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IT’S hard to recall anything about that year. It was 1991, I was six years old and school was still very confusing. Even though it was the second year, everything seemed to be happening so fast.
The one thing that stands out about it is the unrest, but having grown up around it since the late eighties this was normal. Police cars, violence, gunshots, toyi-toyiing — all these things were part of our lives. I don’t recall a peaceful time before 1994 in Mpophomeni.
We were walking to school and my friend, also Nomfundo, suddenly said: “We should not walk on this side of the road, even on the pavement. Have you not heard that Nokulunga was ridden over by a police vehicle while on this route.”
Terror filled my body. I wondered if we would be ridden over ourselves that day. I wondered what Nokulunga must have felt. It became too grim for me to continue thinking about it and I blocked it out and continued with our journey. We were thick as thieves, bonded by the same first name yet miles apart in personalities. She was light-skinned, bubbly and a bit skeletal, I was (and still am) reserved with a normal plumpness for a child of that age.
I wondered what Nokulunga had looked like. I had never met her. I had not met many people at school because I was too busy trying to figure it out. Nomfundo told me Nokulunga had lived on the other side of the township. We were from eMagwababeni and she from somewhere near the clinic. It didn’t give me any idea as I hated the clinic. I associated it with needles and pain, so I forgot all about her house.
I had not been at the funeral but Nomfundo had. She told me all about the graveyard which I had never seen. My grandparents were rather strict and believed it would give me nightmares to go there, even for relatives’ funerals, which they would have to deal with.
Time went by and the violence continued; I changed school as Qhamukile Primary was now no longer in my safe zone. The violence between the upper and the lower parts of Mpophomeni had become rife. Imgovu controlled the upper part of the township which meant I moved to Sifisesihle Primary, while my friend lived on the lower part that belonged to Imigoqo and remained in the school where we had met.
It was different. I cannot remember most of 1992, but I do recall there was a time when I stayed home for months and we never left the house. All my uncles went to schools in Edendale. My aunt and mom would wet our curtains before we went to bed and we put wardrobes against our windows “to catch the bullets” as Mkhulu explained it. In the daytime, I would look through the bedroom window and see dodgy-looking men running with guns. The adults whispered that these were home-made guns (oqhwasha), not real ones and that right there on our street were some of the most dangerous men in the township.
The day it all ended was rather odd. There was something very different about it. I woke up to my normal peeping and the first thing I saw was our neighbour’s white Corolla burning. I exclaimed: “Iyasha imoto”, and my grandmother, the most no-nonsense woman I’ve ever met simply said: “Get away from that window or you will have to tell the police what you saw.”
The police who ran over my schoolmate. There was no way I would have anything to do with them. I kept away from the window until I heard them whispering later that afternoon that the house was on fire. By the time I looked the flames were pouring out of the windows. And, the most terrifying sight of my life, there were white policemen outside. I had never seen so many in one place. My only relief was they had not come in a big car like the dreaded one that killed Nokulunga.
The next day we were back at school and the normality of constant fear, gun firing and wet curtains seemed to have gone.
I went back to my old school the following year, but my friend had found others.
1996. I was in Standard 4, crazy about dancing although not so good at it. My grandmother was still the same and not about to change. I had joined a dance group, quite popular in the township. We sometimes had performances in Howick, sometimes late at night at the community hall during pageants. Gogo would put her foot down whenever it suited her and I would miss performances after hours of practice. But when I heard through Mkhulu, who was and still is (prior to his blindness) known for his passion for working for the community, that he would be part of the committee that was planning the erection of the Nokulunga Gumede Wall of Reconciliation I knew I would be there, dancing away. Yes, she had become a symbol of the struggle, the girl who died just as we started school. My mind went back to wondering about the pain she must have felt, and then to her mom, as I had come to love my mother so dearly with age.
The day of the handover, Jacob Zuma was there. Not the president then but rather a lanky-looking man, which makes me wonder when his charisma evolved.
There was song, speeches and dance, although it was all very morbid. Her mother and the families of the other deceased whose names were inscribed on the wall just beneath hers took the stage. I felt like I was at a funeral. “How will I dance now with all this death surrounding us?” I thought. Nevertheless, I kept my mind on the performance which was rather late. As long as my Mkhulu was there Gogo would not have a problem.
It went by too fast and I don’t remember it, but it’s hard to forget about her. When I walked to the taxi rank recently and saw the Nokulunga Gumede Wall of Reconciliation, standing there demanding to be noticed as it always does, I wondered what she could have become. If she was still alive would she be married and successful. Would she drive a car? Or would she have been another Mpophomeni failure? Maybe she was just better off where she was, a legend, at her age putting all her peers to shame, for her name now means something to the people of Mpophomeni.
About the author
NOMFUNDO Ntumba is a 26-year-old woman born and bred in Mpophomeni. She has a degree in media and marketing from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and worked recently in a government communications department. She’s now busy setting up a blog, and is an avid reader and writer. She is also mother to a wonderful son.