Scarred survivors tell their stories

2010-03-20 00:00

TWENTY years after the Seven-Day War tore the Edendale Valley apart, the fatal conflict remains a painful part of Pietermaritzburg’s history, and many of those who survived are still scarred.

Among the few fortunate who have rebuilt their lives is Mxolisi Mchunu. Mchunu is the head researcher at the Msunduzi Museum and is working towards his PhD.

He is studying the Seven-Day War and its effect on local communities. He has travelled the globe delivering speeches on the war.

Mchunu says he was 12 years old when he and his family had to flee in the early hours of March 25, the first day of the war. He says the IFP warriors had invaded their area in KwaShange, destroying everything in their path.

“Because we had heard the warning call too late, we could not make it very far so we decided to hide in a river stream until things cooled down.”

He says they stayed in that stream from 6 am till nearly midnight, when they managed to make their way to a mission where people were hiding, and then the whole community fled to the refugee camps near Georgetown.

Mchunu counts himself as one of the lucky few who have not been destroyed by the emotional scars left by the war. “I was able to return to school afterwards and graduate and further my studies at university level, but most of my peers were not so lucky.

“After the war, most people lost everything and the children who had dropped out of school were never able to go back, and their lives, consumed by heavy drinking, went out of control.”

Mchunu says that although he suffered, he was fortunate that he had a lot of support to help him rebuild his life.

A mere kilometre away from Mchunu’s homestead in KwaShange lies KwaMnyandu. Nestled among the trees and tall vegetation, the area is a picturesque scene of harmony between people and nature.

Yet it too was devastated by the war: people were killed, homes burned and businesses looted and burnt to the ground.

The area is now peaceful, with some of the people who fled having now returned and more people coming to live in the area.

However, a businessman from the area, Phineous Zondi, says he will never return there after what he witnessed and lost during the war.

“In the area, I am probably one of the people who suffered most,” he says.

Zondi owned seven businesses before the war. They included a grocery store, butcheries and a bottle store, but the war wiped him out.

He says he lost everything, and he recently opened a small convenience store “not in the level of my previous businesses, just to keep the wolves from the door”.

“I have neither the resources nor the resolve to start again and build up my businesses. I am just grateful to still be alive.”

A few metres from Zondi’s former stores is another businessman, Thembitshe Mncibi.

He lost everything and has been down on his luck ever since.

His is a sad story. His businesses were looted and destroyed, his cars were burnt and his home behind his two convenience stores was burnt to the ground. He now lives in a shabby two-room house behind the structure of his business.

“When the they raided my shop, all my things were taken,” he says.

Mncibi says he fled the area 12 years ago after he had lost everything

“I was never able to recover from the war. I came back here eight years ago to try and rebuild, but I have found it impossible as I am unemployed and I have nothing.”

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