Friends & Friction: There are good hearts in troubled times

2013-10-16 10:00

Last week, I bumped into a friend who I first met in Pietermaritzburg where we were both members of an organisation called the DCO Matiwane Youth League.

DCO later joined the United Democratic Front.

We reminisced over our experience in organising a bus boycott in Maritzburg, where the municipality had decided to increase the fare by two cents.

The white mayoress took the time to address the community at the Edendale Ecumenical Centre. She made her speech, sat down and then opened the floor to questions.

It was like starting a firestorm.

The first speaker made two demands; one, he would speak only in his mother tongue; and two, the mayoress must stand when answering his questions.

I knew that things would go wrong when the interpreter said: “I humbly request Her Worship to come to the microphone when answering questions so that everyone could hear.”

Speaker after speaker told the mayoress that we could not afford the hike. Of course, there were one or two who were sympathetic but they were quickly booed down. The meeting went on for about three hours.

Finally, the mayoress said she was heartbroken, and then cried. She didn’t relent on the two cents hike, though.

When she left, I expected a ton of bricks to smash her car. I had already picked my spot because to a boy, nothing is sweeter than smashing a window.

A boy from Highlands next to Ezingulubeni, what did I know? They do not call the area Beirut for nothing (although I do think that we are a normal community who’ve been unfairly demonised).

No such behaviour in Edendale.

Instead, the community stayed behind and the DCO plotted the programme of action. Azikhwelwa! Bus boycott.

The next day, we were up at the crack of dawn to convince the commuters to join the boycott. We were ordered to use words and not violence.

I admit, I failed as a salesman of the struggle. Fearing that I wouldn’t do well with an accent of isikomfane, which is what people from Natal called those from Transvaal at the time. (They were called isikomfane because they always said: “Ek kom van”.)

I decided to join two other local comrades. We were skinny boys between 14 and 16. Our first attempt backfired.

It was an old lady, a domestic worker, who simply broke down and cried, worried about her madam, who had a little baby.

“Who would baby-sit for the poor woman?” she asked. Feeling bad that we had made an adult cry, we walked away.

The second customer was ubhuti (an older brother) who said: “Nikhalel’ utwo sent nje madoda? (You’re protesting over two cents, gentlemen?)” He then took out six cents and told us to share it. He went straight to board the bus.

Our third attempt was an old man who listened attentively to my s’komfane accent. He then very politely asked me where I came from. I replied.

He then said: “Your parents have sent you all the way to school here, and you waste their money here. I am a parent too and my heart is broken on their behalf.”

We succeeded in the end, and yes, violence did break out. But I learnt an invaluable lesson: South Africans have good hearts, and that is something to always remember, especially in these troubled times.

»?Kuzwayo is a mwalimu at Ignitive, an advertising agency

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