It is the first week of January in Durban and the sun is ablaze in the sky. A sea of different colours can be seen at the taxi rank, as people take cover under their umbrellas. Proud parents accompany their children to register at university.
“Sisazoqothuka amaphakethe! It will be tough times ahead, these fees are no joke. At least when my boy is a lawyer ngizobe sengihleka kancane, I will be smiling from ear to ear,” says one proud mother, sipping on her cold drink.
“Hheyi, usho uliphinde dadewthu, you can say that again. But when my daughter is done, I will no longer have to wait in long queues at the clinic. We will have our very own nurse at home,” chuckles the other woman as she smiles at her daughter on the shoulder.
Both women continue to laugh together in delight. A little showing off is always welcomed in the taxi family. Their children on the other hand look down shyly, holding their brown envelopes in embarrassment.
Across the street from them, Bab’ Dlamini is on a mission. He carefully adjusts his navy overall and kneels on all fours. On top of his priority list today is the garden. Once the lawn is mowed and the flowers have been watered he shall move on to the shrubs. The scotching heat and humidity shall not stand in his way.
“Sawubona Dlamini,” shouts Mam’ Ndlovu waving at him as she hastily walks past the gate.
Bab’ Dlamini raises his head and gently wipes the sweat off his forehead. His wrinkled face gives her a tender smile. Not easily distracted, he carries on with his duties.
“Bab’ Ndlovu is indeed one of a kind. He spends so much time taking care of another man’s garden, yet his own house does not even have a backyard. Indoda enjani le?What kind of a man is he?” mumbles Mam’ Ndlovu.
In all fairness she has no room to talk. Despite her dislike for dogs, she is being pulled down the street by two massive German Shepherds. She curses them repeatedly, but unfortunately for her she cannot go against the strict instructions from her Madam.
Upon returning to her Madam’s house she proceeds with other household work. Once the clock strikes three it is shayile-time– it is time to go home. She neatly folds her pink uniform, puts it in her bag and wears her normal day-to-day clothes.
“OK Madam, house clean now, I going home now, I seeing you tomorrow,” she shouts, as she walks out of the house, rushing to the taxi rank.
She may take orders from another woman here, but she is the one who calls the shots in the taxi. Mam’ Ndlovu is a veteran taxi commuter, adored by taxi drivers and feared by taxi conductors. She forms part of the notorious group of women known as the Taxi Mamas. If you think you are now a grown man because you have facial hair, these women will effortlessly put you back into your little box.
They are avid social critics and sometimes one can assume they came up with the set of unspoken taxi etiquette rules. At the first sign of misconduct, they give each other a sharp glance, followed by a clap once. At this point you know you are pretty much done for. There is no point of challenging them; just put on your earphones to avoid hearing their criticism.
Like in any group, there is always that one individual who stands out and in this case that is Mam’ Ndlovu. She is the Beyoncé of the group and she leads her pride of raging lionesses with ease.
This woman is so mighty that she always has her seat reserved in the taxi. Since she is in good terms with the taxi drivers, she is always the first person to know if there will be a taxi strike.
“Nenzani lapho ngaphandle nodwa? What are you children doing outside all by yourselves? Where is your mother?” Mam’ Ndlovu asks, before even stepping foot in the house.
“We don’t know,” says the one little girl, running towards her.
“Gogo, we are very hungry. When we got back from school, there was nobody home,” says the other little girl, still in her school uniform.
Mam’ Ndlovu walks closer to her grandchildren, evidently upset that they were left unattended by their mother.
“So, does this mean, you must play outside in the dark and dirty your uniform? It is still Thursday! You shall go to school tomorrow with that sand in your socks ngiyanitshela, I am telling you,” she scolds them while she dusts them off.
The little children stand there, already on the verge of tears.
“Gogo, we were afraid of staying in the house, we were scared of the dark,” one of them says with their lips quivering.
The four of them slowly make their way inside, the children walking behind their fearless grandmother. The kitchen welcomes them with a slight smell of paraffin. She proceeds to make the little ones something to eat.
She lights up two candles and the dark kitchen is suddenly no longer frightening. Half a loaf of stale brown bread, sugar beans and warm mbubudlo, sugar water is on the menu tonight. They all dig in, devouring each bread crumb as if it were their last supper.
Mam’ Ndlovu holds back the tears from her grandchildren. She can still hear their stomachs growl. She is already wondering what she shall serve them tomorrow. She looks out the window, straight in to the darkness and also wonders if her daughter shall return tonight.
On any given Sunday, you can see Mam’ Ndlovu making her way to praise the Lord. In her maroon church uniform, dark pantyhose and shiny black shoes, she marches up the hill. She is a prominent church member and also has the duties of guiding the youth.
When she is standing there at the pulpit, preaching with tears streaming down her face – her spirit captivates everyone. Unfortunately today, the gathering in the house of the Lord is an unpleasant one. They have come to say their goodbyes to one of their members. It is the funeral of a young lawyer and her death came as a shock to the entire community. Slowly one by one, they begin to enter the church doors.
“Kodwa Nkosi yami, she was such a lovely child; a good girl, not like these that roam the streets,” says one of the women.
“Uthathwe yini? What did she have?” the other woman’s friend asks, trying not be heard by the congregation.
“Hhayibo! Akusabuzwana. Nobody asks anymore,” says the woman, grabbing her friend by the arm as they gingerly make their way to the front.
Walking right behind them is Mam’ Ndlovu. Needless to say, she does not know the deceased quite well, but she has been asked to say a few things on behalf of the community. The family is already sitting in front at the corner, their heads bowed down in silence.
Noma ngigqoka amanikiniki ikhona ingubo emhlophe qhwa, ukuhlupheka kwami akulinganiswe ne njabulo engizoba nayo mhla ngigqokiswa umqhele. Noma abantu bengahlekisa ngokuhlupheka kwami kodwa ngiyazi wena Baba uyabona ukukhala kwami sokuzwakele amazulwini noma lendlela yami inameva ngizohamba kuyo ngoba wena Baba ukhona ukupholisa amanxeba am.
Mam’ Ndlovu sings a hymn, slowly walking to the front. She raises her hand signalling the people to stop singing.
She begins to talk about the late lawyer and now she is in full swing. She raises her hands high in the air, looking up to the heavens with tears running down her face.
In the climax of her speech, she simply freezes. She is overwhelmed suddenly so much so that she decided to go back to her seat. She clutches her bible, still crying uncontrollably.
One by one, members of the community stand in front to say good things about the deceased while her grieving mother weeps in the corner.
One by one they walk passed the coffin to properly say their goodbyes while the grieving mother weeps in the corner. They slowly make their way out of the church and secretly wonder when it will be their turn.
However, not everyone has left the church. Mam’ Ndlovu is still sitting there by herself, holding on to her bible firmly close to her chest. She sobs, with nobody there by her side to console her. She is overcome with such emotions and sits there thinking about her life challenges.
She is stuck with a dead-end job, where she caters to the needs of a woman young enough to be her daughter. She has a child in prison and her other one who shows her no respect. Her only joy is her three grandchildren that she adores, but she struggles to give them a normal childhood.
This is a side of Mam’ Ndlovu that is rarely seen. Many find her performances at church to be rather attention seeking and superficial. However, nobody truly takes the time to see beyond her hard exterior. Those tears that stream down her face are genuine and they are always a cry for help.
Nonetheless, she picks herself up, as she always has done. The church doors are wide open and she walks towards the inviting brightness that calls her. When people see her walk down the hill, they can never tell the sadness that she harbours.
Tell us what you think: Do you know of any Mam’ Ndlovus in your neighbourhood?