Category Archives: Nonhlanhla Mzobe

Interviews with Nonhlanhla Mzobe, Jerome Bhengu, Mnikelo Ndabankulu & William Bogege, November 2005

Interviews by Jacob Byrant
November 2005

Transcribed Interview with Nonhlanhla Mzobe

Princess Nonhlanhla Mzobe is thirty years old and has lived at the Kennedy Road informal settlement her entire life, where her Granny, uncle, and uncle’s wife also lived. Now she lives on her own, across from the volunteer-run preschool that she helped to found, working there for ten years. She now works for Durban Solid Waste, and serves on the Kennedy Road Development Committee as the Health chair. She also founded and runs the Clare Estate Drop-in Center. I interviewed her on the afternoon of November 15th at the Kennedy Road Development Committee’s office, and several other friends and committee members dropped in casually to chat with us.

J: How did your family come here?

N: The reason we came to stay here was that my uncle got a job in the municipality, and it was too far from Pinetown, where my Granny stayed. I went to school in Pinetown and stayed with my Granny there during the week, and stayed here on the weekends and during holidays. The place is not good, but people stay here to be near jobs. Back then when the shacks were few – about 10 or 15 – the place was better, not so crowded, but it was just the shacks. But we want proper housing, because you can’t live in shacks your whole life.

J: Are there things that you like about living here?

N: It’s near the jobs, and we’re not paying any rent for the housing. If you’re working, you can do your own things with your money. And you can’t start a new life; I’ve been here for 30 years. Before I taught preschool for ten years, but there was no payment because the children’s parents had no money, not even twenty rand, or five rand. But I kept working there because I saw that the children were suffering, and they were going to Indian primary schools without knowing any English. I wanted to teach the children how to say that they need to go to the toilet, or that they’re hungry, just some things so that when they go to school they won’t have any problems. And I wanted to help kids not get raped or play with dirt. In the preschool there is no dirt, it’s clean, otherwise the kids will just play in the dirt or in the road, and there were many accidents. Sometimes a priest would come and give the children porridge, but otherwise if the child stayed at home the mother might be working or might be a drunkard and not take care of him. Now I’m a Project Manager at Durban Solid Waste. I look after the other people who work there, manage how they do their jobs, check their time sheets and things like that. If there’s something wrong they tell me, and I talk to the management. I’ve been working there since 2004.

J: How did the committee start?

N: At first, it was just my Granny and the old fathers, and they would call meetings under the tree and talk about things. I remember when I was about ten or twelve there was a white man, a big boss from the municipality, called black jack, who told the Grannies that they mustn’t give anybody else permission to build shacks. He said that they should leave the shacks for their children, who can go to school and get a job and move into a [formal] house, but not to let anyone else build shacks. But our parents weren’t educated, and they didn’t know how to keep records. They couldn’t stop more people from coming, because those people would get angry and yell and bring a gun to the committee. People came and came. If you have space, you would build a house or an extra room and call people to come and pay rent. By then, not many of the shack owners were working, so they would use the rent they charged to buy food.

In 1995 I became a committee member. I was teaching the children how to model, and there was one white woman helping us organize a fashion show. I was teaching them to be drum majorettes, and we were organizing fashion shows for the community. I don’t do it any more, my uniform was stolen. And you need uniforms to do drum majorettes –you can’t be drum majorettes if one person is wearing red and another person is wearing black, you know. I was a drum majorette at school, that’s how I learned leadership.

J: Have most of the committee members been there for as long as you?

N: Some of the committee members are old committee members, like me, and some are newer committee members

J: How do you elect the committee?

N: To elect the committee, we call a mass meeting, usually 400 or 500 people come to the community hall, and we say “now we’re going to elect a new committee” and we ask them who they will nominate for the development committee. First we take nominations for positions, for the chairperson and deputy chairperson, for the secretary and deputy secretary, and for the treasurer. The rest are standing members. After people have nominated all of the people that they want to, we vote for who will be on the committee. At the first meeting of the new committee we give all of the members a position – like health, or safety and security, which Jerome [Bengu] does now. There’s also a position for development, which includes housing.

If the committee is doing well, people will say that they don’t want to elect a new committee, but we must tell them that our time is up and that they can elect a new committee if they want to, [otherwise] that would not be fair.

J: Do committee members receive anything?

N: Hey! The committee doesn’t receive anything, it’s all voluntary.

J: But you get respect?

N: Ja, but sometimes not, people swear at you, or tell you this thing or that thing.

J: When did people get angry at the municipality?

N: The first time we went all the comrades [at the department of housing] were disciplined, you could go and meet the man at housing, and tell him that you wanted a house and things. But people would say next time that the man who you met with wasn’t there, or that he was at a meeting, and we got frustrated. So we went to the councilor to go with him to meet the housing department to talk about land nearby where we could build houses. The councilor mentioned Elf Road, and then the ganda ganda came and those people were leveling the ground there, and people were happy with the committee. But then the committee said: why if they’re making houses for us don’t they tell us? So we sent some people to go and ask the men who were working there . . . they say that they’re making a scrap yard, not housing, and the people started to be angry. So the [Kennedy Road] people marched down to the road [to get ready to block it] and Councilor Baig called me and said “hey Princess, what’s going on?” And I said “Baig, you never come down here to see for yourself, why don’t you ever come down and see for yourself what’s going on?” But he said he can’t come, the people are crazy, let the police do their work. The police hit them, and sent dogs, and take the fourteen [who were arrested]. We marched on the police station the next day and the police came and blocked us in like at Foreman Road yesterday. They [the fourteen] were starting now to go to court, and we met Richard [Pithouse], but the people didn’t like Richard and they chased him away, but he introduced himself to me. People said “hey Princess, your man is here” or “your umlungu (white person) is here!” Then we started the good relationship and then we met Raj, then Fazel, and the lawyers.

We started planning for the second march once the fourteen were out, and we made a party for them – “welcome heroes!” The second march was for Councilor Baig, but there was no response, no nothing, no one told us what was going on. We marched, called Baig, and gave him the memorandum.

In the third march, there were people from Cape Town, all the informal settlements around here, Chatsworth people. We made a coffin for Baig with a Teddy bear, and we said “this bear is Baig.” We carried the coffin in the march, and said “Baig, you’re dead, rest in peace, rest in peace. You just bring Breyani, you don’t care if people live under a tree or if they’re suffering, rest in peace. Then people from housing started to come and fix the toilet – I think it was broken for ten years – and started meetings to promise us this and that. At the last meeting, the mayor promised us that they would build houses here, and for other informal settlements. If they take too long . . . [we will march again]. We told them they must not just give the people housing, but give the people taps, and electricity.

J: Why did the people chase Richard away?

N: They didn’t know if people are going to help them or not . . . we are tired of white people coming saying that they were going to help and then breaking their promises. It’s hard to trust people.

J: How did you trust him?

N: It just happened, but it was only me that trusted him.

J: Did you talk with the people who came to march from Cape Town, and from Chatsworth?

N: Oh, there were also people from Pietermaritzburg. We talked with them, the people that came, and we let them talk too. Everyone talked. We held a meeting in the park before the march, and we let everyone talk there. There were so many people there marching. After the second time, the [municipality] wrote “the people are crazy,” but after the third time, the deputy mayor came.

J: What’s the way forward?

N: We’ll wait until the 22nd, and meet with the mayor, we’ll know then.

J: What went wrong at Foreman Road yesterday? (She had said earlier that she thought it had gone badly)

N: I won’t pin it on anyone . . . we told them after the meeting with the mayor (the previous week), that we should wait to talk to them (the municipality, in the next meeting). And when you meet with the mayor, you can take the minutes to court as proof, and say “he promised us this” and show them the minutes. Foreman Road thought that we lied to them, they said that the 24th would be too late. In myself, I said that we should wait for the 24th and then, if we need to, march again. Foreman Road forced S’bu to go there. We went for the Rally, he told them that they would die, that the police would hit them . . . .you can’t march without permission! If you do things you must plan – plan one, plan two, plan three. I think there was a misunderstanding, but at least they tried.

J: Why don’t you think they made a better plan?

N: They didn’t listen, they said that the offer for housing didn’t include them. But Mlaba mentioned there would be housing for Foreman Road, we should have waited for the 24th – there was no plan B. The first time we blocked the road, there was no plan B, we just did it because of anger. Then we sat down and talked about what we’d done right and what we’d done wrong. Some people who know, like Richard, how to march and to do this and this and this. Now different people from different places [are working together]. Richard knew all the things for how to march, and all the forms that you need to make and things you need to do so that no one gets arrested. Now if it’s Kennedy Road, no people get arrested, no nothing. First you must call a mass meeting and tell people we are marching for this thing and this thing. We tell them “listen to the marshals, don’t hit the cars, the police, don’t touch anything.” But people from Kennedy Road can’t lead people from Foreman. I’ll repeat again: “don’t hit the police, don’t get ahead of the marshals, you can sing and shout and whatever you want, but it must be a peaceful march.” Then the people will do a proper march. People will listen, and stop and go.

J: What do you think of the ANC?

N: The ANC is good, it’s the people. The first step for the ANC is the BEC. I’ll talk with our BEC . . . committee members for our BEC don’t talk about development, they talk about politics — won’t help the people now they only fight for the positions. I was a BEC member, now we have a drop-in center, there is a good thing. I made it for the entire community.

When I started the drop-in center I had no money, was not working, and I had my children. There was a man who was sick with no wife and no kids living by himself. If there’s a person who’s sick, we make him a meal, clean his house for him.

Transcribed Interview with Thembiso Jerome Bhengu

Jerome Bhengu is 38 years old and has lived in the Kennedy Road informal settlement for the last five years. He had worked at the docks in Durban but resigned in protest at the companies’ refusal to formalise the employment of their laborers. He now runs a cigarette and snack shop with his wife, and they live together with his daughter and grandson. He was only able to attend school through to standard seven, but educated himself with books that he salvaged from the trash and with newspapers and now speaks near-perfect English. He has been a member of the Kennedy Road Development Committee for three years and is working to found a non-profit organization, the Crime & Health Strategic Movement. He is also active in the Shembe church. I interviewed him in his home which, on the rainy days, also serves as the shop.

Jacob: How long have you lived at Kennedy Road?

Jerome: I’ve lived here for five years. Before I lived at Hammersdale – but we came here for the jobs, and it was full of crime and people just suffering. I grew up there, near Pietermaritzburg. I started serving on the development committee last year. My purpose was to help them, they have problems, but I think the more we get together, the more we can help them. I need them [on the committee] to be able to find jobs – I can have ideas of how to create jobs, not for me but for themselves, I can show them how to help themselves.

Jacob: What do you think of moving to Phoenix?

Jerome: I have criticized Fazel and his team [a negotiating team elected by the KRDC], how are we supposed to just move to Phoenix? We are working here. Fazel is talking as if this is a union, but we are not workers, if you’re in a company you can toyi toyi and come back in a few days. But if we move we move for life. And what about the children who are going to school here? [Customer is very surprised to see a white person in the shack] Apartheid has made us not to understand each other.

The government fears losing ratepayers [from Clare Estate] . . . the value of the houses includes the view and the environment. The threat of crime and killings means that the value of the property declines. We [the residents of the informal settlement and the neighbours] are scared of each other – we need a transformation of things, we need to understand each other. If no one comes up with a plan, we will just fight each other until we die. We are not criminals. A few of us, maybe five are criminals.

We shouldn’t be living like this. If Steve Biko was the leader, maybe we wouldn’t be living like this – but he was so aggressive. You see S’bu is growing very big – but there are problems coming. He may be taken out by the councilors . . . I’ve told him many times, he needs to be careful. Our people like S’bu, but they [at Jadhu Place yesterday] wanted to hit him. They were so angry because they said we persuaded them to be in the march, we were lucky to get out alive. But people are not as angry now as before the meeting [at Jadhu Place]. People are still a little bit angry, though, because they got hurt [by the police].

Jacob: What’s it like to be on the development committee?

Jerome: They can’t understand – the other committee members – what it means to be a committee member. They need to have some skills. Like, leadership skills. With everyone with his portfolio, they don’t even understand these jobs, they are not capable of the jobs that they have. The only person who understands leadership is S’bu. The others they don’t even understand which alternative they should take – at Kennedy Road, or at the Shack Dwellers’ Association. They need some training.

On Politics

Jerome: The IFP? It’s a sad story. We’re trying to prevent our kingdom from being ruled by other nations, like the Xhosas. We don’t need parliament, we love to serve and be served under the King. The IFP leader was using them, he knew our leaders were getting paid so they come and bribe us.

ANCs are more aggressive, they don’t want any other party to exist. The ANC is starting to fight us. Most of us are going to die. They are going to kill us. The ANC are the traitors. I was an ANC member, they said that we should kill the [apartheid] councilors, that we didn’t want these want these small township [houses]. At the end of the day, now that they’re in power, they build these small, small rooms and call them houses. I think their time is over. Knowing the way that we are . . . we need to be free to be what we are. The problem is that we have customs, but we can’t practice our customs in this kind of place. I have to be a Christian even though I don’t want to be one. We can’t communicate with our king. The IFPs have been killed because no one could understand what their grievances are – not the IFP itself [that has been killed], but the idea. You must go deep down to understand the solution. The ANC doesn’t want to provide us with jobs, but where else could we find more jobs? Isn’t this creating more criminals?

This is our country and it’s where we need to be free, which is why now things [like inequality and crime] are getting more out of hand – and there’s more that’s going to happen. We need to stop this, but the government doesn’t know how to control the situation.

Mbeki thought this [protesting] could only happen under apartheid, and that it would never happen to him. If they kill one of our people, we’ll be obliged to go and do the same to him. And there will be more, like at Foreman Road, things are starting to get out of hand . . .

Jacob: Did you participate in the marches?

Jerome: Ja I had a big role . . . but I see where the problem lies. You still got apartheid, and you cannot force Yakoob or the municipality to change right away.

Jerome: Now there’s a new session of our development committee . . . it began in September, but we need to have new portfolios.

Transcribed Interview with Mnikelo Ndabankulu and William Bogege

Mnikelo is 19 and William is 21. They’re both young leaders of the Foreman Road Informal Settlement.

Jacob: What’s it like to live at Foreman Road?

Mnikelo: What I can just tell you is it’s nice in Foreman Road but it’s difficult to be in the shacks. If we can have better houses like our neighbours, the coloureds, than it can be nice. The problem is the houses . . . if we got the houses, we can be super-happy. We’ve got a lakker relationship with our neighbours, if we lived at Phoenix we’d have to budget and come and visit you.

Jacob: What else is nice?

Mnikelo: It’s nice there because we’ve stayed here for so long. We’ve got these friendships because we’ve been living there for so long.

Jacob: Do you get along with the neighbors?

Mnikelo: We’ve got a big relationship! Like the Indian named Mkhize, who works for the independent newspaper. When we have fires they phone the fire brigade for us, or the cops, they phone them when we are in trouble. Fires are a big problem that we have in the shacks

Jacob: What are some of the things that you don’t like about living there?

William: Fires, and it’s too dirty there.

Mnikelo: It’s too dirty and it affects the children, because it’s dirty and there are rats and mosquitos.

Jacob: When did you first want to start marching?

Mnikelo: We started to march after 10 years of empty promises from the government. From 1994, the president was Nelson Mandela, they announced that people would have houses, would have land. The ANC said “a better life for all,” but I don’t know, it’s not a better life for all, especially if you live in the shacks. We waited for the promises from 1994, up to 2004, that’s 10 years of waiting for the promises from the government. If we just sit and wait we’ll be waiting forever. We got tired of that, so we started toyi-toying

Jacob: Who was making the promises, the national government, the councilors?

Mnikelo: Everyone, the ANC as a whole from the cabinet up to the councilors say the same thing: “vote ANC for a better life.”

Jacob: What inspired you?

William: I think it was the burning of the shacks. There were many people dying, we lose a lot of things in the fires – we lose our people, we lose our clothes, even our IDs.

Jacob: Did you start toyi-toying before Kennedy Road, how did you meet up with them?

Mnikelo: With Kennedy Road, we are together, we want the same thing. We both want land and housing, for Ward 23, we are marching as a ward because we are united. We are marching in wards and not for Kennedy Road or Foreman Road. When there is a march we are always part-and-parcel of that march. When Kennedy Road is marching we are always there, if Foreman Road is there Kennedy Road is marching.

Jacob: How did you meet the people at Kennedy Road?

Mnikelo: We always know each other from the ANC rallies. They will pay for a bus, that will load Kennedy Road, then Foreman Road. Let’s say there’s an announcement that there’s 4 buses in Ward 25,

Jacob: Did you go when Kennedy Road blocked the road with the burning tires?

Mnikelo: No, it was an illegal march so we were not informed. It was heat of the moment, because they were so sick and tired of broken promises. When they make legal marches, we are always there.

Jacob: So, you marched in the . . .

Mnikelo: 2 marches giving the councilor a funeral, and then a march on Bachu from Quarry Road. And then the same ous were there marching against Mlaba.

Jacob: Is there a development committee at Foreman Road, like at Kennedy Road?

Mnikelo: There’s a development committee at Foreman Road, and they’re in charge of development. There’s also an area committee, so if somebody steals someone’s something, or there’s a problem, they sort out that thing. The development committee is always there for development only

Jacob: How do you create the development committee?

Mnikelo: The development committee has been elected by the community

Jacob: Are you satisfied with them?

Mnikelo: Yes, we’re satisfied with them, they’re getting so popular now – you can see them on E-TV, in the Mercury, they are telling the whole world that we are suffering at Foreman Road. They’re there to tell the government that the people of Foreman Road want houses. We’re super-satisfied with them.

Jacob: Are you on the development committee?

Mnikelo: Yes, I’m a member.

Jacob: Who was mobilizing people for the march against Mlaba?

Mnikelo: It’s not a one man show, it’s everybody’s job. Everybody wants to march, everybody who’s got time to mobilize. Like when we supplied the pamphlet, everybody was happy about this, and was willing to work not because they were told but because they want a way forward.

Jacob: What about Abahlali baseMjondolo, when did those meetings begin?

Mnikelo: It began when the marches began. If we want to march in numbers, we must have an umbrella, we must show the government that they must act quickly.

Jacob: After the march, there was a lot of conflict at Foreman Road. What was happening?

Mnikelo: That’s not a serious issue, it’s just that people didn’t understand. It’s not a serious issue. They were just fighting for the permit, because they need to go to Mlaba.

Jacob: What’s the goal? When will you stop struggling?

William: After we got what we need – land and houses. And we want the land next to our shacks, we were promised by the mayor in 2000. We don’t want bushes there, we want houses. They mayor promised us that land, and we want him to fulfill his promises.

Jacob: If he promised it to you in 2000, why do you think it’s taking so long?

Mnikelo: The government is always making empty promises. If they’ve got an election, they’ll come and make you promises, but then they’ll just sit in their offices and they won’t come around anymore.

Jacob: What are some ways to force the government to fill their promises?

Mnikelo: Well, we march on them, and we tell them that we won’t vote for them unless they fulfill their promises. Thabo Mbeki is the president because of our Xs.

Jacob: You don’t want houses in Phoenix?

Mnikelo: We are the residents of Ward 25, we want to remain in Ward 25.

Jacob: Even if they made jobs for you there?

William: We’ve got jobs here, we don’t want to go there.

Mnikelo: We get little income, but we have no transport costs.

Jacob: What have you learned from the struggle? How has it changed you?

Mnikelo: We’ve learned that you must demand services by marching on the road. Everyone is doing that – the teachers, even COSATU. It does something to the councilors’ dignity, to have a funeral even when you are not dead. The people are not satisfied with the service from them, and they cannot go and say “I have been the councilor from Ward 25” somewhere else, because those people will say “your people have been marching against you.”

William: Marching is the only way to force government, I don’t think there’s any other way.

Jacob: What are some threats to Abahlali baseMjondolo, or challenges or obstacles?

Mnikelo: Only if the government doesn’t give us permits to march, that will be a problem. We know the proper channels, we know how to do the marshals and the t-shirts, but at the end of the day, if you don’t get the permit, that’s going to be a big problem.

Jacob: That’s a problem from the outside, but could there be any problems from the inside?

Mnikelo: Actually we are united there is nobody who’s willing to go behind somebody’s back, if the government gives us permits to march, that’s the only problem.

William: I think everyone who lives in the jondolos wants proper housing, I don’t think they like living in the shacks, so we are united.

Jacob: What about other problems from the outside?

Mnikelo: If they want to stop our march, they must gives us what we want.

Jacob: What else might they do to stop the march?

William: Oh, you know when we were going to Kennedy Road for the march on Baig, we saw the pamphlets on that morning that said that the march was for the IFP. But we went there because we knew that that was just a trick.

Jacob: How did you know?

Mnikelo: Because we knew that these ous were not IFP members. Since we’ve been living in the shacks, we’ve known that these ous, they were members of the ANC. Then that morning they were IFP members – why? It’s just because they didn’t want us to march. That was just a waste of time — the ANC is our party, but we can’t support them if they’re not delivering. But we won’t vote for the IFP, we must force this one to do what we want, because the government must do what we want. We must march against them to give us services. We won’t be IFP members until we die, we can’t say that ANC is good if they’re not good, we must speak out

William: To say what is in our minds. You can’t pretend as if they are good if they’ve got these mistakes. We can’t say the ANC is good if they’re not giving us houses. We must show them that we are not happy – why? Because of land and housing.

Jacob: When did you meet Richard, and Fazel, and Raj?

Mnikelo: Richard was there on the day of the illegal march at Kennedy Road. Fazel and Raj I saw at the second march. They are always with us, on bad and good days.

Jacob: Do they help the struggle?

Mnikelo: Yes, they’re super-helpful, these guys spend their time and money to help us – they just want to help us. They’ve got land, housing, they have what we are fighting for.

Jacob: What do they do for the struggle that you can’t do for yourselves?

William: They brought a video for us for the last march, it showed our people that they are not the only ones who are [protesting]

Mnikelo: and I don’t think anyone in the shacks have videos, all these equipment, generators. Hey, these guys are great man. They print t-shirts, and pamphlets.

Jacob: What do you think that they want?

Mnikelo: They just want us to have a better life like them. They’ve got houses, they’ve got toilets, they’ve got land. They want us to be comfortable like them. Better life for all! — they want us to have a better life like them.

Jacob: What’s the way forward, what’s next?

Mnikelo: We’ve got a meeting with the mayor. They’re always giving us empty promises, and we’re always aware that they’re bluffing, so we’re ready to march again. We’ve got meetings with Mlaba himself – he says “trust me,” but he must have a deadline. If we see no results from that we’ll continue to march until he gives us what we want.

Jacob: Who’s going to the meeting?

Mnikelo: The development committees of Ward 23 and Ward 25.

Jacob: Are you going to go?

Mnikelo: I’m not sure, but I’m willing to meet him, because I want to tell him straight: this is what we want.

Jacob: Is there anything else that you want to say?

Mnikelo: We can be glad as now we’re struggling, we can be glad as everyone in the world can see that we’re suffering. Because everyone can see, the premier (of KZN) must come and support us, the president must come and support us. If they tell us that we’re going to build houses, they must not just tell us, they must come and build them.