RCYC ACADEMY REPORT – by Lindani Mchunu
In a country like ours where race is as palpable as the South Easter, I would be remiss to not use the opportunity that is in front of me, you may ask what opportunity that may be? It is the ability to communicate through this here medium called a newsletter with a white community, a community that I would under normal circumstances not be able to communicate with. I even hear that there are people in Europe who read this newsletter.
There is no hidden agenda, there is no ulterior motive, underhandedness. I am going to tell you why I am the way I am, why I am so passionate about helping young black kids from townships. I think to do that I will have to tell you about myself. My parents had me quite young, my mom was 18 to be exact my father was 23 he had just completed his first degree at the university of Zulu Land and was transferring to the University of Natal. When my paternal grandfather found out that his only son who seemed to be doing well at school and was on his way to become something out of 12 kids, he was not pleased that he had impregnated a young township girl. In those days if a boy had impregnated a young girl he was expected to go and work immediately to take care of the child, so more often than not, young men were made to leave school and go and find menial labour. To my grandfather’s surprise my maternal grandmother protected my father when it came time for the family to decide on my father’s fate. My father was happy about this outcome and promised my grandmother that if she can look after me and wait for him to finish his studies he would make good and look after his son and the mother of his child. This is how I came to be named Lindani which in Zulu directly translates ‘wait’ so I was named Lindani until the father finishes his studies. My paternal grandmother took me from my mother and raised me, while my mother was instructed to finish her studies.
My grandmother was and still remains a very interesting woman something of an enigma really. I cannot explain to you in words who and what she is. She was a healing woman who prayed for the sickly and made home remedies, which she would say were dictated to her by a spirit that she would connect with. So there I was being raised by this mesmerising woman, who claimed to be able tocommunicate with spirits and used prayer as a healing power for people’s ailments. Making all sorts of concoctions to help people. Sometimes there would be 20 to 30 people waiting outside for this lady, whom everyone seemed to believe was the reason why their fortunes had changed for the better. I cannot say for sure whether my grandmother truly possessed some special powers and performed miracles as people believed, all I know is that people came coming back and attributed their success, health and all good fortune to her.
This was my first contact with a female and without a doubt it left an impression on me that women are mystical if nothing else. I then left my grandmother for a while and lived with my maternal grandfather, my maternal grandfather was a very interesting man, first of all his name is Nhlanhla Peter Mlaba, but his ID document says different it reads Zeblon Ngema. So I asked him of this strange anomaly, he said ‘’ well Lindani I grew up during raw apartheid and when we went to home affairs to get our ID’s the officer would just give us whatever name he saw fit and you couldn’t argue, he could even give you a new birthday if he saw fit’’. We laugh about it today, but it speaks to the loss of identity of a whole generation. Anyway my grandfather was a self-made man whose first job was at a government mortuary cleaning dead bodies, this is what would inspire him to get into business during those same apartheid years. He said to me ‘’working at that mortuary made me appreciate being alive and realise that no matter how bad things were for black people in South Africa at the time, I was alive!’’. So my grandfather opened the first black salon in KZN at the time and went on to open some grocery stores in the townships. He used most of his money uplifting young kids from the township, giving them work and paying for school fees. This would leave a sense of independence in my mind and a sense of, as long as I am alive all is not lost. Then I went on to spend a few months with my paternal grandfather.
My Paternal grandfather was one of the black soldiers who participated in World War I, he often said he had a chance to travel to Europe but never really spoke about his experience all I know is that it left him a very hard man. Yet it also made him one of the richest black men of his time in our country. How did this black man during the height of Apartheid manage to amass wealth? Well after returning home my grandfather started a very peculiar business. My grandfather opened a mail order business. What was the business about? Well you may or may not be aware but black people have always relied on traditional healers for all their ailments. These traditional healers have always had an acute understanding of the healing powers of plants and certain trees. So they could give their clients a varied mixture of medicinal herbs with healing properties for a particular condition.
My grandfather then decided to approach the most famous and well known healers, and proposed to them that he was going to start a mail order business whereby he was going to package all their products and mail them to customers, he would open a factory in the Township, hire some people and have vehicles that would come and pick up all the medicinal herbs, plants etc. all they had to do was label all the herbs and plants with the particular healing properties and ailments that they should be used for. He would then market the products and package them and mail them nationally. Well you know what happened? He ended up having a mail order business that was employing 200 people in the township and a printing press to boot for his marketing material. My grandfather as the stories go from my father and his siblings, had chauffeurs, domestic workers and garden staff and multiple properties in the township and would throw an annual feast for the local community where he would slaughter many cows and feed the community. At the height of his life he had 17 cars all brand new. I asked him how he was able to amass so much wealth during apartheid he said ‘’ when I had money I realised then that apartheid was not so much about race and the colour of my skin, it was about exploitation and economics, because I could bribe the most racist of government officials just to keep my operations going. I also realised that not all white man were inherently racist or were in support of Apartheid but it was hard for people to risk being ostracised from their kinship’’.” Apartheid was like being at war, you had to choose a side to survive, it was about survival and when human beings are just living to survive, morals will always take a back seat.”
My grandfather taught me that success is truly up to you, no matter the circumstances you encounter. He also taught me that one cannot succeed alone and uplifting your community was part and parcel of your success. At the tender age of 11 I would live with my parents for the very first time without our time being cut short for me to go and live with another relative.
Now was the time for me to truly get to know the people who had given birth to me. Over the years my father had indeed remained true to his word, he had gone and finished his studies in Bristol and came out with a Master’s degree in Law and came back to be a professor of Law at the University of Natal at the tender age of 26. My mother was busy with her first degree. The 80’s are blur in my mind, I remember there was political unrest, soldiers would frequent the townships quite a lot and a lot of young kids would be arrested almost every day. My father spent a lot of his time speaking with the youth and going to police stations to try and negotiate their release. He emphasised the power of education in the fight against oppression and he would always tell me, most of the injustices that are taking place against our people are a direct result of the fact that our people are largely not aware of their Human rights and cannot defend themselves. That is why no matter how much unrest is happening here in the township, I must get up every day and go to work and teach the kids at the university. I must do that to set an example to the young kids here, because the most irritating thing about racism and oppression is the fact that it becomes a preoccupation on its own and you are left not attending to the real matters of life, which is educating yourself so you may be able to live up to your full potential in the little time you have here on earth. My father would always say “nothing lasts forever, at some point apartheid will end and we will have to rebuild this country, so I am preparing myself for that time.”
I grew up in the township until the age of 11 and in that time I was surrounded by some special people indeed. I am 36 now, when I go back to the township and search for all my friends that I grew up playing with, 90% of them are dead. I grew up playing with kids that grew up to be killers, rapists, high- jackers, bank robbers and so forth. I will not spell out why my journey penned out differently I think it’s pretty obvious. I cannot begin to even count the number of people my father has up lifted over the years, from his immediate family, to friends, community, country and continent. He used to tell me every day, that we have a responsibility to help our people because if we don’t we will have no one to celebrate our successes with, instead we will be surrounded by hyenas, waiting for an opportunity to take what we have.
In essence what I am trying to say is I owe my existence to all the people I listed above, they instilled a sense of purpose in me that cannot be removed. I want to give every opportunity at my disposal to these kids in our academy because I know their story, I know their story better than they do, I know the dangers that they are not even aware of, and I know their lacks better than they do. Right now all I want to do is send them to Rio and I will need all the help I can get, because to me and you going to Rio is merely crossing the Ocean from one continent to another. To them it is a paradigm shift of immense proportions. There are probably so many stories like mine in the townships from young black boys like myself, but very few of those stories get to be told on this platform with this Audience.
I hope in some way, when I open myself up and tell my story and open my vulnerabilities, you hear mysincerity when I say, let us do all we can to change a few lives in our little space called the Royal Cape Yacht Club.