Mpumalanga Township: the sun rises in the west

The people of Mpumalanga township on eThekwini’s western border have much to celebrate. They have successfully put behind them the bitter political feuding of the 1980s and early 1990s that claimed the lives of so many of their loved ones and neighbours. To be sure, crime, unemployment, taxi disputes and poverty remain major challenges. But they’re tackling them with the same vigour and self reliance with which they laid to rest the ghosts of their past. Local businessman and resident Mzamo Xaba describes Mpumalanga as a vibrant place with the potential to become one of the best townships in the country.

Xaba, who owns a carwash and a hair salon in Hammersdale, a few minutes drive from the township, said one of the things that brings people together is sharing a taxi rank. “We business people get a lot of support from residents. This area is roughly halfway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg and we have brought services closer to home so they save on taxi fares and, most importantly, on time.” It’s remote location has engendered a culture of frontier-style self-reliance among residents. For example, if the local taxi drivers are on strike it’s hard to find alternative transport, whereas a resident of the more centrally-located Lamontville can simply catch an uMlazi taxi. After the recent reconstruction of the Mpumalanga Stadium it became clear that locals had long been hungry for quality, live sporting events. They buy tickets and come out in large numbers to watch soccer games, particularly when big name clubs visit. But a tour of the area revealed that there are still some challenges.

The area has no swimming pool, an amenity that’s sorely missed, particularly now when summer’s at its sweltering peak. Local youth Mbali Njoko said she would love to see Mpumalanga enjoy the same kinds of development as places closer to the city centre, like Umlazi. “We would appreciate a sport centre so we don’t have to sit around on weekends.” She said the lack of amenites led some young people to turn to crime. Njoko also urged the Municipality to build another taxi rank in the area. Another resident who wished to remain anonymous wished for an end to the current taxi violence, which was for her an unwelcome reminder of past conflict. In the dying days of apartheid, Mpumalanga made headlines around the world as its inhabitants decimated one another in the name of politics.

Then, almost miraculously, it became a model for peace and calm. This was thanks largely to the leadership of the late Sipho Mlaba of the IFP and Meshack Hadebe of the ANC, who put aside their differences to preach the gospel of peace, reconciliation and stability. Now, more than ten years later, people of Mpumalanga have come together to honour them and other locals, including sports stars and musicians who have gone out of their way to make the township and South Africa a better place. Local Councillor, Lucky Mngwengwe, said another aim of the recent celebration, titled “A day when Mpumalanga says thank you,” was to encourage young people to strive to emulate these role models.

“We wanted to unite people and remind them where they come from. We also plan to build a hall of fame where the history of these people will be displayed.” The dignitaries to receive awards included Soul Brothers lead singer David Masondo, Bafana Bafana stars Macbeth Sibaya and Sibusiso Zuma and several politicians including Hadebe and Council Speaker James Nxumalo. Mngwengwe was confident that with further assistance from the Municipality, Mpumalanga could establish itself as a regional economic, employment and tourism hub. “With the new mall that is to be built we hope job opportunities will be created. We want Mpumalanga to be a tourism destination like other townships.”

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