Make way for the wise man of Winterveldt

Traditional healer and lay preacher Khehla Nyamakazi is still the nerve centre of community life in the Winterveldt informal settlement, north of Pretoria.

Just recently my uncle Lukas Masilela threatened to drag the whole family to Nyamakazi’s dispute-resolution ibandla (court) over a property stand-off.

That was a few days before I stumbled into the remarkable elderly man with his greying hair and wizened eyes behind thick-lensed spectacles – Winterveldt’s stalwart community leader, healer, comforter, lay preacher and events manager.

As in all my random encounters with him recently, Nyamakazi insisted I write and publish his biography.

But then, as a published author myself, I am aware publishers have in recent years been reluctant to take on new work, especially manuscripts incubated from outside of their own imprints. All this would not make sense at all to Nyamakazi, the humblest of intellectuals.

Let’s for a moment imagine a publisher agrees to look into Nyamakazi’s biography. Just what aspects of the old man’s life would make readers take notice? That he is still the leader of Winterveldt, arguably the largest informal settlement in the southern hemisphere?

Nyamakazi’s record as a community leader speaks for itself, such as when he is the interpreter between various African languages at funerals. On the sports front, he was the founding chairperson of the most popular Winterveldt Leeds United Football Club.

He has presided over countless community and even marital disputes, but there is one that continues to fire my imagination.

A headmaster was driven out of the local school by irate parents over all sorts of allegations. Inevitably, Nyamakazi was at the forefront of efforts to resolve the dispute.

For several days meetings were held in the school hall, until such time that Nyamakazi suggested that, with or without a final resolution, teaching and learning had to resume as a matter of the utmost urgency.


Dressed in a smart three-piece suit, with his hat at a jaunty angle, briefcase in hand and head held high, he walked towards the schoolyard through the settlement’s dusty alleyways,with several cheering residents in tow.

On arrival at the school, Nyamakazi summoned the teachers and pupils to morning assembly. He tilted his hat over one eye, and addressed them, insisting he did not qualify as a teacher, let alone a headmaster.

He was firm, however, in his resolve that he would occupy the headmaster’s office to make sure teachers were teaching and pupils were learning.

Residents of Winterveldt whistled and ululated as Nyamakazi took his place behind the headmaster’s desk, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

Johnny Masilela is a journalist and author

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.

Advertising

‘Tenderpreneurs’ block the delivery of protective equipment to schools

Protests by local suppliers have delayed PPE delivery, which according to the DBE, is one of the reasons the reopening of schools has been pushed back until June 8

‘Soon he’ll be seen as threatening, not cute’: What it’s...

There is no separating George Floyd’s killing from the struggles black people have faced ever since the first slave ships landed on these shores

How schools could work during Covid

Ahead of their opening, the basic education department has given schools three models to consider to ensure physical distancing
Advertising

Press Releases

Mining company uses rich seam of technology to gear up for Covid-19

Itec Direct technology provides instant temperature screening of staff returniing to the workplace with no human contact

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

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday