OR Tambo’s birth village is being used to celebrate Human Rights Day, but residents there still lack the most basic services
While the country gets ready to mark Human Rights Day, residents in the village where former ANC president Oliver Tambo was born say they have little to celebrate. President Jacob Zuma is expected to be the keynote speaker on Tuesday during Human Rights Day celebrations in King William’s Town, 432km southwest of Tambo’s birthplace in Nkantolo, Eastern Cape, under the theme, The Year of OR Tambo: Unity in Action in Advancing Human Rights.
But residents of Nkantolo and surrounding villages say they attach no value to the celebrations because every day is a struggle.
For them, the rights to water, healthcare, food, proper housing, a quality education for their children and human dignity, enshrined in chapter 2 of the Constitution, exist mainly for other people.
“We don’t have a clinic in our village. Last year, my grandchild was burnt by boiling water and we had to travel more than 5km to the nearest clinic. If we had one in our village here in Esikhumbeni, we would not be travelling that long for such a minor thing,” says Zazi Faku.
Faku (59), a married father with five children and five grandchildren, used to work on the mines as a driver. He says 23 years is a long time to still be complaining about basic human rights under a government voted for by the country’s majority.
On the surface, Nkantolo and its surrounding villages look peaceful and quiet with their modest, mud homes flanked by mielie fields and gardens full of crops.
For Faku, access to healthcare is the most important undelivered right in his neighbourhood.
“Healthcare is a huge problem here because, even after you have paid a lot of money to get to the clinic, when you arrive, you are told there is no medication. We are also made to stand in long queues because there is a shortage of nurses,” he says.
Faku’s closest clinic is Hlamandana Clinic, 5km away in another village, Ludeke, where Tambo attended school. Nkantolo is 10km away. Nkantolo’s villagers go to the same clinic.
Faku’s neighbour, Mxolisi Mpantsha (73), says that, for him, water and access to education are the biggest problems. He says that when Zuma visits Mbizana at the end of the month, he hopes he will see the misery of Tambo’s people for himself.
“There is no water in all of Mbizana. We fight with cattle for drinking water. It is better now because there has been rain in the past few weeks. We need water in Mbizana urgently. We cannot be expected to drink from the same river as cows,” Mpantsha says.
According to figures on Wazimap, which were gathered from the 2011 census, in Mbizana’s Ward 27, where Nkantolo is situated, only 0.2% of residents get their water from a regional or local service provider. Almost 60% of residents get their water from a river and 34% get theirs from a spring.
More than 71% of the people have no electricity at all, and 13.5% have no access to any toilets. Only one in 10 residents has a job, and only 11.4% of residents completed their matric or a higher qualification.
Mpantsha, a father of four, is also unhappy that there is no high school in his village.
“Is it not our children’s right to have access to education? Why is it that our children are forced to walk 10km to get to a high school?” he asks.
In Nkantolo, Tambo’s nephew, Mzukisi Tambo (57), says his uncle would have been disappointed with the state of Mbizana if he was still alive.
The father of two, who lives at his uncle’s homestead, says he realised that not everyone was equal before the law after the man who set the OR Tambo Garden of Remembrance alight in 2014 was freed.
“The courts have a duty to protect everyone, including those who are accused of doing wrong. I don’t understand how a man who was arrested for damaging a national heritage site can be let go that easily. I am a bit disappointed with the justice system,” he says.
But Mzukisi is even more disappointed by the fact that the heritage site erected to honour his uncle has been left in a state of disrepair for the past three years.
When City Press visited the garden this week, the two large rondavels that were burnt down had still not been fixed.
Only the front section’s grass had been cut, while the rest of the site, including where Tambo’s parents are buried, is overgrown. The single security guard on the premises has no shelter and instead uses a shack that was meant to hold tools, where he sits on bricks because there is no chair.
“No one from government has bothered to restore the heritage site to be a fitting tribute to OR,” Mzukisi says.
“This is the site where OR Tambo’s parents are buried. His umbilical cord is also buried here. It is really embarrassing that government can say it is celebrating my uncle on one hand, while, on the other, it lets his memory die like this.”
Marking Human Rights Day is the last thing on his mind.
“How can you celebrate anything in a place where you are not even safe? There are high levels of crime here in Nkantolo, such as livestock theft and housebreaking. Because people are unemployed and poor, they target those who have even a little and steal from them,” he says.
“There is no food or security here. Most people depend on grants, and even that help is now in jeopardy. As far as we are concerned, we are just like Tambo – a forgotten people.”
On Wednesday, a large group of construction workers were busy along the 15km stretch of road between Nkantolo and the R61 to Mbizana. The dirt road leading to Tambo’s birthplace is being tarred as part of the Eastern Cape provincial government’s plan to fix rural roads.
Other work is being done. Electricity and pit toilets for each household have largely been delivered. Rainwater tanks have also been supplied to each lowcost government house.
But Nkantolo resident and ANC member Mongezi Phephetha (59) says he is still being denied an RDP house. He lives with his girlfriend, Nonzame Madikizela (61), in her family home.
“No one listens to me in this village. They say the voice of a man who has no property is meaningless,” he says.
“I don’t even have enough money to build a home because the R1 500 disability grant I get supports my large family. I have four children and 20 grandchildren, and they all depend on me to survive. Where is the right to equality in this situation? So, no, I don’t have much to celebrate on Human Rights Day,” he says.
FORGOTTEN Neighbours Zazi Faku (right) and Mxolisi Mpantsha chat about the problems facing Mbizana
DESTITUTE OR Tambo’s nephew Mzukisi Tambo says the people of Mbizana, where his famous uncle comes from, have been forgotten and have nothing to celebrate on Human Rights Day
HISTORICAL A picture of Nkantolo village, the birthplace of OR Tambo