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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

18 Jul 1985: Xundu, MO

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(With Pat Keefer and Louise)

POM     We're now at?

MOX     Lamontville. Over there we entered Lamontville and this is the Catholic Church. We're using churches very much for our organisation. There are four churches which have been very co-operative, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, Lutheran Church, Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, so almost all organisation has been based around those churches. My church offers all the small meetings for all the groups and when we have mass meetings we have it here or sometimes at the Methodist Church like we had last Sunday.

L     And these are big enough, these churches?

MOX     These are relatively big enough to take the crowd of 2000, 3000 without much difficulty.

POM     This is a relatively new church is it?

MOX     This is relatively new. They have moved into this place. You wanted to see that place? This was used for beer halls.

POM     This used to be beer halls?

MOX     And bottle store where people sold brandy, liquor. All this belongs to Port Natal Administration Board and it is them who are running the township. When there was violence then people saw because most of the money they are making from sorghum beer, people see this as ...

POM     So are these beer halls owned by the Port Authority?

MOX     That's right, Port Natal.

L     You started to explain what is written there.

MOX     What is written down there is uMkhonto weSizwe, the Spear of the People, that is the military wing of the ANC. uMkhonto weSizwe, that means the military wing is here already.

POM     The military wing of the ANC is here already?

MOX     That's right, to save us, that's the English. You will understand.

POM     So the people in the town attacked these stores when the trouble began?

MOX     That's right.

POM     Did the violence extend over a period of time?

MOX     It did. In fact at the time of the rent hike there was already a bus boycott in the township which lasted for 18 months and then once the buses were being boycotted then the Port Natal announced that they were going to raise the rent for the houses. Then a guy called Msizi Dube who was one of the councillors raised objections to this and reported to the people that this is unreasonable. As a result of this he mobilised a lot of people around him. As a result of that he was assassinated by the other group of councillors who were purported not to have been representative of the people's effort. So Dube's assassination caused a lot of violence to erupt. There were a number of people who died at that time, about five or six people died just in one week. A number of houses were gunned down and so forth.

L     By?

MOX     By the youth in the township. So all those people were informers or people who were co-operating with the system. As enemies of the community they tried to make trouble. That was now early 1983 and June 1983 was the height of the violence when the township was cordoned off completely for a week by the police.

L     Cordoned off is?

POM     Cut off.

L     I have some difficulty sometimes in understanding English.

MOX     But we operated through the rent committee which is the only organisation which has got credibility in the township. When the rent hike was proposed, Port Natal when we objected said, We are going to hand over Lamontville. We will incorporate Lamontville with KwaZulu in any case. The people raised a lot of objection to that. Chief Buthelezi said he welcomes that. The people said we can't be incorporated because if we get incorporated we lose our South African citizenship, we lose our rights which enable us to look for jobs in town without having to be contracted.

POM     You were going to be incorporated into KwaZulu?

MOX     Yes and people objected strongly to that. Then Buthelezi took exception to the fact that people were objecting to that and mobilised his people and had a big meeting here and threatened the people. Then there was friction between Inkatha and us, you see the system now, the government, diverted the attention of the people on to Buthelezi.

POM     So he's dividing black people against black people?

MOX     Societies. And our rent, actually I was working hard to say to the people don't bother about this. We had a court case in which we tried to say that we belong here and we won the court case so there was a relative credibility around the Joint Rent Action Committee and then when UDF was born in 1983, August 1983, JORAC joined, that Action Committee became an affiliate member. That distanced us more from Buthelezi because Buthelezi is not a member of UDF. We'll go straight down to my church.

POM     Is the clinic attached to the ...?

MOX     Run by the City Council.

POM     Now when you say the Natal Board runs the township, is that imposed by the Natal government?

MOX     By the central government. Central government took away all townships from the cities. At some time the townships belonged to the cities.

POM     Cities, all right, yes.

MOX     Then they said, no, townships must be under the Department of Bantu Administration & Development, under that minister, and done separately from the city.

POM     Now when you talk about councillors are they councillors that are appointed? What is black representation or African representation?

MOX     OK, there's a negative attitude to the council system as such because people say that this whole system was imposed on us. Very many people have been co-opted to work within the system. One of them was Msizi Dube, the guy who died. He said, OK, I'm going to join and become a councillor in order to show how important you become when a councillor because what they try to do, they try to make you accountable to Port Natal Board officials rather than to the people. This is how he got in. When he got in he had regular meetings with the people to report from time to time activities which were taking place in the township and irregularities. Then because of that reason they became suspicious of him and the other councillors didn't like him because he was the only councillor who was holding report-back meetings and asking the people's opinions on several issues in the township.

POM     Are these councillors appointed?

MOX     No they are elected.

POM     They're elected by?

MOX     They canvass. We've got four wards here, four wards in this township. They canvass for election. But, as I say, the councillor is a very unpopular system so you don't get a tremendous big poll towards them. But it is more that they canvass. Now the present councillors under that pressure all resigned because people demanded that they should resign but they came back again because what happens is when there's a by-election and there's nobody contesting it, then you find people can say, We agree that this man, we want this man to be a councillor. There has been nobody interested, everybody stayed away from those elections.

POM     Those kind of councils. Yes.

MOX     So the town councillors have been rendered useless because they can't even hold meetings in the township, they don't hold meetings at all in the township. They go to board meetings in Mayville, we don't know what they say there because there has never been a time when they have reported to anybody. So that that is the ill feeling that people have about them, that they pretend to be running the township whereas they don't run the township. In fact when people have problems either in rent or in the township they come to the Joint Rent Action Committee.

POM     So not only here but in every other township too the whole councillor system is becoming discredited?

MOX     That's right, it's become discredited completely because, you see, the people believe that they belong, the metropolitan cities to which they are attached, we believe that we are part of Durban. We believe that Soweto is part of Johannesburg City Council, therefore Johannesburg City Council should be running Soweto and Johannesburg City Council should be subsidising Soweto because the people of Soweto have developed Johannesburg city with their labour. And if there are benefits or financial benefits that accrue to the city they should also be made available to the rest of the people who live there. That's why we are saying here that we are part and parcel of Durban city. We don't recognise ourselves as not and therefore we are saying drop this system and let us become part and parcel of Durban city with adequate democratic representation to that city.

POM     When you fought becoming incorporated into Zululand, was that one of the first successful cases of where a township actually fought it?

MOX     Yes, that's right.

POM     And you fought it through the courts?

MOX     That's right, through the courts and we succeeded. Then we fought again the issue of the rent hike. We lost here because the Act is written in such a way that you can't raise that if the authorities have made propositions to the minister, the minister has accepted that, then there is no way in which you can do that. But the hostels, we won the case of the hostels because the hostels are part and parcel of the Port Natal Administration Board. We fought the case and the hostels won. We are in the Supreme Court, they got judgement in their favour that they were not consulted about the raising of the rent.

POM     The hostels are where the migrant workers have to stay from the homelands? They go in and they work in the city.

MOX     You can see them from my house.

POM     OK, terrific.

POM     I never did get your name.

MOX     Mtabise Xundu. Initials M O.

POM     M O?

MOX     Xundu.

POM     Spelt XUNDU.

MOX     That's right. My first name is Mtabise.

POM     I'm Patrick. Louise you met, and Patricia. We were part of the group that came over with the workers who were detained at the airport.

MOX     So these are the hostels, down here are some hostels.

POM     These all look fairly newly constructed.

MOX     This is the railway one, it's fairly new. Those over there, there are 23,000 men who stay over in that hostel.

POM     In which? Over there? 23,000?

MOX     Over there, 23,000. These are members of the COSAS Congress, South African Students, the local branch.

POM     The local branch of?

MOX     COSAS, Congress of South African Students.

POM     Oh yes, OK.

MOX     They are the guys who are very vocal in student affairs. They are canvassing for an education charter for students. They normally meet, they normally have their meetings in the church, in this shelter here or in my house.

POM     Now the 23,000 workers that are in these hostels, just that one.

MOX     It's meant to house about 18,000.

POM     So there's 18,000 perhaps?

MOX     This one, it's supposed to house 18,000.

POM     So you'd have 18 and 23, so that would be 41. These men would be drawn from where?

MOX     Mostly from Transkei, Zululand, KwaZulu, those areas. They are people who go to the labour bureaux and are contracted to work for a period of a year, or they stay for a year and leave for three weeks in December, otherwise they stay away from their families completely. That other building is a hospital, it's belonging to KwaZulu, that one. That's Umlazi over there which is under Chief Buthelezi's domain.

L     The tinier ones?

MOX     All those, they go right along. Glebelands(?) Hostel.

L     And the big ones and the tiny ones?

MOX     And the tiny ones. See the windows. In the hostel you have about, I say you have nine sharing, six men sleeping in one room sometimes. All they provide is a bed set and the mattress. There's sometimes a two-burner stove.

POM     Which stove?

MOX     Two-burner stove, electric stove which they use for cooking, the six men. They take their turns.

POM     Do they have to cook for themselves?

MOX     They cook for themselves.

POM     Now when they finish work do they have to come directly back to the hostel?

MOX     Yes.

POM     And have to stay in the hostel until they leave for work the following day?

MOX     That's right.

POM     Do they have any recreational facilities at all?

MOX     Well there's a lot of drinking. They provide a lot of sorghum beer. In this hostel there is a field but it's not for Glebelands, it's for the professional soccer league which controls the use of the grounds. It's not available to the hostel itself except as a lucrative thing by Port Natal to hire it and lease it to the professional soccer leagues.

POM     And on weekends are they given any liberties to go into to leave the hostel?

MOX     Yes, they're not bound to stay in the hostel. They can visit friends if they have friends but those 18,000 men hardly have friends. The whole situation in the hostels is dehumanising. You get into the hostel and you stay in one bed, you come and stay in that life with a person you don't know and people come at different times. One leaves at two he puts on the light and puts it off, you can't squeal. One places his own radio this end and one places his own radio this end, the whole situation is ...

PK     How long might somebody live in a situation like that? A couple of months or a couple of years?

MOX     Contracts are normally a year. They come here under contract with the big firms, big multi-nationals, for a year. Then they go away and for three weeks from 16th December to about the 4th or 7th January they go and re-register in their home districts, they get to the recruiting office, all the firms have got recruiting officers in the different districts either in the Transkei or KwaZulu. Then they are recruited from there, they come here as recruits of those firms without having the choice of changing jobs.

PK     Might a man spend most of his adult life living like this?

MOX     Most men stay most of their lives until they reach pensionable age. From the age of 18 never with their families and their families can't visit them.

L     Are there also hostels for women?

MOX     There's a hostel for women in Grey Street in Durban, a hostel called Thokazane(?) Hostel. In Kranskloof, that is a hostel near Clermont, they have got a section for women. That also is a very big hostel, it houses about 28,000 people. Some of those men you see, after working for the same factory for ten years, qualify for Section 10. rights. They could easily ask for housing but in this township there has not been a single new house since 1956, not a single house. So in each household, I will take you to one household just now, you have ten to fifteen people because people don't want to leave the township to go and live under KwaZulu because once they do that they lose their Section 10 rights and sentimental attachment to this area is too great. They have got their mothers and fathers living here. So a guy gets married, has his children under the same roof with his parents and in that household there are ten to fifteen people, or they build a shack sometimes outside just to sleep. Hence you find kids playing in the street because there is just no room in the house to play and at night people sleep under the bed, over the bed and there is no privacy of any kind. Kids get exposed to sex very early because of the crowding in the houses.

POM     So even though they would earn the right for Section 10 rights, since there have been no houses built since 1956, they have to stay there anyway?

MOX     Yes. And they pay there for the bed. They pay something like R15 - R16 for the bed. It's a bed only with a locker.

POM     R15 per month is it?

MOX     Yes per month. With a locker and a common stove which is a two-burner electrical stove and a common toilet and common ablutions, for say six men.

PK     It's like a prison.

MOX     Yes.

PK     Only they're called hostels.

L     Something like a concentration camp.

MOX     That's right. You get too depressed. I worked with hostel dwellers for 1980 and 1981, actually worked in hostels. I was in the parish in Umlazi when I came to Natal, I came from the Transkei originally. Then I looked at the hostel situation and wrote a paper on it for the Bishop saying that these people are being neglected. So I was given the task of making it ... for two years and at the same time look at hostels of many sorts. But the church being what it is at the end of those two years, and there was not one church with ministers there. Not one church minister there. I was the only minister who walked in there and walked out again. My needs also could only be done in the evenings and I could only come in about six. In between men want to go to their ablutions, they want to cook. You must just be careful not to be obstructing them. At the end of that I was given this parish and I can't manage. I've got a few friends there who I can't manage to minister because the parish is too demanding. The church has lost an opportunity to look into the whole issue.

POM     You said you came from the Transkei originally. So that means you hold Transkei papers so that's your homeland? You could be moved by government order tomorrow morning?

MOX     I could yes. As a matter of fact at the height of violence here, which they thought I was the person who instigated the violence and they thought I was training ANC cadres, they came here four times searching for bombs and so forth. They said that, We hear that you're training ANC people here. You are an ANC pawn, they said. One time they were threatening to deport me but the solidarity in the township was too good. One time they took me at 6 am and they said I must fill in papers, where do I come from? I told them. They said, Now Rev. Xundu, we are preparing a banning order for a deportation order. We must deport you. But immediately they took me, the schools went into a hell of a disruption, children went to the school with placards demanding Xundu, they went round the township and went on to all the councillors' houses. And at 11 o'clock I was brought back.

POM     It's good to know you're liked.

MOX     So they had a problem in eliminating me because of the extent of control and confidence that I enjoy from the youth especially and also they were saying that we shouldn't use these facilities. This is a church building. I said to hell with that, why shouldn't we use the buildings for people meet because these kids have nowhere to meet otherwise, they can't plan, they can't talk. So I said my office is open and the other churches were reluctant and said to hell ... The Bishop was a bit reluctant. I said, You come and be a priest here in my stead and see what you do. So we were able to use these facilities. The parish is paying, the electricity is a very heavy bill because there are meetings here which end up at eleven and sometimes they moan and I look on the other said and say, OK, what do you think we should do? But that's the price we must pay and that's the price the church must pay to facilitate real change and for the opportunity of people to associate and identify the problems for what they are worth.

POM     One question we've been asking everybody, why, given the level of oppression that exists, the total level of oppression that exists like with those hostels down there, why is there not a lot more political violence than there is?

MOX     Well you see the system here is strong, OK, it works on a programme of co-opting people. Immediately after the Union Act in 1910 they formed what they called Advisory Boards and at the same time they formed what they called people who could tally, who could have a franchise, who could vote. Also most people got now divided from the rest of the people because they were the bourgeois and then when the Nationalist Party came to power it stopped all those powers and then the people saw them for what they were worth but they were just powerless. At that time there was polarisation between so-called bourgeois and the people because the ordinary masses were not bourgeois. Then ANC was working heavily at that time. Then ANC got banned and there was a lack of leadership, people got scared. At the same time the system was advancing the Bantu Administration Act giving Matanzima and them Matanzima was saying, We want to have a place under the sun. For a change we're going to have a place which we can govern ourselves, forgetting that he's actually disinheriting himself from the real South Africa. Then they were saying, We want to have a place under the sun. Then they were co-opting the Matanzimas to be part of their system, the service, what have you, the Gatshas, the Buthelezis. Now you have a situation where these people say, Of course you're benefiting because the capitalist system has made them develop. Matanzima earns R84,000 a year tax free and his ministers in the Transkei alone only, 9% of the people we're talking about control the wealth of Transkei and those people are government servants. They have shops, all the highly placed government servants and Cabinet ministers and politicians either have shops, buses.

POM     This is in the Transkei? These are black people, right?

MOX     In the Transkei and anywhere else. Black people. But now they have sold the capitalist system to them and it has made them soulless in terms of this. That is why you find therefore these tensions and you find these tensions and contradictions as it were. So given the situation you are talking about I am saying that why is there not much violence in the townships, the system here clobbered heavily the leadership.

POM     If you look around the young people here, these young people, do you not feel they're turning in a different direction?

MOX     Yes they definitely are. They definitely are more impatient. They definitely are not prepared to allow themselves to be dehumanised to the same extent. We become gentlemen. They say to hell with being a gentleman. We want to handle these guys the way they are handling us. Sometimes they make a few mistakes but I think they will learn along the line.

POM     That is going to increase unless something dramatic happens?

MOX     I think it's going to be on the increase and also I believe that that is on the increase. With probably the world becoming more aware of the problem, with the multinationals getting more aware, today people are now buying in the city because the multinationals do not pay fair wages to its people. Therefore those people will wake up. There in Cradock for this whole week people have not been buying. In PE people have not been buying in the shops for the last two weeks and it's going to create a situation where the capitalists are going to wake up and press the government to make more just laws because it is those guys who have power as the government. It is the guys who manufacture who bring the Casspirs. They say, Gentlemen, we are not going to give you these things.

POM     So how do you see the future, that is the next couple of years? What do you see happening? Do you see the government actually making meaningful concessions or digging in more?

MOX     For myself I think the government is going to dig in more. They are not going to want to give up anything unless there's global oppression. The pressure is global. They will make concessions. Also feelings are going to be hardened as one can say, feelings are going to be so hardened because not only in government sectors, also in church institutions do you find church authorities wanting to say they're going to be neutral. That is those who observe the ruling class, those who benefit from the system. I'm trying to say, we must be neutral, you can't be a member of a political grouping and therefore they're trying to play a neutral role and you always see polarisation even in the churches so far as this is concerned.

POM     Do you, even as a churchman, see a point coming where violence against such an oppressive regime is morally justifiable, that it may be difficult for you not to speak out against it if it were to happen?

MOX     I think the time is very close quite frankly. I think the time is very close for that to happen because, you see, you begin to talk as a Christian, you begin to talk as UDF. UDF is the most moderate organisation. What else are people going to do? When they organise legitimately then they are pushed by the government into violence which again is an effort to destabilise. What does it mean in that for 20 24 months those men are not going to be working. They will be up and down to courts. Families are going to start suffering. There are children who are going to suffer without schooling and then they are going to say, What is the use of joining a political struggle? And you're going to have a problem saying, Hey let's push over. That is what is going to happen. I cannot, myself, see that violence is necessarily not within the problem but the courts will. I cannot see myself. When you are talking in a free society you can be able to say so but the alternative here it just doesn't exist.

POM     Doesn't exist?

MOX     That's right. I mean God himself struck the first bones of Pharaoh and those who used the blood of the Red Sea. I mean God became violent.

POM     What I'd like you to do, because I do it with everybody but I think I'm almost at the end of a tape we can wait and do it.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.