How to Spread It: Linda Twala

2013-08-11 14:00

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Linda Twala calls himself a son of Alexandra, the township north of Joburg. If he liked, he could as well call himself its groom, chief town crier and local Samaritan.

Born in Alexandra in 1944, Twala, a funeral services businessman, has spent all his adult life in service to the people. He has helped save a local crèche and ultimately resisted the apartheid regime’s attempts to obliterate Alexandra from the map.

He has used his contacts to help build a community centre that boasts best facilities.

During the apartheid days, his home was used as a meeting place for anti-state organisations as much as it was a haven for any in need of respite. For his efforts, the apartheid regime saw fit to torch his house.

When communities aligned to both the ANC and the IFP declared war on each other, Twala refused to be partisan and continued providing a helping hand to the needy without care for their political tastes.

An entrepreneur for most of his life, Twala readily acknowledges that his peers in business have gone on to amass great wealth, but for him, the joy comes from giving not just his money but his time and contact base for the enrichment of community life.

What sparked your desire to give?

When I was young, there was an old lady in my neighbourhood, Gogo MaTshabalala, who used to point her walking stick at me every time she came to our house, saying I’ll one day bury her.

Indeed, when she died in 1967 she had no family and was about to be given a pauper’s funeral. I built a coffin from scratch to bury her in it. In no time, the community started rallying around. Taxi owners provided their cars for free. The local Catholic priest decided that MaTshabalala will be given a church ­funeral despite not being a church member.

Though my father was initially against this, something in me happened when I saw him walk ­into the church, shake my hand and say, “You’re now a man, my son”.

Today, the Phuthaditshaba centre houses facilities that include early child care spaces, a computer lab, a library, a sewing room and a library. And unlike many philanthropists, you give not only your money but your time and space. Why is that?

I have always argued that if the government is serious about reducing crime, then they must invest in centres of excellence and not in jails.

The biggest challenge for our country lies with those between the ages of 14 and 18. Drugs are destroying our communities and it is important for us to create ­spaces for young people. If we don’t do something about this group, then our country might not have leaders in the future.

Have you had situations where members of your family have felt you make them come second to strangers?

I have made my family aware that we all have our calling and choices to make. I believe I am called to be a servant of the people of God. I cannot divorce myself from serving the people of God.

What do you say to the often repeated comment that wealthy blacks do not do enough to give back to their communities?

Some people have forgotten where they come from. They know we had a war that produced casualties, but they have forgotten to come back. Fortunately, we still have some like Tebogo Mogashoa and Dr Irvin Khoza who still die with us.

What do you make of the tendency in many communities to blame government for services or to wait for the state to deliver?

If you wait for government, you won’t get far. That does not mean the government has not done anything. It has built millions of houses, but it is time for communities to start doing things for themselves. We can’t continue relying on whites for help.

You are not a young man any more. Are you confident that others will continue your work when you are no longer around or able to?

Two of my sons are showing signs that they might take over from me when I am gone. We’ve already started helping communities in Ivory Park (East Rand) and Bram Fischerville (Soweto) to start their own projects.

»?This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust

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