Driving change, step by step

By Thembelani Mkhize

When asking an elderly resident of Mpophomeni about their origins, most will tell you about a place called kwa-Zenzele (which translates to “do it yourself”).

Most of them were relocated to the township in the 1960s, during the apartheid era. Even though Mpophomeni’s history has been plagued by the violence of the struggle, the community’s resilience and determination to pursue a better life is second to none and this trait is best expressed by the youth.

“The Hustlers” has become a term of endearment used by the local youth, who are in pursuit of happiness. They get up in the morning with one thing in mind… purpose.

From business to art and all the way to agriculture, the hustlers can be found marauding every sector of an almost non-existent economy with persistence and a drive to become better human beings. These are the pioneers who took the name of the origins of their lineage to heart and did as they lived… for themselves.

No shovel

When I relocated to Mpophomeni from Johannesburg in 2012 after matric, all I could see was a diamond mine of opportunity. My only problem was I didn’t bring a shovel.

So for a few years I watched as the community developed step by step, one business at a time, and I wondered how I could integrate myself into this slowly growing economy – to not only survive in it, but thrive.

Of course, many of life’s challenges, daily obstacles and pitfalls, such as drugs, alcohol abuse, crime and poor health, have led many of the youth to a slowly deteriorating lifestyle. I myself have been a victim.

Fortunately, after discovering my love for art and literature in 2015, I quickly established myself as a practising author and sketch artist, and made sure everyone knew it – from putting up a sketch on the wall behind my desk at school to mark my seat to launching my fist book, Morning: memoirs of a college dropout, in a restaurant in Mpophomeni. That was my shovel.

Mpophomeni writer and sketch artist, Thembelani Mkhize.

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From there onwards I started digging for talent, meeting artists like Sabelo Xaba, who runs Mpophomeni Horseback Tours, and businesswomen such as Senzile Madlala, the founder of the Imbewu Foundation and the manager of Midmar View restaurant, where I launched my book.

Together with a group of middle-aged and elderly farmers from the community we started the Mpophomeni Farmers’ Market on June 16 last year. This was a community initiative aimed at empowering small-scale farmers and businesses.

It was where farmers such as Pha Mabaso and his company, Emphare, launched their first organic beverage, Guanana (a mixture of guava and banana juice).

I was in charge of marketing and setting up the venue every second Saturday morning at 4am at the Mpophomeni Tourism gateway. The market runs from 9am to 3pm and features a kiddies area, picnic park and horseback tours. It starts again next month.

Success story

From the market my graphic design business became active, which meant more customers around the township who wanted items such as pamphlets or painted signage for their fast-food outlets.

Each of these individuals has their own success story and some are still being written (by me, of course). This is my idea of integration. Using my talents to not only help the community, but to paint a picture and tell a story about every inspirational individual who could make the community a better place just by being themselves.

Because after we are gone one day, our names will remain.

Thembelani Mkhize will be contributing regularly to The Meander Chronicle.

Main picture: rawpixel/Unsplash