In the mid-80s a strange pop phenomenon swept through the shebeens and music festivals of South Africa. Based on the artist's name and song title, everybody was convinced that Oom Hansie was a coloured oke from the Cape Flats or Eersterust in Pretoria. Some maintained that he was from Bosmont or neighbouring Wesbury in Johannesburg. On the surface these were not far-fetched claims. After all, these coloured communities have produced some of the top pop acts in the country. Remember Richard Jon Smith of Michael Row the Boat Ashore fame? They called him Mr Knock-Out, I suspect because his songs were chart-busters.
He was the most famous coloured face in my childhood. There was also Neville Nash, that soulful crooner from Eersterust who sang like a dream. And who among my peers can forget Cecil Mitch of Straight From The Heart fame? But I’m digressing. Anyway, Oom Hansie’s album was titled Help My Krap (Help Me Scratch) and the accents sounded convincing enough. To lend credence to its Cape identity, the album cover was the iconic Table Mountain. Die Kaapse Dans even found itself in soccer lore as the nickname of one of the deadliest strikers of the era - Basil Steenkamp, a coloured player from Eersterust who started his professional career as a bench warmer at Mamelodi Sundowns before he found his scoring boots with the then mighty Buccaneers.
In those days if you were nicknamed Juluka, Harari, Who’s Fooling Who or Die Kaapse Dans – all showbiz names – it meant your footballing credentials were confirmed. You were a true star alongside the Jomo Sonos and Ace Ntsoelengoes of the day. The platinum-selling album was the mainstay of township parties and I suspect it also reached the platteland – thanks to its Afrikaans character. But we were all fooled. It was a big prank that even Leon Schuster couldn't have pulled. Oom Hansie was a fictional character, a figment of our collective imagination. It was all an act by Lucky Dube and his cousin, Richard Siluma.
Lucky Phillip Dube was born on 3 August 1964 on a farm outside Ermelo, a small town in the then Eastern Transvaal. When Help My Krap was released in 1986, his star as an exponent of reggae was on the rise. He had already released Rastas Never Die (1985) and Think About The Children (1986) – following on at least four maskandi albums.
During live performances, Oom Hansie would appear in various disguises because the artist’s real identity was top secret. He would dress up as a fat man with an oversized shirt, big pants with braces and exceptionally long socks. At other times he would dress like a woman or wear a blanket and a gorilla mask. It was a crazy, entertaining act and revellers lapped it up. It was pure comedy. But like all good things, Oom Hansie didn’t last long. He was a temporary deviation before the singer launched one of his biggest reggae hit albums – Slave (1987). Eleven years after his senseless murder by a gunman, one wonders with sadness and remembers with deep respect.
The musical legacy lives on!