New election, same old story for battle-weary villagers

The Mayixhale home in Goso, on the outskirts of Lusikisiki, is only accessible by a rough gravel road. It lies above a small valley that serves as the family's garden and graveyard.

Goso, to use ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe's description of nearby Port St Johns, is "untamed". This Eastern Cape village has schools and a clinic, but its gravel roads are hard to navigate.

In the Mayixhales's garden, there are sizable patches of sweet potatoes, taro (amadumbe) and a sprinkling of beans on a slope that runs towards a stream. The family still depends on the stream for water, as was the case when the Mail & Guardian first visited here about 10 years ago. Except for the installation of a prepaid electricity meter, the two-roomed house – painted a pale pink – has not changed since then.

There have been some new acquisitions, though. A stove and a flat-screen television fill up the living room-cum-kitchen area, near the door that opens out on to the yard. The Xhosa prayers beseeching God to wipe away all tears are still stuck to the living room walls.

Zandile Mayixhale, who now fills the big shoes left by the family's late matriarch, Bonani, says cooking on the stove depletes the prepaid electricity too quickly. That is why out in the earthen yard, diagonally opposite the two-roomed house, a corrugated-iron cooking structure still exists. Not far from the house, referred to as a "flat" in the Eastern Cape, a well-worn, legless cast-iron pot lies on ash-covered corrugated iron sheets, propped up by bricks.

Poor health
Bonani died from tuberculosis in 2010, before her house was electrified. She also missed experiencing the new pit toilet, a block brick cubicle that Zandile says will soon be full.

Coming, as we do, unannounced, with health worker Nomzwakazi Gogo again pointing out the way, Zandile is initially taken aback, but remembers speaking to the M&G on the eve of the last election, in 2009. She has a chocolate complexion and resembles her late mother – even though her features are obscured by an ochre-coloured face cream.

Her late mother, who now lies buried near the garden, had 10 children: seven daughters and three sons. Only half of her progeny (four daughters and one son) are still alive, dispersed across various cities and villages.

Zandile Mayixhale lives with her niece, Esihle, who is eligible to vote but did not register.

Zandile lives with her late sister Ntombenhle's daughter, Sinethemba. Sinethemba's schooling was interrupted when she fell pregnant with Babalo, who is few months old. Zandile's niece Esihle (19), who was orphaned when her mother died from an HIV-related illness, walks in with Zandile's two-year-old son, whom she was helping to get inoculated at a nearby clinic. Esihle's younger sister, Sisonke, is still in primary school. There are now nine people living in the house, under the care of Zandile and her sister Lizeka. Some are their siblings' children, others their own. Lizeka works for a retail store in Lusikisiki.

Zandile, meanwhile, receives a grant for three of her own children and a foster-care grant for the child of one of her sisters. She has not been able to find work since the nearby Magwa Tea Estate ran into financial problems last year and stopped paying its seasonal workers. "Besides the grant money, I can't say how else the government has helped me," she says. "The jobs that do come, from projects or whatever, you find that they have already hired the people by the time you hear about them."

RDP housing
She says the same thing applies to the RDP houses. "The councillor said they would choose who is eligible for housing, so I guess they will just choose who they want." Mayixhale has only recently registered for a house, but says she was told that only a select few in the ward will get housing because they are a "big" family.

Crammed into three beds – one in the lounge and two more in the bedroom – the family still manages to provide three meals a day. This is despite what she says are diminishing yields in the garden. "The mealies were fine, but it's not a lot anymore," she says, standing next to the desiccated post-harvest stalks.

Zanele and her fellow villagers cannot afford electricity, so they resort to other means
to keep body and soul together. (Photos: Delwyn Verasamy)

The diminutive Esihle, in jeans with her hair tightly plaited, should be in school uniform. She says the teachers bunk school after the term examinations; she saw a few "loitering" in town earlier in the day. Despite this, she aims to finish high school. The walk to Qikela High School takes between 40 minutes and an hour, depending on the route and the weather conditions.

Esihle says there used to be government-sponsored buses when she was at school in Flagstaff, but when this service was cut, she had to pay R260 a month for transport.

Some years after her mother died, Esihle started receiving a foster child grant, but the grant stopped when she turned 18.

Young mothers
Sinethemba, who quit school in grade 10 because of the pregnancy, does not receive a child income grant because she has no identity document. She was recently orphaned and her mother's funeral was held in the family graveyard.

Mayixhale says pregnancy also prevented her from finishing high school – the closest a family member who got to matric was Lizeka, who has dropped out with two subjects to finish. "In my case no one could look after my child for me, so I had to quit school."

In the sweltering heat, there is not much activity in the house. Zandile takes an afternoon nap while listening to a church service on the radio. Sinethemba tends to her baby, fanning her with a brochure.

Sinethemba and Esihle are of voting age. Esihle says she will not be voting because she has not registered, whereas Sinethemba hasn't made up her mind about politics.

When we last visited the Mayixhale household in 2009, Bonani, the late matriarch, said she would vote ANC because the councillor had said so.

Zandile, her daughter, was quoted as saying: "In 2004 we voted, but today we have no electricity. They promised us, but there is still no electricity. They are lying just to get our votes. I don't want to vote for just anyone now; I want to use my common sense."

Five years later, now with electricity but not much else, Mayixhale's position on voting, like her circumstances, does not seem to have moved on much.

"I may or may not go, depending on how I feel, because up to now, voting has not given me much in the form of tangible results. If I do bother, I may just vote for someone else."

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Small towns not ready for level 3

Officials in Beaufort West, which is on a route that links the Cape with the rest of the country, are worried relaxed lockdown regulations mean residents are now at risk of contracting Covid-19

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday