2013-08-24. Ten years ago, South Africa marked ten years since non-racial democratic elections and rule in the country. In a continental context South Africa was the last country to be liberated in all of Africa, and in 2004 we celebrated 10 years of independence. In light of this we were assigned to do feature radio news and current affairs stories for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to mark the auspicious event. After doing some research on Kliptown and the freedom charter, I found the name of Ma Eva Mokoka, a community worker living in old Kliptown and had a long interview with her. A nurse and midwife, she spent her entire life in the service of the Kliptown community and surrounding townships. Women traveled far to come to her clinic. I remember that scene, driving into Kliptown, a place so markedly different from the rest of the South Western Townships (SOWETO).There were no roads, not toilets, no electricity (and then in 2004, they still used the bucket system for ablution) You had to reduce your driving speed to about 10km per hour by car to make way. But I hoped things would change – especially as the government was building a multimillion rand Walter siSulu Square of Remembrance. A large grey monument in honour and recognition of what Kliptown represents in the country’s political history, just two railway tracks away. South Africa’s Freedom Charter was signed there, by close to 3000, black, white, coloured and Indian activists in 1955, it cemented a vision and goal for a brighter future. There was no reason to doubt governments’ intentions. 2004 was also a National Election year, and political campaigning had already begun for the third democratic elections in the country. The spirit of hope was still high.
“They promised us that things would change” She said sitting heavily in her dark dining room. The light barely catching the darkness inside, I suddenly felt cold. “We’re still waiting, hoping” she said. I didn’t know then that I would return to Kliptown and to that very house, years later and long after I had forgotten about the story.
This time, though, on a very different capacity, in search of my younger brother Peace. The last time I saw him was after I had dropped him off to live with my late great –aunt, Nomvula . Before that he had been working with a local and internationally acclaimed artist Tracy Rose, on a project called XHomes in March 2010, the year of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup. The Project was funded by the Goethe Institute. Ma Eva also passed on the next Month in April, 2010. XHOMEs was a very interesting artistic intervention and collaboration between South African and German artists. The idea was simple – stage artistic performances using people’s homes as venues – while they continue with their normal lives in the background regardless of who comes in when and how. There was a trail and all visitors had their own guide walking them to the different “performance” spaces marked by the Black, Red and Orange German flag.
I later found my brother there, later in the year, at the Soweto Kliptown Youth center (SKY), living and working as a handy man, sweeping the grounds, ensuring that the yard was kept clean. He had also formed a friendship with the man who still runs the center Bob Nameng. It was to be my own Khumbul’ekhaya episode. I didn’t understand his departure and later insistence on living there even after I had located him. The truth though was that my personal living circumstances had changed and I couldn’t live with him from the time of his disappearance. A few months later, in the new year, I found a place for both of us to live. But my journey to Kliptown Youth Centre would not end there.
On an assignment working for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation this year, I chose it as a place to tell South Africa’s complex story. In 2013, people in old Kliptown still don’t have roads, there’s still no electricity, there are new additions though, portable communal toilets and regular rubbish pick-ups. There’s development all around but the Old Kliptown section. But the Norwegian broadcaster was not really interested in the story behind Kliptown and I thought that maybe I can do something. What? I didn’t know since many a publication had covered the Kliptown story and my own story which was broadcast on SABC’s flagship English news and current affairs radio station SAfm, did little to influence change. The answer came with my brother telling me that he was organizing a fund-raising event at the center, which houses at least 45 vulnerable and orphaned girls and boys, provides food to at least 200 children in and around the community every day, and also provides after school classes for small children and the youth, who are involved in extracurricular activities such as drama, dancing etc. I decided I would stage my play LINIDIWE! There, a play I wrote and performed last year – as a hobby, something to use up my free time and ideas. I never thought about writing a play -the story just came to me one night. LINDIWE a name which means “The one we are waiting for” in isiZulu, is set in a newsroom studio, and follows the breaking news story of a Kings’ search for his missing cousin who is said to hold the answer to the Kingdom’s growing problems. I see it as a universal story about politics in my own personal family life my country and continent of Africa. It’s a call for me, for us to arrive and be the change we want to see in the world. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
I spoke to Bob Nameng and he agreed for me to perform there with the help of the SKY youth. Pictured below.
Next Saturday (the 31st of August) I’ll be there to perform for the community and I am amazed at how ironic life can be and how life becomes interesting when the personal mixes with the professional. Sometimes I look at Sky in Old Kliptown and think maybe it’s planned to be that way, a kind of XHOME project. I sometimes think sometimes that maybe there is a sinister element in this place, maybe instead of building monuments, the government has decided to leave Kliptown as is; a real-life monument to “ see how they live” type of scenario, an example of how the majority of black South Africans used live under the Apartheid regime. Why? Because everybody, including the local government knows about Kliptown, reams of newspaper copy have been written about it, but there’s still no change. The paved strip of road for pedestrians to walk and a bridge over the railway tracks are the only changes visible since the advent of democracy. But Kliptown – despite its history – is not unique, there are many such townships, another prominent one being Alex (Alexandra Township) bordering Johannesburg’s business district Sandton, whose living conditions are worse if not identical to Kliptown. If it is a conspiracy it is an elaborate one and an over simplification of a very complex problem of how to achieve sustainable social development. I’ve lived long enough in this country to know that Bree taxi rank, used to be a muddy strip of land with nothing, where commuters had to wait in line come rain or shine for a taxi to take them where they wanted to go. Now there’s shelter, there are toilets; traders can trade in safety from environmental elements. I am not naïve. There’s improvement in the social conditions of black people, whether we choose to acknowledge that or not. So elaborate conspiracies aside, I decided use this opportunity to be part of a solution, to live up to my name LINDIWE and do something towards inspiring positive change in the community, however small.
I also realized how important it is for me to “succeed” in my chosen profession, to move on, and not regress. How much we all need to break the cycle of poverty in whatever ways we can. A debilitating cycle of lack which my parents and Ma Eva Mokoka amongst many mothers and fathers fought (still fighting) so hard to prevent and avoid. I also need to be the change I seek in my own little world.
The Soweto Kliptown Youth foundation Ekasi Street Theater Exhibition fund-raising event is part of that initiative. It’s not often that a journalist gets an opportunity to ‘tangibly” change the problems we so often report on in our stories and though this is a long way to that change I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute – something. To raise awareness using everything I have in honour of Mam Eva’s exemplary life as a community builder, nurse and midwife.
Sky has now evolved, grown, from a once humble home and community clinic into a place where children can play, learn and get a warm meal a day. A place, ironically, which did what I couldn’t do, provide shelter for my brother and many others like him who found themselves, suddenly, for whatever reason, with no place to call home.
This is my own small way of giving thanks. Of saying Ngiyabonga!
- Where did my old mattress go? (picoftheday.me)
- Mandela Day, July 18 2013: Celebrating the legacy that binds humanity beyond borders (sofiaglobe.com)
- Tortured Townships (foreignaffairs.com)
- The Taxi Bulletin (sowhatsart.wordpress.com)