For 10 years, 53 year old Maggie has been facilitating what is loosely called “MoChina”, an illegal gambling game from the kitchen and backyard of her Tsakane township, 60 kilometres west of Johannesburg, South Africa. This fractious game is named MoChina because it is owned by a group of illegal immigrant Chinese people who have settled in South Africa.
Maggie's job is to collect money from a group of men and women and write their bets on a piece of paper for reference at the big draw.
Maggie's Chinese employer is called Atima (surname hidden), whom she speaks highly of. She says he is 'generous' because he has never robbed her or anyone in her gambling ring.
"l have been living on facilitating this game in my section for over ten years. Our group is like a family, we console each other when we lose and when we win we celebrate together. You win and lose just like any game."
According to Maggie the person who wins buys cold drinks for the group, which they sip away contemplating the next game plan.
Not only does Maggie facilitate the game for over fifteen men and women, she also plays. She earns a commission for facilitating the bets provided that some members of her group wins. But the group members do not always win. Although she says the week does not pass without most members winning something.
Each member of the group owns a small purse which has their betting number written on it. When they bet, a piece of paper with the chosen number is enclosed inside the small purse. The numbers are given real life interpretations which people who bet MoChina have come to know by heart.
A shoe is interpreted as number twenty-eight while a thug is number seven and so forth.
Maggie seals the groups’ purses with their chosen number inside a bag which she sends to the main betting branch. When the purses come back open it means that the player has lost. When it comes back closed it means there is money inside and the player has won.
One member of the group, Lindiwe (33), a single mother says MoChina is her ticket from poverty since she is unemployed.
“l recently won R4200 ($US300) from a bet l made with R150. I always win that is how l survive. MoChina is indeed a meal ticket for me and my four children."
“Maggie is our hero for running our game. What would we have done without her;" she says.
67 year old Robert who also plays at Maggie's says the trick is to drink “muti” or laxatives and clean the stomach in order to dream well at night. He says when one's body is dirty they will never be able to dream of winning numbers because the game does not work well for guessers.
"l used to dream of all my winning numbers and cleaning my system always did the trick.
Robert says he is grateful that a clever woman like Maggie could bring the game to their township section.
Colleen (45) who is also a member of the group volunteers to take the bag to the main draw. He is trusted by Maggie because he has never ran off with the bag, unlike one woman who once did.
"One woman whom we all thought was reliable once ran off with a bag full of our betting money," says Maggie.
When the winning number is interpreted Colleen quickly phones Maggie to inform the group. By the time he gets back members of the group already know whether they have won or not.
Purses are then distributed from Maggie's backyard.
According to Maggie the bet wins are as follows: (1 US dollar is equal to South Africa 14 Rands)
"R2 earns R48"
"R5 earns R120"
"R10 earns R240"
"R50 earns R1200"
"R150 earns R4500"
Babane, a Tsakane resident says he will not be lured into playing MoChina or any township gambling games.
"These gambling games are addictive and disillusion some township people making them lazy to work or think of innovative ways to survive. I cannot imagine myself bathing early in the morning just to go to a betting house. It's better to start a small business."
"These women who run MoChina should find better things to do."
A sixteen year old girl says she hardly sees her mother at home because she is always out playing MoChina. She says the funny thing is she has not seen any development at home from the MoChina as her mother always spends all her money betting.
But Maggie says she and her group are only trying to survive current harsh economic conditions in South Africa.
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