Living next door to Eastwood

2011-05-23 00:00

THE Witness library is often frequented by members of the public who come to consult the cuttings files or the bound volumes of past issues. Some are looking for articles they may have missed, some for assistance with school projects, while others, less frequently, are doing in-depth research on specific topics.

Siboniso Ndlovu is one of the latter. He is writing a book on the history of the coloured community of Pietermaritzburg and has spent several weeks in the library researching Witness coverage of events regarding this community.

Ndlovu’s interest in the coloured community was first kindled in 1996 when, at the age of 13 he moved from Stoffelton near Impendle to live in Pietermaritzburg to improve his education prospects. He lived with his father in Thembalihle, an informal settlement on the edge of Eastwood. “There I had direct contact with the coloured community,” he recalls. He made friends with whom he played football and attended Esther Payne Smith Secondary School and later Sobantu Secondary School, from where he matriculated.

Ndlovu’s contact with the coloured community was also strengthened via his involvement with community activities, co-ordinating arts and cultural groups, working with faith leaders to combat gangsterism, drugs and alcohol abuse, as well as his political activities with the African National Congress and the Young Communist League.

After matric, Ndlovu studied politics and history on the local campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, but was unable to finish his degree due to financial contraints. “Historians like Jabulani Sithole and John Wright influenced me a lot.”

Ndlovu was subsequently contracted by the Voortrekker/Msunduzi Museum to undertake oral history research into the street names and history of Sobantu. “I was very inquisitive from a very young age and I have been interested in history since primary school,” he says. “I had a teacher at Stoffelton, Mr ‘King Bomber’ Ndlovu, who was very passionate about history.”

He was also encouraged to capitalise on his writing skills and think about writing a book by his Zulu teacher at Sobantu Secondary, R. M. Mngathi, author of Izimbobo Zehluzo and other books.

Ndlovu realised he had a subject ready to hand. “I was interested in the challenge of integration post-1994, and growing up in Thembalihle and the surrounding area stimulated me to study the history of the coloured community.”

What Ndlovu found at first was not encouraging. “I found nothing on the history of the coloured community and I realised we are at risk of losing this history.”

And so Ndlovu set himself the task of recording that history before it is lost beyond recall.

Ndlovu’s starting point was investigating the settlement patterns of the coloured community prior to the advent of the Nationalist government and apartheid in 1948 when they tended to occupy the gaps between the other race groups. “They were sparsely scattered around the city,” says Ndlovu. “They lived among the African community in Edendale and in back-yard dwellings where they worked as servants in the white suburbs. And there was what was known as Shanty Town, just above where the mall is now, by the railway.

“There were also small groups living in Berg, Boshoff and Retief streets, as well as a substantial number in Raisethorpe.”

Ironically, the Group Areas Act proved a turning point for the coloured community, says Ndlovu. “It meant they were recognised and designated settlements were created for them.”

First came Woodlands, built in seven stages and completed in the mid-seventies. This was followed by Eastwood and Cinderella Park and its extensions, as well as Glenwood.

Various structures, either government, municipal or civil society, were created that lobbied for coloured interests such as the Department of Coloured Affairs, the Coloured Local Affairs Council, and a variety of church, sports and welfare bodies. “These proved effective,” says Ndlovu. “In the early fifties, Woodlands got a swimming pool as well as football fields and other facilities. There was a diversity of sports available. Halls were built that were multifunctional — they could be used for showing films as well as venues for dance, youth clubs and martial arts.”

The times also threw up various personalities. “It was impossible to go through these times without leaders emerging,” says Ndlovu, mentioning such names as Norman Middleton and Les van Wyk.

Ndlovu has divided his research into two phases. “I have completed the first, which relied on the written history. I looked at what was available in the archives, at the municipality, and in newspapers, such as The Witness, the Mercury and Echo. Now I have just begun the second phase which involves interviewing people and recording the oral history.”

Ndlovu, who is working totally unfinanced, requires some technical backup for this second research phase such as a voice recorder, a camera, a scanner, as well as a computer on which to write it all up. He has approached various bodies for funding, so far without success. Although the provincial Department of Arts and Culture was unable to assist, it commended his initiative: “Your research topic is very relevant and a publication on the history of the coloured community is long overdue.”


• If you can assist Siboniso Ndlovu with funding or have a story to share concerning the history of Pietermaritzburg’s coloured community please contact him at 073 030 2632.

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