Tupac Amaru Sharkur once said ‘Life in the hood is all good for nobody‘. I agree. But there is something glorious about growing up around violent poverty and coming out alive, to say the least.
Growing up in a dusty, tarless town(ship) in the former Transkei where, currently, majority of people live on less than R20 a day, was something of an experience. Cala, that is the name of the place. A hub of political activism during the days of the struggle for liberation, it has produced leaders such as the Ntsebeza brothers, Gwede Mantashe, Wiseman Nkuhlu, Ayanda Ntsaluba, Weziwe Tikana, Zingisa Mkabile, to mention but a few. It has also produced martyrs: the names Batandwa Ndondo, Vuyani Namba, Phumezo Nxiweni, Vintwembi Manzana come to mind.
Cala, among its uncelebrated conceptions, also produced me, a relative nobody really. Growing up, I had always heard stories about the heroes and heroines that were born of Cala. I have heard stories of how the then Prime Minister of ‘independent’ Transkei and Paramount Chief of Emigrant Thembuland, Kaizer Daliwonga Matanzima, often targeted the Xhalanga District, as he knew that it was a hub of political activism and radicalism, and opposition to his political rule. I have heard chilling stories about the decapitation of Vintwembi Manzana and the gunning down of Batandwa Ndondo.
These stories somehow instilled in me a sense of responsibility at a very young age. It ingrained in me the sense that I and my peers had to carry on this legacy of defiance, intellectualism, and service to humanity, and pass it on to the next generation of Calaians.
Officially, Cala is a town. Its social and economic outlook, and lifestyle of its citizenry, however, paints a picture of a rural township. A ‘kasi‘, to use modern South African slang. In any township setting, the male youths will be divided into ookleva and abaxhaga or iimpatha. I see myself as having been impatha all my life. I have probably had 3 or 4 real fights in my entire childhood and adolescence, I was never a smooth talker with the ladies, so I could not have been a kleva. But, I was always a defiant mpatha, and that earned me the nickname Rude Boy at age 13 at the multiracial primary school I went to, Cala International School (later Cala Community School). I was always, always in detention, together with my partners in defiance Lita Mayekiso, the late Sinawo Peter, Wonga Gobodo, Buzwe Mkabile (then headboy of the school), and Akhona Manzana. Interestingly, one of the things that got us in trouble was that we defied a rule that forced us to speak English. For every Xhosa word used, one was expected to pay 50 cents. Now even though we knew English very well, we refused to use the language under conditions of tactical intimidation.
Even as young men, we were never ookleva, but we always knew how to stand our ground. I remember one day, one of our friends was arrested. He was being accused by his girlfriend of stealing the girlfriend’s underwear and trousers. Furious, we went to the police station and demanded that he be released, and told the police not to be stupid “because there is nothing this man can do with old women’s underwear and trousers”. He was released.
Cala was not without violence, particularly physical violence. So one had to grow up around that culture of blackness being intertwined and synonymous with violence and activism.
When I came to the city of Johannesburg, I realised that things were different here. Geographic settlement patterns which were a legacy of colonialism and Apartheid were very much in place. Black people worked in Johannesburg CBD, yet lived in Soweto. This means that from the little they get as wages they must make sure that there is a considerable percentage they must set aside for transport.
The language issue was very much alive, although no one wanted my 50 cents for not speaking English. Here, one has to speak English or they pay with their social, professional, and economic mobility. I once had an argument with a white man about race, and I got fed up and started speaking my mother tongue: Xhosa. That man told me that I can be proud all I want and speak my Xhosa, but THAT (meaning every) job application will still be in English! I could not answer, I was extremely wounded by this statement from this white man. In the land of my forefathers, I had no hope of ever finding a job or economic prosperity if I insist on speaking my own indigenous language.
In Johannesburg, I learnt that economic prosperity was owned exclusively by white people, and a few black elite, with the rest of the black majority being slaves to a racist capitalist order, and wallowing in poverty. Now, to say there are no rich black people would be a lie, there are. But, as one American comedian put it, black people have to fly to get to where white people walk to. This man was speaking as a minority in America. here, we are the majority, yet the same is still true.
Back home I was taught that education is a means to empower oneself, especially economically. Here in Johannesburg I saw that the councils of premier universities such as Wits, whose graduates get absorbed at a far higher rate than graduates of other universities, raise fees exorbitantly. In light of the very visible and obvious fact that the majority of South Africans, who happen to be black, are poor, this means that this is a deliberate attempt to exclude black students from the so called premier universities.
In Johannesburg, I saw that in the workplace management and decision making, especially in labour intensive industries, is white in colour, with a few black sprinkles. The cappuccinoism that I always speak of. It is government that employs black people in numbers in all employment levels. The private sector, where capital operates, is a different story.
Here, violence is not only physical, it is also structural, institutional, and systematic. Nobody gives a damn about klapping anyone here. You will see violence when you go to the mines and see scores of black people go underground in scorching underground heat and dangerous working conditions digging for minerals and co creating wealth they and their offspring will never get to see, let alone enjoy. The violence of racial exploitation, that is. One sees violence when one goes to Alexandra township and experiences poverty, yet in the same space looks across the road and sees the wealth of Sandton, co built, ironically, by the residents of Alexandra.
Everything I have mentioned above has created the radical thinker that is me today. I used to be ashamed of being radical, I used to think I was destroying more than building. It took a young lady whose name I have forgotten to convince me that ‘radicalism is not radical at all, it is common sense’. She was right. It is merely common sense to want the South African workplace to reflect the country’s demographics. It is common sense to seek a more representative economy. It is common sense to support a call that says #FeesMustFall at Wits and all other universities. It is common sense to seek the fall of structural and systematic racism. It is common sense to call for the decolonisation of our spaces, learning, and institutions. It is common sense to want OUR land redistributed. It is all just common sense.
The black body has been subjected to violence for centuries. Here in South Africa, when we got an upper hand against our oppressors, we chose to forgive rather than avenge, which is the noble and humane thing to do. But forgiveness alone will not maintain peace in South Africa with its history. An absolute pre requisite to any genuine peace and reconciliation is radical transformation and redistribution, a complete obliteration of colonial legacies, and an elimination of racial and oppressive monopolies, especially in key sectors of our economy.
This is just the thoughts of a Cala boy who came to the city and became radical. Maybe I need to pay my daughter 50 cents for every Xhosa word she uses.
Linda Sidumo is a Bachelor of Commerce graduate majoring in Logistics (UNISA), an Honours student at University of Johannesburg, and an employee in the Transport and Logistics industry. Views expressed are strictly his own and are not in any way those of any organization or other persons. Follow him on twitter @TshaweNkosi.