Wa­ter will flow in the pipes in Tambo’s home vil­lage, Nkan­tolo,writes Themba Khu­malo

The Sunday Independent - - DISPATCHES -

MONTHS af­ter the 1960 Sharpeville Mas­sacre in which 69 protesters died, white South Africa was smug and felt as­sured with a false sense of se­cu­rity. This prompted a white man to spit in Oliver Tambo’s face as he walked down Com­mis­sioner Street in Jo­han­nes­burg. He could not fight back and all he did was to wipe off the spit­tle with a hand­ker­chief which he tucked back into his pocket and kept for his­tor­i­cal rea­sons.

Sub­se­quently, the hand­ker­chief be­came part of his most treasured para­pher­na­lia dur­ing his years in ex­ile. It be­came a sym­bol of racism and an epit­ome of white supremacy in South Africa. Yet he did not hate whites; he merely re­sented what they stood for. The sys­tem had de­prived many black peo­ple of their ba­sic hu­man rights, in­clud­ing the right to be treated with re­spect wher­ever they went.

Born to peas­ant par­ents, Mz­i­meni and Ju­lia in Nkan­tolo vil­lage, Tambo de­fied all odds and grad­u­ated in Maths and Physics at Fort Hare Univer­sity in 1942.

Dur­ing this pe­riod he led an ini­tia­tive for stu­dents to re­build a dis­used ten­nis court on the cam­pus in or­der to pass the time on Sun­days.

When the ten­nis court was com­pleted, the stu­dents sched­uled an open­ing cer­e­mony, which Tambo re­ported to the war­den.

The au­thor­i­ties de­clined per­mis­sion for the stu­dents to play ten­nis on Sun­days, as they be­lieved it was a breach of the faith.

The stu­dents then em­barked on a pol­icy of non-co­op­er­a­tion with the univer­sity au­thor­i­ties.

As a con­se­quence, Tambo, who at the time was sec­re­tary of the Stu­dents Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil, and 45 other stu­dents, were ex­pelled.

All but 10 of them were read­mit­ted af­ter two or three weeks.

Af­ter his ex­pul­sion, Tambo went back to his home in Nkan­tolo. He then ap­plied for teach­ing jobs but was turned down when prospec­tive em­ploy­ers learnt that he was ex­pelled from univer­sity. For­tu­nately, he was of­fered a po­si­tion as a teacher in physics and math­e­mat­ics at his alma mater, St Peter’s, where he spent five years.

For­mer stu­dents taught by him re­called his en­gag­ing style of teach­ing and con­sider him an out­stand­ing teacher.

Dur­ing this pe­riod Tambo be­came part of a small net­work of the young African elite, the likes of Wal­ter Sisulu and Nel­son Man­dela, Duma Nokwe and oth­ers.

He quickly ad­justed to the bright life of Jo­han­nes­burg and al­most ev­ery­thing was within reach.

Yet it wor­ried him that back home women and chil­dren still walked long dis­tances to fetch wa­ter from the wells and rivers.

This con­cern fol­lowed him as he left the coun­try to re­build the ANC Ex­ter­nal Mis­sion be­yond the bor­ders of South Africa.

Nkan­tolo was among the 14 000 vil­lages that did not have ac­cess to potable wa­ter when the demo­cratic gov­ern­ment came into of­fice 23 years ago.

Perched on a vast land­scape that stretches from the bor­ders of KwaZulu-Natal to the wild coast of Transkei, Nkan­tolo is a bee­hive of ru­ral ac­tiv­ity that en­cap­su­lates the spirit of ubuntu.

Tambo wit­nessed his mother and sib­lings as they strug­gled to fetch wa­ter from afar. For­mer ex­iles will tell you how he treasured a glass of wa­ter.

Even though he had ac­cess to tap wa­ter at Green House, his of­fi­cial res­i­dence in Zam­bia, no one was al­lowed to waste wa­ter.

Waste wa­ter was con­nected to his gar­den to keep the veg­e­ta­tion green.

His pas­sion for the colour­less re­source is a re­sult of its scarcity back home. In apartheid South Africa, wa­ter for black com­mu­ni­ties was a pipe dream. The gov­ern­ment gave pref­er­ence for the retic­u­la­tion of wa­ter to white farm­ers to en­cour­age them to pro­duce more crops. Nkan­tolo vil­lage was no ex­cep­tion to the rule.

How­ever, dur­ing last week’s post­hu­mous cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions for the late ANC leader, the peo­ple from his vil­lage had some­thing to smile about. The Min­is­ter of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion, Nomvula Mokonyane, was joined by the Ex­ec­u­tive Mayor of Al­fred Nzo, Cllr Sixo­lile Mehlo­makhulu, to launch the R1.7 bil­lion Greater Mbizana Re­gional Bulk Wa­ter Sup­ply Scheme that will feed Ludeke Dam. The dam will sup­ply potable wa­ter to more than 800 000 vil­lagers of Matatiele, Mbizana, Nta­bankulu and Umz­imvubu, re­sid­ing in about 178 347 houses. Ludeke Dam is the main stor­age for the 266 000 vil­lagers of Nkan­tolo. Fur­ther­more, the scheme will ad­dress wa­ter chal­lenges that are faced by Nkan­tolo and other vil­lages by in­creas­ing the ca­pac­ity of the wa­ter treat­ment works and im­prov­ing the bulk wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion in the area.

A pump sta­tion was also built to pump wa­ter from the Ludeke Dam through the ex­ist­ing main pump to Nom­lacu Wa­ter Treat­ment Works for the ben­e­fit of the vil­lagers. Im­ple­mented by Um­geni Wa­ter, the project is aimed at de­vel­op­ing a new wa­ter re­source and to im­prove the bulk wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion to the Mbizana mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Phase Two of the scheme will en­tail fur­ther bulk in­fra­struc­ture to serve the re­main­der of the sup­ply area. This phase will start once the retic­u­la­tion for first phase has pro­gressed. Phase Two will en­sure the up­grad­ing of Nom­lacu wa­ter treat­ment works to 20ml a day to cover 100% of Mbizana. The scheme has cre­ated a to­tal of 358 skilled and un­skilled jobs and 59 di­rect project con­struc­tion jobs.

In ad­di­tion, a con­struc­tion team from the Depart­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion is cur­rently in Nkan­tolo to re­fur­bish and ex­tend the ex­ist­ing non-func­tional in­fra­struc­ture. The in­ten­tion is to stretch the line and

in­stall up to 20 taps in the next two weeks. Em­bassy of the United Arab Emirates has do­nated 100 hippo-rollers stores 90 litres of wa­ter and will be dis­trib­uted across the area, tar­get­ing the in­di­gent house­holds.

The wa­ter scheme is one of the many gov­ern­ment projects that were launched in Mbizana in the build-up to Tambo’s cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions.

For in­stance, the Min­is­ter of Safety and Se­cu­rity opened a sta­teof-the-art po­lice sta­tion that will han­dle crime that is re­port­edly on the rise in Mbizana.

There can be no doubt that once the wa­ter and other gov­ern­ment projects have been com­pleted, Tambo will smile in his grave in ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the ef­forts be­hind im­prov­ing his im­pov­er­ished vil­lage.

Khu­malo is a me­dia and con­tent pro­ducer in the depart­ment of wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion

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