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My Story: Sibusiso Nongoloza

Sibusiso Nongoloza at his home in Daveyton, East Rand, Johannesburg, 2020. PIC: Mdu Ndzingi

My name is Sibusiso Nongoloza from the rural Eastern Cape Province. I was born around the 1980’s and I was raised in a small village affectionately known as Xhora to those who live there, but the English call it Elliotdale.

I went to Jongulwandle Junior Secondary School (JSS) and from my house it took me only five minutes to get there, which may be the reason for my excellent performs in class and the great deal of fun that I had while there. I then proceeded to Ganizulu Senior Secondary School (SSS) which was to pose a completely different challenge. Not only was the school very far, but I had to cover the entire 8 km, to and fro, on foot, amounting to 16 km a day, every single day of the week, without fail. It did not make it any better or easy that I was always hungry. Perhaps the only that kept me going was my love for school and that my results, at least, continued to be great. Were it not for these two things, I am almost certain that I too would have dropped out.

I went on to complete my matric in the year 2000 and, needless to say, I was over the moon; extremely excited about the future. These long walks, which had forced many of my mates out of school, as they had found them too much to bear, and perhaps with little or no promise at all to freedom, had paid off for me. I was finally going to be anything that I imagined. At the time I wanted to be a farmer and to increase my chances I had made sure that I perform well in Agriculture. For a moment I had verily forgotten about the poverty that stared back at me whenever I looked around the house and the only thing I could see was a success farmer who was going to change the lives of many people around Xhora. Little did I know that a prosperous future is not guaranteed for a poor man like me.

Even though I had passed all my subjects, it had not been enough to secure me a bursary, and NSFAS had simply declined without much of an explanation. This is where all my challenges began. If I was going to carve a better future for myself, I needed to work. This way I could save up enough money to pay for my own education.

The following year I went to live with my mother in Free State where I would also try to find a job. Regrettably the latter didn’t go as expected, but I enjoyed very much staying with my mother. It was the first time in my life that I stayed permanently with her. It was also the first time that I was to have a father figure present in my life. My stepfather was a very good man who encouraged and motivated me a lot about school and studying further. But, sadly, he was also a man of very little means, and beyond the motivational talks that he gave me almost every day, for three years, there was nothing else that he could do for me.

In 2003, when I had lost all hope of ever finding a job in the Free State, I decided to go try my luck in Cape Town. There I stayed with some relatives of mine. Again, luck refused to be on my side and things continued in the same fashion. There was no work for someone like me. What’s worse is that the lifestyle there was just too much for me; a bit too fast for my liking. It is there where I saw for the first time people being robbed in broad day light. And when that happened I knew that I would not enjoy the place. This is the reason I didn’t stay long; in fact, I didn’t even finish 3 months there.

The only other available choice was to come to Johannesburg, where my father was staying at the time. Mind you, the first and the only time that I had seen my father was when I was in standard 8. He had come to my home in Xhora for my birthday and he had brought with him some few nice things for me. But after that I was to only imagine the kind of life that he lived; and who would blame me for assuming that he lived a good life. When I made my way to Jo’burg I had very high expectations. I thought I would find a man who had done very well for himself, given that he had always been too busy to come pay me a visit in all these years.

Sibusiso preparing himself something to eat. Daveyton, East Rand Johannesburg, 2020. PIC: Mdu Ndzingi

I can honestly and shamelessly say that my hopes were shattered when he came to pick me up at the station, and led me straight to an informal settlement where he owned a small shack.  It turned out that he had been working as a security guard all this time. I was very disappointed; my heart sank a bit, knowing that my father was also just another struggling man who could do nothing for me. But I immediately had to compose myself and take charge of my own life.

Staying with my father was testing. Remember he never raised me, my grandmother did. So in the beginning we struggled to get each other. We argued a lot and many times I would think about the fact that he was never there while I was growing up. Everything was always taken care of by my mother and not him, not even once. That really used to upset me and it complicated things between us. After a short while I decided to move out of his place and move in with some friends who came from the same village back home. In my attempt to hustle my way up, I managed to make security grades. I then started to work officially as a security guard towards the end of the year in 2004. Indeed I became like my father. Like father like son. Or what is it that they also say… an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?

But some light at the end of the tunnel would shine the following year when I met the apple of my eye, the mother of my five beautiful children, three boys and two girls, all born between 2006 and 2017. To do right by her I put together a little bit of what I could afford at the time and headed to King Williams Town to pay lobola to her family. According to the Xhosa culture, one does not finish paying lobola. But my in-laws were not impressed. They felt that the money was too little and that I needed to pay more. Pity I didn’t have the money because I would have given it without a second thought.

It truly would have been nothing, considering how happy I was living with my wife. I was the happiest man alive. She gave me all the respect and the love that any woman can give to a man; a one in a million kind of woman. It breaks my heart that when she passed away, her family insisted that she be buried in King as I had not finished lobola and therefore had no rightful claim to her as my wife. As far as I know, this is not how things are done kwaXhosa.

Sibusiso looking through the kitchen window. Daveyton East Rand, Johannesburg, 2020. PIC: Mdu Ndzingi

Three months later, after my late wife’s funeral, I took more money to the family to add to the initial lobola. To my surprise I was told that the money would instead fall under what is called “intlawulo”, which is to pay for damages for impregnating the woman. The family told me that since my wife had passed on, I was too late to be paying for lobola. To this day I have never been able to recover from that mockery. I truly, honestly feel that I failed her. Together we tried to build a family but I failed her. I failed her even after she gifted me with five amazing children. How else can I feel? It’s safe to say that any man who fails to fulfill the wishes of his wife while she is still alive, will find it difficult to recover if the Lord were to be unexpectedly call them before time, just like mine was. Something like this can break a man. My heart has been heavy ever since. I miss her so much and I don’t believe that I will ever stop missing her.

As for my children, they are currently staying with their maternal grandmother, just like I did when I was growing up; the only difference is that I tried to send them some money when I had. But since losing my security job, I have become a complete replica of my father, unable to do even the slightest thing for them. There is nothing that breaks my heart more. And when I look at my age, and the rate that my life is going, my children will undoubtedly follow the same trail as me since I won’t able to send them even to school.

I currently hold in my name a Code 14 drivers license which could assist me in finding work, perhaps as a truck driver, in the logistics sector. The only stumbling block with the laws in this country is that many companies require three years experience for a Code 14 driver, ignoring the fact that some of us have been driving for many years with Code 10 licenses. Government needs to do something about this so that we can all get a chance to be employed; failing which, we are all destined to fail.

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