Sthembiso and his wife, Ayanda, get out of a taxi. They haven’t exchanged one word on the journey back from town after the lady at the bank said that Sthembiso’s low credit score was the reason they couldn’t get a loan. They are desperate for money to fix the roof to their house that was damaged by the floods a few weeks ago.
They stand for a while, looking at their flood-damaged neighbourhood of Power, spreading down the hill below. Scars left by the flood are all over Power. Houses with halves missing. Houses with quarters missing. Yards with whole houses missing. A car washed downstream is on its side, sticking out surreally in the middle of the tranquil stream that hardly makes a sound now, but was a river that clapped like thunder during the floods.
“Every time I look at this I remember that day when the river roared like an angry sea,” says Ayanda, her voice almost a whisper.
Sthembiso’s eyes lock on to his house. The walls of the two rooms damaged by the floods have been fixed. The builder is applying the finishing touches.
“We are lucky we built our house higher up, Ayanda. We only lost part of the retaining wall completely.”
“I know. I can’t imagine what the Sitholes are going through. They walk around like zombies since the river swallowed their kids.”
Sthembiso climbs with his Shoprite bags down the steep path leading to his house. The storm has eroded the soil, revealing jagged rocks. He leaves the groceries and climbs back up to help Ayanda climb down. They both take a moment to catch their breath when they reach the bottom. As they rest they notice their girl twins waving at people across the stream.
The twins hear the rustling of plastic bags and run to their parents. Sthembiso looks across the stream. He sees the man the twins were waving to. He watches as he and another man get into a yellow Department of Public Works van and speed off with a screech of tyres.
“Look, Ayanda. They are only rebuilding on that side of the river,” says Sthembiso.
“It’s because we complained about the counsellor, and the people on that side of the river didn’t.”
They both shake their heads. The twins hug them, getting tangled up with the grocery bags hanging on their parent’s arms. Sthembiso and Ayanda look at the smiles on their children’s faces and all worries drain away for a moment.
The twins, Amile and Andile, are 10 years old and Sthembiso and Ayanda have two older children who are away at boarding school. Sthembiso is the only breadwinner. With his meagre pay as a car painter at the Toyota car assembly in Prospecton he has managed to build a house for his family. It’s in a neighbourhood of low-cost houses and shacks, but it is a home. With the same meagre pay he put his wife through a computer course at college but Ayanda couldn’t find work. Sthembiso then supported her through nursing college. She has been looking for work as a nurse for two years now.
Ayanda brings Sthembiso a glass of cold water and sits next to him on the sofa.
“It would be better if I worked. I could help you,” Ayanda says, eyes encased in worry.
Tell us: What does Ayanda’s situation show about South Africa today?