Nkandla's majestic mountains and its humble folk

2016-08-09 21:36
(Amanda Khoza, News24)

(Amanda Khoza, News24)

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Nkandla - For most people, the mention of Nkandla evokes images of President Jacob Zuma's controversial homestead, described by some as South Africa's “monument to corruption”.

However, you're likely to be blown away by the majesty of its mist-kissed rolling hills and the stories of its humble local people.

While rushing to a 09:30 meeting with the town’s mayor, Thami Ntuli, I had stopped to take photographs of the rural town’s picturesque mountains, when a woman in her 50s approached me, thinking I was offering her a lift.

“Thank you so much, my child. I left home at 05:00, but I missed the bus by 5 minutes. And I've been waiting for hours,” she says.

In that area, if you miss the bus, you are stuck. There is no regular public transport.

Off we go, I to an interview and she to buy much-needed groceries for her household.

She tells me a taxi to town costs R30, which is why the bus is a better option. It is R5 cheaper.

As we approach a mountain, a soft blanket of mist rolls in.

“I am scared,” I tell my companion, fearing bad weather up ahead. “It is fine, it is normal,” she soothes.

Falling pregnant

The woman tells me she has been raising her 16-year-old grandchild since her daughter died in a car accident.

“My daughter was 13 when she fell pregnant,” she says, with lingering sadness.

“Were you not angry when she fell pregnant?” I ask.

My own memories of falling pregnant at university came flooding back to haunt me.

“I was very angry, but I forgave her,” she says.

To lighten the mood, I tell her my mother was also very angry when I fell pregnant, but got over it. I tell her my daughter is six and that, while I am employed, will probably not have another child.

“No, you have to have another child,” she says.

I try to explain that the cost of living is too high to have another child, but my companion appears not to grasp this. I ask her if she realises how beautiful Nkandla is. She agrees.

“It is quiet and peaceful out here, and we just get on with our lives.”

God bless

Along the road we see women carrying firewood on their heads, men herding cattle, and ponies. As we approach the Nkandla forest, she tells me how badly the drought has affected the area.

When we reach our destination, she reaches for her handbag and offers me the R30 she would have paid for a taxi.

I decline, and because I knew it could offend her, tell her that her directing me to the municipal offices was payment enough.

“God bless you my child,” she says as we part ways.

After my interview with the mayor, I walk around the town. Women sit at tables selling fruit and vegetables under lamppost election posters of Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

A long queue has formed at the SA Social Security Agency’s outlet at the local Boxer store. Sheep and cows graze on the grass verges of the road.

As I leave the CBD around 14:00, the rain hides the picturesque mountains and valleys once again.

Near Eshowe, I pass children walking back from school, happy and carefree. I looked at their smiling faces and wonder what their futures hold.

A little further from the Kranskop intersection leading to Zuma's homestead, a teenager in school uniform appears to be struggling up a hill.

Reduced to tears

“Where are you going?” I stop and ask.

“Near Mbongolwane,” she replies. Thembeka is in Grade 11 and wants to be a nurse one day. The 17-year-old says she walks to school five hours each day.

“I left school at 14:00 and I am going to get home at 19:00.”

I am almost reduced to tears when I think about how vulnerable she is on her school trek. I can do nothing more but drop her off where she asked to be taken. I ask her if she will be okay.

“Yes, I have a little more to walk before I get home,” the young woman says.

I continue my drive home, feeling unsettled, thinking of the old woman who walks for kilometres to feed her family, without complaining, or demanding help. And of Thembeka’s long walk each day. She has no guarantees that she will get to study.

My only hope is that, between the politicians’ election mumbo-jumbo, someone will hear the silent pleas of my two travel companions.

(All pictures by Amanda Khoza, News24)

Read more on:    ifp  |  jacob zuma  |  pietermaritzburg  |  good news

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