In Search of the Other Nkandla

For­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma isn’t the only one with roots here

South African Country Life - - In This Issue - PIC­TURES GLY­NIS HORN­ING AND SUE PARKER-SMITH

Ja­cob Zuma’s in­fa­mous R246-mil­lion homestead may have helped cost him a pres­i­dency, but it’s brought new in­ter­est (and roads) to the Nkandla district of Zu­l­u­land, en­cour­ag­ing ex­plo­ration of one of the most beau­ti­ful and least-known parts of South Africa.

How­ever, it wasn’t just Ja­cob’s place my cousin Sue and I were set on see­ing when I picked her up at King Shaka In­ter­na­tional Air­port one muggy Dur­ban day, and headed up the KwaZulu-Na­tal North Coast to Eshowe. It was another homestead, some 60 kilo­me­tres from his, on an iso­lated farm at Qu­deni.

That’s where our moth­ers, Joan (mine) and

Kay Tis­si­man, grew up amid dense forests, wa­ter­falls and soar­ing krantzes – a place of such love­li­ness that they spoke of it all their

lives, shap­ing our own love of na­ture.

Our stay that night was with the man who was to be our guide – Hugh Lee, grand­son of the Bishop of Zu­l­u­land, and part farmer, part politi­cian (a for­mer Mem­ber of Provin­cial Leg­is­la­ture for the area), part his­tor­i­cal racon­teur. But Hugh, I’d re­cently dis­cov­ered, is more than that to me – his un­cle, Philip Lee, was the great love of my mom’s life, a story that has al­ways moved me.

Joan and Philip met in Nkandla – the pretty, young farm gov­erness and shy, lanky agri­cul­tural of­fi­cer hit it off at once. Then World War II broke out and Philip en­listed with the Royal Na­tal Car­bi­neers, sail­ing with the 1st SA In­fantry Bri­gade to North Africa in July 1940.

When he re­turned on leave in Jan­uary 1943, he pro­posed, and they mar­ried. Four months later Philip em­barked again. ‘He left at 2am,’ my mom would say. ‘It was heart­break­ing. It was pitch-black out­side. He waved. I never saw him again.’ Philip was killed in ac­tion out­side Florence ten months later, from a shell splin­ter in his chest. Some years af­ter the war, Joan re­mar­ried, and had me. My mid­dle name is Lee…

Re­call­ing the wartime ro­mance took Sue and me through gin and ton­ics with the ge­nial Hugh and his wife Renée, and lent poignancy

; &  farm­house where Joan grew up with Kay and their sib­lings, Peggy and Robin, be­fore she met Philip.

We rose early, and af­ter fu­elling up on Renée’s farm break­fast (home-grown granadil­las with thick yo­ghurt, and toast with farm but­ter and eggs), set out with Hugh and his Eshowe pal Roger Ga­is­ford, a re­tired ge­ol­o­gist and pas­sion­ate ama­teur his­to­rian.

The two have now learnt that it’s best to start any tour of the Nkandla district with its hottest at­trac­tion and “get it out of the way”. Not that the Zuma homestead is out of the way yet, po­lit­i­cally or legally, as his suc­ces­sor Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa and the courts fig­ure ways to deal with it and a slew of cor­rup­tion charges against Zuma. Should he be con­victed, the state could con­fis­cate the homestead for hav­ing been built us­ing the pro­ceeds of crime.

The drive to Mthun­gela, near­est vil­lage to Zuma’s costly kraal, is breath­tak­ing, the care­fully coiffed hills of sugar cane grad­u­ally giv­ing way to higher ones left in grass that rip­ples in the sun­light. The hills are speck­led with tra­di­tional home­steads, oc­ca­sional

bee­hive huts hunched among ron­dav­els with cat­tle-kraals, and a grow­ing num­ber of mod­ern block houses, pimped in bright paint and roof tiles brought back by city work­ers on pil­grim­ages home.

The P15, once pit­ted with pot­holes, slides smoothly by, resur­faced to a state be­fit­ting pres­i­den­tial cav­al­cades and the Ger­man lux­ury ve­hi­cles beloved by Zuma’s wives (a sev­enth was in the wings at press time) and off­spring (22 and count­ing).

And there it sprawls, cir­cled by se­cu­rity fenc­ing – more vil­lage or game lodge than homestead, though hardly in­dica­tive of the tax­pay­ers’ mil­lions al­legedly poured into it; a clus­ter of dou­ble-storey thatched build­ings sur­rounded by stan­dard ron­dav­els, the dis­tant sand­stone out­crop of Kran­skop join­ing them to give the world a mon­u­men­tal fin­ger.

We fol­low a dirt track around the com­plex, but the in­fa­mous R4-mil­lion ‘fire pool’ is sadly not vis­i­ble. We con­tent our­selves ogling a smart soc­cer field and tennis courts just out­side the fence, un­used and silent, while lo­cal kids laugh and wave as they kick a ball be­tween stick goal­posts in the veld nearby, and a goat laps from a drip­ping tap.

With our fo­cus now firmly on our own Nkandla homestead, Hugh ne­go­ti­ates a maze of dirt roads to where the Tugela River cuts a vast val­ley through primeval thorn scrub.

It’s a dra­matic, apoc­a­lyp­tic land­scape, and Roger in­forms us that the Tugela Fault Line runs nearby, be­tween the Earth’s great Nu­bia and So­ma­lia tec­tonic plates.

It be­gins be­low Port Shep­stone on the South Coast and runs up KwaZulu-Na­tal and Le­sotho through north-east­ern Africa, part of the great Rift Val­ley sys­tem. Pe­ri­od­i­cally the plates move, he says, trig­ger­ing tremors, and ev­ery 500 to 1 000 years, a ma­jor earth­quake. Another, say some sci­en­tists, is over­due…

We cross the broad, red river at Jame­son’s Drift, and fol­low the Kran­skop/Qu­deni road up past Dol­wana, bushveld giv­ing way to rolling green hills as lovely as those Pa­ton de­scribed at Ix­opo, some 250 kilo­me­tres south, in Cry the Beloved Coun­try' & dark, for­est-tan­gled ridge of Qu­deni (Rooster) stag­ger­ing across the sky­line like a cockscomb.

Hugh turns onto a raw dirt track and we bounce be­tween soar­ing, deeply stri­ated cliffs and a smat­ter­ing of huts on what was once Bel­worth or Glen-Marvel farm. This was where our grand­par­ents, Jane and Row­land Robert Tis­si­man, built their home and raised our moth­ers, on land ac­quired by Row­land’s fa­ther John Joseph, a cav­alry ma­jor and ad­ju­tant to Lord Kitch­ener in the An­glo-Boer War.

The track peters out at a kraal, and we are greeted by the fam­ily of the gra­cious lo­cal

in­duna, one Mbatha. Yes, they re­mem­ber our fam­ily, es­pe­cially the old man, known as Dam­buza, the One with the Sham­bling Gait. Mbatha’s fa­ther worked with him for years. But they have bad news. There is noth­ing left of the long-aban­doned farm­house.

While Hugh is ush­ered into Mbatha’s kraal for cold beer, and soon deep con­ver­sa­tion with a bevy of lo­cal men, Roger leads Sue and me on foot through lush grass wan­dered by mot­tled Zulu cat­tle, into the beau­ti­ful horse­shoe-shaped Ma­tiqwa val­ley be­low Qu­deni peak – at 1 740 me­tres, the high­est in Zu­l­u­land – to see what we can find. Our moms had told of Row­ley build­ing their home above a gorge fed by three rivers, be­low a stand of trees.

We head for a thicket be­fore a deep for­est-clot­ted ravine, drawn by sev­eral gum trees stretch­ing pale arms above the other growth – aliens once planted by many farm­ers at their homes. And as we push our way through branches, vines and bram­bles, we find them: the moss-wrapped ru­ins of low walls. The base of a wa­ter tank or kiln. A pile of half-baked bricks. We each pocket a brick frag­ment – Sue as a me­mento for her mom, now 93 and liv­ing with her in Cape Town; me, to put un­der the fever tree in our Dur­ban gar­den where my mother’s ashes lie.

Af­ter the apartheid govern­ment took power in 1948, they evicted not only peo­ple of colour. Our grand­par­ents’ farm was ex­pro­pri­ated and in­cor­po­rated into a Ban­tus­tan, and is now part of the In­gonyama Trust un­der the con­trol of King Good­will Zwelithini. Our grand­fa­ther even­tu­ally set­tled on a small banana farm on the KZN South Coast. But noth­ing ever came close to Qu­deni in his eyes, or our moms’.

Then in the 1960s, Mbatha in­forms us back at Hugh’s 4x4, those tec­tonic plates moved, and an earth tremor shook Qu­deni, de­stroy­ing the farm­house. To­day only the land re­mains. Nei­ther stripped of trees nor smoth­ered by aliens, as our moth­ers had feared, it’s as wild and beau­ti­ful as ever.

Mbatha’s peo­ple, hun­gry for jobs, hope to start a tourist ven­ture here, he says. But govern­ment is mov­ing to re­peal the In­gonyama Trust Act (at the time of go­ing to print), which would see the land the trust con­trols re­turn from tribal lead­ers to state own­er­ship for re­dis­tri­bu­tion.

Who­ever ends up run­ning this spec­tac­u­lar slice of coun­try, we muse, pluck­ing burs from our jeans as we motor slowly away, we hope they will be given help to pro­tect it while prof­it­ing from it – so all our chil­dren, and their chil­dren, can en­joy it in the years to come.

TOP LEFT: The Brock­lee farm­house, home of the Lee fam­ily, that has deep roots in the area. Guests have in­cluded Zulu King Good­will Zwelithini.LEFT: A fam­ily pic­nic in one of the gorges on the farm – Robin, our grand­fa­ther Row­land Tis­si­man, Kay, Joan and Peggy.

ABOVE: Qu­deni moun­tain, high­est in Zu­l­u­land, rises above the farm while deep, thickly-forested gorges open in the fore­ground. ABOVE RIGHT: Hugh and Renée Lee with their farm furba­bies. RIGHT: Just be­fore the fam­ily farm. Grooved krantzes catch the shad­ows.

LEFT: El­e­gant Shembe el­ders en route to church.RIGHT: Lo­cal chil­dren hap­pily play soc­cer with makeshift posts, near a smart, un­used soc­cer field and tennis courts next to the Zuma homestead.

LEFT: Signs of our progress on the P15 to Nkandla. BE­LOW: Nkandla’s big­gest land­mark, the Zuma homestead, with Kran­skop be­hind it, giv­ing the world the fin­ger.

ABOVE LEFT: Mossy ru­ins– all that re­main of the homestead our grand­fa­ther built, mak­ing the bricks with clay from the farm and bak­ing them in a kiln he con­structed. The yel­low­wood floors and ceil­ings from the forests. ABOVE RIGHT: Roger Ga­is­ford leads the way to­wards a thicket with gums, a clue that it could be the site of the homestead. LEFT: Our moms Joan (left) and Kay Tis­si­man. RIGHT: The Bel­worth farm­house in its day.

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