good musicians. Jacob, the oldest son, played the piano for the Jazz Maniacs.

Kippie was the youngest boy in the family. All his brothers went to school and studied hard. Jacob passed matric. Kippie’s brother Andrew became a teacher. But Kippie was not the same. He did not like school.

Kippie had three good friends. They played together all the time. They were very naughty. Sometimes they missed school and went to the golf course. They got jobs as caddies.

“We only got paid one shilling and sixpence a day,” says Kippie. “So we stole golf balls. Then we sold the balls back to the guys we stole them from. We sold the balls for two shillings and six pence.”

They had another trick. They put sticky tar on the end of long sticks. They went to the shop in George Goch location. When the shopkeeper was not looking, they reached over the counter with the sticks. The tickeys behind the counter stuck to the tar. They went back to the shop the next day. They bought sweets with the same tickeys.

Kippie left school after standard five. He was 18 years old. He got a job sweeping floors in a men’s hostel. But the wages were low and the work was boring. He left the job. He got a job at a chemist. He delivered medicine on a bicycle.

Then Kippie got a present. His brother Lapis gave him a clarinet. At this time, Kippie decided he wanted to be a good musician. He worked in the day. At night he played the clarinet.

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Kippie Moeketsi and Dolly Rathebe are back at work again!

“I played that thing until 2 0’clock in the morning,” says Kippie. “On weekends I played for 12 hours a day. The neighbours complained about the noise. But I did not stop playing. I loved music too much.”

Kippie learnt how to read music. After two years he played the clarinet very well. Then he learnt how to play the saxophone. Soon he was also a good saxophone player.

Other young musicians also lived in George Goch location. They played jazz together. They started a band. They called themselves the “Band in Blue”. Kippie played the saxophone for the band.

The Band in Blue played in an old house near George Goch. The band played marabi music – the music of the people. The people from the slums came to listen. They bought food and booze. They danced until 4 0’clock in the morning. Kippie’s problems started now. He started boozing a lot. He never stopped.

Kippie enjoyed playing for the Band in Blue. But he wanted to play in the townships. The small bands did not play in the townships. The gangs did not let them.

Gangs like the “Russians” and the “Spoilers” ruled the townships. The gangs only let big bands like the Jazz Maniacs and the Harlem Swingsters play in the townships.

Then Kippie got lucky. In 1948 the Harlem Swingsters offered him a job. The Harlem Swingsters started three years before in a backyard in Western Native Township. But now they were famous. The great Todd Matshikiza played for the group.

The Harlem Swingsters mixed American music with marabi. And they mixed it well. Music fans followed them all over the country.

The Harlem Swingsters had six good years. Then people stopped liking them. Kippie left the group. He started a small jazz band called the Shantytown Sextet.

The Shantytown Sextet played with a group of singers. The singers were called the Manhattan Brothers. The Manhattan Brothers were the best singing group in Africa. They were famous allover the world. They sold thousands of records.

The Shantytown Sextet and the Manhattan Brothers played all over the country. “Those were the days’; says Kippie. “Our shows were always full. I always had money in my pocket. We ate well in those days.”

In 1954 the Manhattan Brothers and the Shantytown Sextet went to Cape Town. They needed a piano player. Kippie saw a young man playing the piano in a bioscope. Kippie asked him to play for the Shantytown Sextet. The man’s name was Dollar Brand.

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Kippie playing with Dollar Brand in the old days

“Dollar knew nothing about music at that time’; says Kippie. “He was just a skollie. He followed me around everywhere. I taught him a lot. Now he is a big man in music.”

Dollar went back to Johannesburg with Kippie. He lived with Kippie at George Goch. They played together at a place called Dorkay House.

At Dorkay House they met other young musicians. They met Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Johnny Getz and Nathaya Njoko. Dollar and Kippie started a new band with these men. They called themselves the Jazz Epistles.

“The Jazz Epistles was the best group I have played with” says Kippie. “We played at four or five nightclubs in a week. Sometimes we played at two nightclubs on the same night. Then the white musicians complained. They stopped us playing at white nightclubs.”

The Jazz Epistles broke up after four years. Kippie got a job with a show called King Kong. He went to London with the show. But Kippie was boozing a lot. He got very sick in London. He went to hospital for two months.

img19Kippie came back to South Africa. But most of his friends had left. Hugh Masekela and Dollar Brand were in America. Kippie had no work.

Then Dollar Brand came back to South Africa. Kippie played with him again. But again the booze was a problem. Dollar fought with Kippie about the booze.

“That was the end,” says Kippie. “I have not played with a band since then. In 1977 I made a record with Pat Matshikiza. But that is all.”

Kippie never got married. He lived with a woman for 13 years. Her name is Becky. He met her in Sophiatown in 1951. They have two children. Becky left Kippie in 1964. She lives with her two children in Soweto. Kippie often visits them.

“I’m not bitter,” says Kippie. “But I’m angry about one thing. The record companies didn’t give me a fair deal. They made a lot of money from me. The record companies are now very rich. And I have nothing.”

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“I am poor now, but I am not crying,” says Kippie. “I’m fighting the booze. I’m going to win. Dolly and me are making a come-back. We are working hard together. Kippie Moeketsi is not dead yet!”

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“CISCO THE GREAT”: The gangster who went straight

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005The Russians, The Berliners, The Msomis, The Spoilers, The Americans …. even brave men got scared when they heard these names. These were the names of the gangs that ruled the townships of Johannesburg in the 1950’s.

And some of the meanest gangsters came from Alexandra Township. Chanki ‘Zorro’ Mahangwe, Shad rack ‘Bra Max’ Mathews, Alec ‘Msomi’ Dube – these were only some of the men who gave Alex the name ‘Slag­ paal’ – the place of slaughter. I n those days, in the words of an old Drum writer, “mothers feared for their daughters and fathers feared for their wages.”

Today most of these gangsters are dead. Some died the same way they lived – by the bullet or the knife. Others died at the end of a hangman’s rope. But one gangster lived through it all. His name. Paulus ‘Cisco the Great’ Tefo. He is an old man now and his gangster days are over.

“I am not afraid to tell you the story of my life,” says Cisco. “But I tell you I am not proud of those days. My eyes bleed when I think of the story.”

THE YOUNG CISCO

Paulus ‘Cisco the Great’ Tefo doesn’t know the year he was born. “When I first saw the sun I knew I was here in Alex,” says Cisco. “I don’t know what year it was. All I know is I found my parents here when I came out.”

Cisco was like so many children in the township. He didn’t like school. His parents didn’t have money. And he was bored in the ghetto.

“We used to march around the town­ ship” says Cisco. “One guy had a big drum.The rest of us played our penny­ whistles. We all wore coloured skirts­ just like the guys from Scotland. In this way we made an extra penny or two.”

The young Cisco loved music. His parents sent him to church. At church the only thing he learned was how to sing. Soon the young boy was going to all the dances. He was also a great dancer.

Cisco has a drink in an Alex shebeen.

Cisco has a drink in an Alex shebeen.

“I was a champion of the jitterbug style,” says Cisco. “Once I even won a prize with that great doll Dolly Rathebe. I also knew the great guys of music – like Zulu Boy Cele and Zakes Nkosi. Those guys played the hottest music in town. Sometimes I sang for them when they played at weddings.”

But while Cisco danced to the music of Zulu Boy Cele, the people were suffering. Wages were low and jobs were scarce. People couldn’t find houses. And when they did find houses, rents were high.

The people had to live. So many people turned to crime. And soon Cisco was ready to join them. Or as Cisco said, “In life the boys had no dough. They had to get into this.”

Shad rack 'Max' Mathews Msomi leader now dead.

Shad rack ‘Max’ Mathews Msomi leader now dead.

THE YOUNG AMERICANS

“I stayed in Alex but I moved with the boys from Sophiatown,” says Cisco. “We called ourselves the Young Americans. The gangs in Alex were the Spoilers and the Msomis. They were a bad bunch. I did not keep their company!”

The Spoilers and the Msomi’s ruled Alexandra in the 1950’s. A group of young boys started the Spoilers. They stole from people’s pockets. They went to parties in the township. And they always gave the women a hard time – and their boyfriends could do nothing but watch.

Soon the Spoilers were stealing from shops. Some shopkeepers paid the Spoilers to keep away. They paid “protection money”.

Some of the shopkeepers got a bit angry. A tough butcher called Shad rack Mathews decided to fight

the Spoilers. He went to see the door­ keeper at the Plaza bioscope. He was a strong man called Alec Dube. Together they started a gang called the Msomis.

The Msomis fought the Spoilers. But thats not all. Soon the Msomis were also robbing shops and stealing wages from the people.

The Msomis had an office on the corner of Selbourne Avenue and 12th Avenue. The gang had its own judge. Nobody could stand up to the Msomis – and live.

THE BANK JOB

“The Msomi guys were bad news,” says Cisco. “They robbed and killed their own people. All of Alex hated them. But we were not like that. We were thieves and fighters. And we only stole from the rich and from the shops in town. Then we sold the goods to the people at a lower price. But we never killed our people.”

“The boys from Sophiatown always came to fetch me in a boat,” says Cisco. (They called the big old cars ‘boats’) “From Alex we moved into town and did our jobs.”

Then Cisco and the young Americans decided to do a big job. “We had worked a plan with a white guy who worked in a bank,” says Cisco. “The job went well – no problems. Then when we had the dough in our hands,

the white man called his friends. They wanted all the dough for themselves. They followed us in a big, black Buick. I thought this guy was going too far. So I pulled out my gun and shot him. The guy died.”

A LONG TIME TO THINK

Paulus Tefo got 15 years for murder. In the meantime the war between the Msomis and the Spoilers got hotter. Many gangsters died in these wars. And many were arrested. And some like Shad rack ‘Bra Max’ Mathews were hanged.

Cisco spent 12 years in jail. Then they let him out for good behaviour. “I did a long stretch inside,” says Cisco. “I had a long time to think. When I came out most of the old guys were dead or in jail. I decided to go straight. I even got a job – but I must say, its the on Iy job I ever had!”

THE MAYOR OF ALEX

Today Paulus ‘Cisco the Great’ Tefo is an old man. He is very poor. He lives in an old shack in his sister’s backyard.

The 'Mayor' and the kids of Alex.

The ‘Mayor’ and the kids of Alex.

Cisco broke his leg last month. So now he walks all bent over on crutches. His face is full of deep lines. And his body is full of old wounds. “You see, look at this stab wound on my wrist here,” the old man will say.

But in his old age, Cisco has begun a new life. He now cares about the people around him. He wants to help them.

“Right now I’m trying to help my people get better houses”, says Cisco. “And I go and pay for peoples permits when they are at work. I also help them when they have got problems. That is why they call me the Mayor of Alex.”

And its true. Whenever he walks in the street people shout, “Heyta Cisco!

How’s the Mayor?” Sometimes people call him to sing for the kids at a birthday party. He gets a little money this way.

So now Paulus ‘Cisco the Great’ Tefo sings for the children of Alex. He tells them stories about the old days. But he tells the kids he is not proud of the stories. He tells them gangs are not the best way to fight for better houses and higher wages. He tells the people they can only get a better life if they work with each other· and not against each other. •