I only have two car guards in my life.
Petrus Ngcobo when I visit Dovehouse Organic Farm Shop, and Sifisiso Mncwabe who watches over our cars outside the Howick Agricultural Hall during Zumba class. I walk around town quite a lot which means I do not often need car guard services.
The only golf caddy I know is a marvellous woman Alice Mbutuma who lives in Sigidi village in Pondoland. She walks for miles and crosses the uMtamvuma River to get to the Wild Coast Casino Golf course for duty. A lot of people in the Midlands play golf, so I assume there are people who carry their golf clubs around for them.
As lockdown loomed, I became very worried about the plight of those on the edges of the formal economic world, wondering how they would manage. I gave Petrus a few hundred rand instead of the usual five and wished him well for the coming month. I thought about tracking Sifiso down somewhere in town, but didn’t.
I must admit, I don’t know much about either of these men. Although Petrus knows my dog, that I buy a lot of carrots and that I don’t wash my car very often – all I know about him is that he comes from Estcourt and lives at Zuzokuhle. This is an informal settlement squeezed between the railway line and motorway in Tweedie known to most suburbanites (and SAPS) as The Zoo. Well, it is not the Zoo, it is Zu.
When I looked up the word Zuzuokuhle I found it translates as ‘to your advantage’. This little community has carved out an existence right on the edge of town. Apparently the first shacks built from wood off cuts were encouraged by the owner of the pallet factory beside it, so that the workers would not have to travel far to work. Some of the ‘shacks’ are works of art. I remember a story in The Witness about Mlungisi Zuma, a carpenter who has built a double story dwelling and helped many others in the community to use found materials to build creative homes. Some are built using traditional wattle and daub, many have gardens. Zuzokuhle is now an established community. I suppose there is an advantage being close to town but life without basic services must be challenging.
Sifiso doesn’t know much about me, except that I often get lifts with friends to class and perhaps he has spotted my wobbly dance moves through the door. He has a gorgeous grin and occasionally has trouble with other young men arguing over territory. I don’t understand the rules of car guarding but assume there are plenty. I sometimes see Sifiso in other parts of town, or while I am driving and he greets me effusively, making me believe I have a wide and eclectic collection of friends!
I always assumed Sifiso lived at Shiyabazali – the informal settlement above Howick Falls. Shiyabazali came into existence after the BTR Sarmcol strike in 1985 when almost 1000 workers were dismissed. Scab labour was drawn from outside the area and set up dwellings beside the factory. Shiyabazali means ‘to leave your home, the place of your parents’. Despite Shiyas (as most people call the area), being part of our community for over 30 years, there are no amenities and it is ignored by local authorities. About 6000 people live there currently, many from other African countries, making use of discarded plastic, scrap metal and tree stumps to create homes. The women famously do their washing in the rock pools about the 97m high Howick Falls. Some residents have made veggie gardens and planted fruit trees which survive despite the lack of regular water that would help them thrive. Many young adults have lived there their entire lives – I know a few of the teenagers who have ballroom dance classes before we do Zumba, and are a joy to watch.
Besides car guarding and caddying clubs, many people in our community make their living by frying vetkoek at the taxi rank, hawking second-hand clothes on the street, running errands to buy electricity tokens, providing popcorn for learners during breaktime, babysitting for those lucky enough to have jobs, scavenging for recyclables in the suburbs, selling kotas from their garage, hiring out sound systems for celebrations, running shebeens or pushing trolleys. The list is endless. Now all these opportunities vanished. Overnight.
Apparently, the South African informal sector generates income of over 90 million rand a year. Clearly millions of South Africans earn money this way, enabling their families to survive, if not thrive. Unconvinced? Watch this https://youtu.be/cWVJ1Uolaw8
Concerned about the plight of those on the doorstep of my leafy suburb, I set to work to try and help. First encouraging a few friends to join me to buy weekly veg boxes from a local grocer for delivery to Shiyabazali. Before I could say abracadabra, this exploded, as friends shared with friends. Soon there were hundreds of boxes of veggies and local NPO African Spirit was galvanising volunteers to distribute to vulnerable people in Shiyas, kwaMevana and the CBD. I was thrilled and astonished. Community networks that I had been contributing to building over many decades were suddenly an unbelievably valuable tool in galvanising action. Members of my other passion, Slow Food, joined in supplying organic, freshly harvested food and just as I started to think we should be supplying seedlings to those who had gardens, donations of those poured in too! Magic.
With Zuzokuhle, I contacted friends who had shops nearby and the Dargle Conservancy, and boom, they ran away with this idea making sure that all the vulnerable families in the settlement received regular food parcels. Soon veggies, fresh fruit and seedlings were being delivered too. Now we are all part of a wider network of organisations and individuals working to support those who have lost their meagre incomes. Commercial farmers, businesses, churches, local government and NPOs. Simply wonderful.
I am utterly convinced everyone does want to help. Particularly, if they have a personal connection to a place or person or cause. What about the hungry dogs, I worried? Tagged a few fellow dog lovers and before I knew it big bags were being dropped off for distribution.
While I understand that the standard food parcels containing GMO maize, sugar, and tinned fish are probably sensible – these foods give me the creeps. I am much happier putting my efforts into supporting small farmers who may have lost their markets by buying excess vegetables, collecting and delivering past-their-market-prime marrows, making sure that food grown in townships stays there, that gardens flourish and getting nutrient dense food to those who need it. I believe we need to use this time to work to build a better society. We need to build resilience and local food security for when the food parcel era is over. There is much that needs to change, and I trust that we can. My friend Tim Abaa from Orange Farm in South Joburg provides an excellent and inspiring example.
As I said in my Corona for Change article – We should use this unique opportunity, to make connections at a neighbourhood level, to create clusters of support that become strong enough to help those further afield, and hopefully, once the current crisis has eased, to keep momentum going. We are never going back to ‘normal’.
Arundathi Roy puts it beautifully (as always) “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” Read her whole article here: https://www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca
While I have never actually visited Shiyabazali or Zuzokuhle, I now feel really connected to those places and look forward to visiting. I can’t wait to meet the members of the Shiyabazali Garden Club, or the grandmothers of Zuzokuhle who recently tasted dragon fruit for the first time. I am very pleased to have observed how much support there has been for Petrus and Sifiso and know that I will bump into them again soon. I will be able to thank them personally for introducing me to all these new people, places and opportunities.
I have just learnt that Sifiso lives in the CBD, not Shiyas, but I wasn’t going to let that ruin my story!