Scorned, but lives

Beautiful mountains of Umbulwane
Look up, you see the Drakensberg
Look down, you see Umnambithi
Shaka Zulu named it Umnambithi,
Because of the tasty water.
He had such a good palate
The mountains have such rich history
So many stories to tell from the river
Your grandmother has probably told you a lot about water snakes
My uncle died there; it’s no myth.


The landscapes
Such serenity
The evergreen grass
Shades of brown
Giving you the contrast of life
Water silently flowing from the river
But when the water snake (inkanyamba) is angry, all hell breaks loose
Roofs are damaged
Houses flooded
Nature – so mysterious

This is all in Steadville
Umnambithi resembling a river of melancholy
The blood that’s been shed
The violence that took too much
Battle of the Blood River?

People moving with smiles
Pain hidden behind them
Shoulders hanging
Irascible due to the deep-seated pain
Unhealed wounds
No justice

Dreams flooded with screams of loved ones
Mothers crying for who could have been a breadwinner
What a scorned community
Life goes on…
They forge ahead

Place still remains beautiful
Hail storm came and took everything
It was a black Christmas
They remain smiling
Beauty haunted by blood
Blazing gun shots
They still have a rich history to tell!

Let’s tell our story Steadville!!!

Ntando PZ Mbatha


Abridged history of Steadville

Steadville is a township in Ladysmith/Emnambithi. Being the inquisitive person that I am; I therefore saw it fit to research more about the history of my birthplace.  So often when conducting research on Steadville; one only gets information on the violence from the early 1990s to the early 2000s. Fortunately, the violence is not what makes Steadville.

In no way am I going to tell the very rich history of Steadville without talking about the violence that has cost so many lives. Agreeably, that would be an injustice and a great fallacy; however, it will not be the focal point of my research project.

The heritage, the schools, the soccer (Steadville X20 comes to mind; Mbijo comes to mind – may his young soul rest in peace).

This research project on Steadville will create quite a number of job opportunities; and of course I will need sponsors to realise this. As a qualified researcher who’s also had great experience in the field of heritage; I am willing and able to share my experience and knowledge. I will need a camera crew, interviewers, people who will transcribe and collectors of artifacts for the museum. The museum will be used as a way to tell the story of Steadville; through pictures and other artifacts. I understand that there is a spot where the canteen used to be – a young man was stoned to death for a crime he didn’t commit. In his honour and other fallen heroes, a memorial stone may be erected there.

This project will give a thorough history of Steadville through oral history. This will give the “ordinary” person an opportunity to tell their story. No outsiders; just us, telling the world who we are, where we come from, how far we’ve come, our mistakes, and how we plan to rectify all that. This research will tell you about:

–          The first location – Ilokishi elibomvu – Rooi;

–          Who moved to Steadville first? Why?

–          Umbulwane?

–          Steadville and apartheid;

–          The people who put Steadville on the map;

–          Get the “ordinary” people – grassroots level, to tell their story;

–          Student organisations;

–          Protests;

–          Violence;

–          Sports – tennis, soccer, basketball, etc.

–          Developments;

–          Possible heritage sites – memorial area; Emnambithi Primary;

–          And finally the documentary.

So often when you ask people about where they come from, their heritage, who they are; you almost get an immediate dismissal. I’ve decided that this is due to the lack of knowledge on the subject matter; which in turn causes major frustration.

According to a brief history sited on Wikipedia; Steadville owes its name to the Stead family, particularly Frederick Stead. It is believed that this was due to his involvement in the Bantu Affairs as the Principal Clerk to the Native Commissioner. This was confirmed by an old lady; Ms BI Ndlovu whom I intimately like to call my library, my archive. Recently shattered by the news of her passing; she has been such a great help to me. May her beautiful soul rest in peace. I dedicate this project in her honour. So eloquent, so soft-spoken, so informed and yet so humble; how grateful I am to have met her. She spoke of the sports in Steadville; the women’s anti-pass march in Ladysmith; the fact that Nelson Mandela spent a night in Steadville on his way to Durban while he was underground; the activities of the ANC at the time as well as Dr Achmad Sader (Indian Medical Dr who played a big role in politics during apartheid); and most importantly, the role of her father, Chief John Ndlovu. I am mentioning all these facts as sweeping statements for now in order for the reader to get an idea of the kind of history that still needs to be told. I am also hoping to grab your attention and excite your curiosity so that word can be spread and more people, subsequently become involved in this project.

In an interview held with NA Dlamini; she spoke of the buildings at Rooi, basically where everything was back in the day. Where you see the mortuary today – Sizabantu – popularly known as KwaMajola – and the nurses’ home, there used to be houses; and the area was called KwaMfishane. Although she didn’t tell me about this person, one can already tell that he must have been well-known. She was born and bred there. The houses were built for migrant labourers who worked kwaLoliwe – now known as Transnet (light-bulb moment – our question about why people moved to Steadville is answered). Where we have izitende today, that used to be grazing land for the people of Rooi. There is also an area that used to be called Ezintandaneni – loosely translated – orphanage. Elda Buthelezi confirmed that a white lady whom they intimately called Nkosazana  used to stay in the area. This lady lived with her kids, owned cattle and grew peaches and grapes. It is not clear when and why she left Rooi – this may have been due to the segregation laws passed –  but soon after she left, black people occupied the area, particularly Eric Mnguni, who was a Ballroom and Latin American Dance instructor. It is however not clear why it was given such a name, although from the name, one can deduce that orphans may have resided in the area.The big shack has since been demolished by the Municipality.

So it is safe to say that we first had Umbulwane (which according to reasearch, did not form part of Steadville). There is however proof that people from Umbulwane moved to Steadville. There have been recent discoveries that most clans that lived in Umbulwane were the Majola, Khanyile and Nthsangase. Rooi can thus be seen as the first location of Steadville, then New Look, eJabavu, White City and then Subsidy (although there have been many strikes about this order – interviewees have confirmed this as truth); the other areas in Steadville are more recent. This research will also look into whether there were class divisions according to who stayed in which section or it was simply due to developments of the time. According to Ms TQ Myeza, most people who stayed in White City were teachers, policemen, nurses, clerks and security guards. There is also evidence that the houses in the area had running water, and were the first ones to get toilets and showers in their yards.

I have been speaking about my Steadville project for months now; this was aimed at ensuring people that I am still working on the project; despite the many challenges I face. This is but a gist of all that I have done. I have managed to interview about four teachers on the establishments of the schools; i.e. EmnambithI Primary and Nikela Lower Primary School. My earliest gratitude to Mrs M Mbatha, Ms T Cele, Ms SS Ndlovu and Ms TQ Myeza for allowing me to interview them at such short notice.  Noting that Emnambithi Primary was the first school in the area, it will be befitting to declare it a heritage site. Log books, pictures, minutes of meetings, etc. have given me so much information. Actually, I have more information on Nikela than any other place in Steadville. I will accept any pictures, newspaper clips, minutes, pamphlets, etc.  from whoever is interested. I give you my word – all will be safe; and we will tell the history of our birthplace; even if it is the last thing I do on this earth.

Please note that I have recently heard that there are people doing a documentary on the violence in Steadville; I am not involved in that project.Image

What women went through – DETENTION

Thenjiwe Mtintso once said: “I think overall, many a time when stories of the struggle against apartheid are being told, the stories of women’s struggle are forgotten. They are hidden. Even when they are told, they’re told as a postscript; incidentally there were women. But the essence of this history is a history of men. It is not her story, as other people would say; it is the story of the man.”

It is important to highlight that the struggle against apartheid and the country’s victory to finally overcome unjust laws was not through men or a particular organisation only; that is a pure distortion of history and it should be corrected sooner than later. Quite frankly, I would hate that my children grow up knowing that only one organisation fought against these discriminatory laws or with the misconception that women hold a secondary citizen status.

Mr. Alan Lax once said “It’s become clearer by the day that our freedom was solely or fully dependent upon the women of this country and we wouldn’t have been here had you not gone through the hardships that you did. You have endured so much, and we would like to tell you that you have got courage and strength … probably we wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t done what you did.”

Just as men, women were jailed, they were tortured, they were killed; they were held under solitary confinement, under house arrest, moreover, these women were sexually assaulted – to undermine their  identity and integrity.

Winnie Mandela in her book Part of my soul went with him described detention as  “midnight knock when all about you is quiet. It means those blinding torches shone simultaneously through every window of your house before the door is kicked open. It means the exclusive right the Security Branch have to read each and every letter in the house. It means paging through each and every book on your shelves, lifting carpets, looking under beds, lifting sleeping children from mattresses and looking under the sheets. It means tasting your sugar, your mealie-meal and every spice on your kitchen shelf, unpacking all your clothing and going through each pocket. Ultimately, it means your seizure at dawn, dragged away from little children screaming and clinging to your skirt, imploring the white man dragging Mummy away to leave her alone”.

Solitary confinement on the other hand was aimed at manipulating the detainees’ psyche, since they were locked up alone in a dark cell for weeks and at times, for months on end. The authorities knew that it is hard for a human being to survive on his or her own. Thus, this form of torture was aimed at tormenting the detainees mentally.

Ruth First, who was also detained without trial and held in solitary confinement said: “For the first 56 days of my detention in solitary I changed from a mainly vertical to a mainly horizontal creature. A black iron bedstead became my world. It was too cold to sit, so I lay extended on the bed, trying to measure the hours, the days and the weeks, yet pretending to myself that I was not”.  Albertina Sisulu on the other hand explained her experience in solitary confinement saying that “in solitary confinement you are there sitting on the mat, with lice in the blankets, running up and down. There for months on end, with nobody to talk to, taken out for exercise for 30 minutes. The food that was there, my dear, you wouldn’t eat it”.

Winnie Mandela, who was herself detained for 491 days, recalls how women used to be humiliated by the police in an attempt to break them. She said that they had inspections everyday in prison; a practice deemed unnecessary since they were kept under strict watch. She recalls “two wardresses walk in, they order you to stand up, they take off your clothes. They start by inspecting your shoes as you stand there stark naked. They go through your panties, your bra; they go through every seam of every garment. Then they go through your hair and – of course they never succeeded with me, but with female prisoners it was common practise – they inspect your vagina. Nothing is more humiliating and you are all alone in that cell”.

When a man did not break under the torture of the police, he was considered a man and given much respect. This was however, not the case regarding women. In circumstances where a woman would refuse to succumb to the brutal torture by the authorities, this would infuriate the authorities even more and thus, she would experience even harsher forms of torture. Being challenged by a woman seemed more like an offence to the authorities as they felt women, especially black women, had no strength to tolerate such torture.

In the 1960s forms of torture were characterised by solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, standing for long periods and repeated assaults. For example Lilian Ngoyi, who was President of the ANC Women’s League and President of the Federation of South African Women (FedSAW), was banned in 1960 and confined to her home in Orlando West, Soweto. Her banning order lasted for five years and was renewed again in 1967 for a further five years. She lived under house arrest until 1980.

Torture in the 1970s took a more violent turn and women began to experience similar assaults to men. Other forms of torture were the ‘horse’ where an individual would be handcuffed to a pole and swung round and round until the victim lost consciousness. Electric shocks were also used to shock women’s breasts. Joyce Dipale, a leader in the Black Consciousness Movement was kept in solitary confinement during 1976 and 1977 for 500 days. She said that she became used to these forms of torture, but never the humiliation that came with them and explained that she lost touch with time. Deprivation of food and water, as well as sleep and being kept in dark rooms were other forms of torture, which were used during the 1970s.

In the 1980s, forms of torture became even more gruesome. Women received no mercy from their tortures; with occasional threats of rape. In the 1980s, women became even more active in the struggle against apartheid. To torture these women, the security forces started to use women’s sexuality to undermine their identity and integrity during interrogations. Elaine Mohamed, who was a university student, was detained for organising a meeting to commemorate the founding of the South African Communist Party (SACP). She explained how vulnerable she felt after she had started her menstrual cycle in detention. A policeman told her she was not allowed tampons and had to use pads “and he shook the pad and hit it against the wall saying: ‘Put it on!’ I found this incredibly threatening. It’s those kinds of experiences that I couldn’t talk about for a long time. Some of them I still can’t talk about”.

It should be stressed that women did not have just one role, they were expected to be mothers, fathers and bread-winners in the absence of their partners. These women were also expected to be a source of support for their children, partners and the rest of their family. How much more should their roles be stressed? A much broader description of what being a woman at the time needs to be highlighted, also keeping in mind their contribution towards the struggle. So many stories of women are left untold simply because these women feel their stories do not matter enough, or probably because they feel they had to go through that process in order for this country to be liberated. They need to know that their contributions are highly appreciated; that even though this was done in the name of the struggle, no human being should be raped in order for the country to be liberated. These women need to know that as much as there were a few of them in liberation camps in exile, that still left no justification for them being raped. These women need to know that these stories need to be told; people need to know what they went through; protecting their organisation from being discredited still says ”you deserved to be raped”.

The history of South Africa is not complete unless the stories of women are mentioned. It will replace the misconception that men alone played an important role in liberating the country. This post is aimed at highlighting the role which women played and the violations they experienced in their struggle to liberate all South Africans. These stories of women can add to a growing body of knowledge of apartheid policy and may also assist in understanding the pain and suffering experienced by many women, mostly of colour, under apartheid.