Going home 20 years later: Everything?–?and nothing?–?changes

2014-06-05 10:00

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It is only now, after my exposure to urban life, that I realise I did not have it easy growing up in Daggakraal, a village of about 1?450 households near Volksrust in southwest Mpumalanga.

I attended Nalithuba High School in the early 1990s and would wake up at the crack of dawn to prepare early enough to walk the 8km to school.

In winter, the morning frost would bite my cheeks and in summer, I would be drenched if the Highveld thunderstorms caught me on the way to or from school. I learnt to walk briskly or jog most of the way to avoid being caned by the principal for arriving late.

The long distance was a breeze then. I was fit. I played soccer and dabbled in boxing.

Depending on whether I had money, I would buy a kota with atjar, polony and chips for lunch from the vendors at the gate.

On bad days, I would wait and eat lunch at home.

A lot has changed for me. I am 36 now and live in a suburb of Nelspruit. I left Daggakraal when I was 19 to try my hand at journalism in Mpumalanga’s capital.

A lot has also changed for the learners in Daggakraal. They do not have to walk 8km to classes. They are ferried to and from school in government-sponsored buses. They don’t have to worry about whether they can afford a kota for lunch; they get free meals of rice, fish, vegetables and fruit.

But other things haven’t changed.

The unemployment rate has always been very high in Daggakraal. There are no jobs to speak of, unless you are a teacher, a police officer, a temporary general worker in a government public works project or an entrepreneur running a spaza shop or a tavern.

Most of the families are sustained by the money that is earned in cities like Johannesburg.

My family’s case was a typical example. My late father eked out a living as a driver in a gas company and my late mother was a domestic worker. They worked in Johannesburg and so they left us?–?their six children?–?in the hands of my late grandmother.

Throughout my school days, I burnt candles to study, yet electric cables passed above the village to nearby farms and towns. The electricity was generated at Eskom’s Majuba Power Station, just 15km outside Daggakraal. The village has been electrified since around 1997. But the power is not strong enough to withstand winter winds and summer thunderstorms. It goes off for as long as the weather is not favourable.

Sizwe sama Yende remembers how his family bought their own land in 1991 and built a brick house

In the 1990s, I pushed a wheelbarrow with 25-litre containers of water that we bought from families who had drilled hand-propelled water pumps in their yards. It cost us about R100 a month.

Now there’s a tap outside my parents’ house and the water is free. But no pipes have been connected inside the house, which means we still have to fill up buckets and take them inside.

Many services were brought in after I left Daggakraal. A clinic, a police station, a hall and a home affairs office were built.

Daggakraal was settled in 1912. Its first residents hailed from farms in the Free State. They had been pushed away by conflicts with white farmers where they were labour tenants.

On the advice of ANC founding president Pixley ka Seme, who was an attorney, they sold their livestock to raise money to buy farms in Daggakraal.

Alarmed, the government introduced the Natives Land Act of 1913, which ­prohibited blacks from owning land, but those people who had bought farms in Daggakraal kept their properties.

The landlords then leased residential stands to families evicted or voluntarily left white-owned farms in the then Eastern Transvaal.

My family was one of them. My father did not want to work on a farm so, when he found a job in Johannesburg, he decided to relocate the family to Daggakraal in the late 1970s.

The landlords did not allow the tenants to build brick houses. It made sense because they could be evicted at any time.

When I was still in high school, an opportunity to own land arose when a white farmer sold his farm.

Those who could afford it, bought stands there. My family relocated from Daggakraal No?2 to our own land in Sinqobile?B in 1991 and built a brick house.

The mud houses that dotted my village are disappearing gradually. Electrified RDP houses are now abundant.

I like my village a lot, but whenever I’m there I see things that have not gone right. A piggery, grain and livestock farm was handed over by Nelson Mandela in 1997 as part of land reform. It is now unproductive, the victim of squabbles among beneficiaries and the misappropriation of funds.

The soccer stadium, which was started 23 years ago, was never completed. Details about the stadium are sketchy, but I remember the disappointing news reaching us that the money had been embezzled.

By whom, we don’t know, and I was probably too young to be interested in the intricacies of community politics.

My soccer team, the Early Birds Football Club, played games on a dusty field in Sinqobile A. Today, teams still play on the same field.

The stadium in Sinqobile B, about 4km away, was never used.

Only the walls of the stadium’s toilets and change rooms were built. The precast wall around the stadium has been stolen piece by piece over the years.

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