Friends & friction: Dry heat and feuds in KZN

2014-08-15 06:45

Mr Mbatha made a fatal mistake. When a stranger asked him for a light, he stopped to assist.

As he reached for his pocket, two bullets were fired at him. Within minutes, he lay dead in the streets of Joburg.

The code on the streets is very simple: don’t talk to strangers.

The line “Angikwazi awungazi” (I don’t know you and you don’t know me, so move on) was coined for survival.

Mr Mbatha was not a gangster, but a family man, with only two pay cheques to go until retirement. He had been looking forward to it, as he once told me.

Unfortunately, he was “eaten by the mountains of Joburg”, as the idiom goes. These “mountains”, of course, are nothing but mine dumps.

Even in death, Mr Mbatha maintained his dignity.

He came from Msinga in KwaZulu-Natal.It is a dry place, hot and hostile to humans, said to be hospitable to witches, chickens, goats and ghosts.

People live here. Their fields are small and hard to till. The vegetable gardens are small and tightly secured with twigs and rusted pieces of wire to keep chickens and goats out.

When the rainy season finally arrives, it is as if the heavens are at war, firing bolts of lightning that make the locals believe the weather is at the mercy of the witches.

This was the seat of the Bambatha Rebellion, and these hills have not been calm since.

“Yin’ ukufa?” (What is death?) the commander barks.

“Yiz’ ukufa” (Death is nothing), his army replies.

“Ayinavalo ayihlasele.” (The regiment has no fear. Let it attack.)

Thank goodness this is only a ceremonial dance, but that war cry gives you a glimpse into the history and character of this land.

The blood feuds here have been running on for generations, creating rivulets of blood.

They span as far as Durban and Joburg. There’s an eerie tranquillity by day in Msinga, the kind you feel at a game reserve just before nightfall.

The only difference is the predators are human, and so is the prey. Even the “oxen”, as they are called, are not the bovine animals that provide meat and milk, but bipeds who kill for money.

There are no jobs here, as in many other rural areas.

Once in a while, you see a boy and a girl walking into the distance and you know in nine months there’ll be a baby.

Like in many parts of the country, a young woman walking to the shop can still be abducted and forced to be the third, fourth or fifth wife to some old man.

There are no young men – only old men, old women and children, some with children of their own.

The young men are all in Joburg looking for employment, and some never return, which is why Khumbul’ekhaya is such a popular TV show.

Three cheers for government grants. They feed these families, who by no fault of their own have no other opportunities.

It’s time to bring “a lasting better life for all” everywhere. Business can contribute enormously in changing that situation, but the Treasury needs to reduce its level of greed and think of the future.

It should reduce taxes for businesses that operate in rural areas on a sliding scale.

We should also bring back national service for young people – this is a way, at least, to earn an income.

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