Monday, 31 December 2012

Indod' enkulu (The Big Man)

The heroes of June 16 1976 are ordinary people we see on a daily basis. Now without giving you a history lesson, the point of departure for the youth of 1976 was the blatant refusal to comply with an order that made Afrikaans the medium of instruction in their schools. The aftermath that followed remains entrenched in our memories; and as young people we continuously search deep within and around us, trying to imagine what it was like for those young people who found themselves in the midst of all the action of June 16 and the days that followed.
Perhaps one thing that we overlook about the youth of 1976 is that a lot of them are still alive. Some of these answers we seek can be given by the people who were alive during that time. They are our parents, our uncles and aunts or our older brothers and sisters. They are everywhere around us. Take my neighbour, Indod’enkulu, as we affectionately call him. He is approaching his fifties and unemployed. He is too young to be a beneficiary of the old-age grant, 'too old' to be employed, and to make matters worse he has no post school qualification.

He tells me that he was in standard 8 (grade 10 in today’s system) when the riots broke out in Soweto. Although he was in KwaZulu, the echoes of what happened in Soweto were heard where he was. He says the boycotts were the norm those days such that his schooling didn’t receive much attention. "What was the point?" he asks me. "We were not going to amount to much under the apartheid regime even if were educated."
He admits that change has been slow in coming, especially for people in rural areas like ourselves. He complains that he can’t turn to the government for help. As I engage with him more I realize that his reluctance is a result of apathy and loss of faith in the government. Of the economic opportunities in our area he shrugs his shoulders. “You can’t even get a decent job here, you must go to the cities. Even there the situation is tough. Why can’t they give us some form of subsidy?”

His words leave a bitter taste in my mouth. Thoughts of our current situation as young people confirm the need for us to do something real for our people to give them hope. But hope alone is not enough; it certainly won’t put food on Indod’enkulu’s table.  I contemplate silently that he could turn to crime as an option. He would be confirming the stereotype if he did. I am grateful that he has not opted for this route and this gives me hope. After some enquiries I learned that he has a piece job in the neighbourhood.

He walks past my house in the morning to return at midday and my pride wells up each time I see him. Who am I to complain of my unfortunate spell when others less fortunate make ends meet? He is an example of how we can move forward given our challenges. Living in South Africa is a bitter-sweet experience.