Manyathela Mvelase
BORN: KwaNomoya, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
INTERVIEWED IN: Jeppestown, South Africa

Since 1978, Manyathela Mvelase has lived at the Wolhuter Hostel in Jeppestown. Predominately Zulu hostels like this one had been viewed as Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) strongholds, which explains their politically untenable position in the eyes of the current ANC-controlled government. They are now viewed, particularly by the state machinery, as housing armies of malcontents stoking violence. Mvelase lives in a small, multi-room outbuilding adjacent to the hostel blocks and serves as the hostel’s induna, a Zulu term which implies a bridge between the monarch and his subjects. To earn a living, he plies his trade as a herbalist and healer.

     I came to Johannesburg in 1974. My first job there was working for a building contractor, where I made bricks. It was like a boot camp because we slept in tents. It was like being homeless, or being a refugee in your own country. All these problems the foreigners are experiencing now, we went through them long before.

     The older men, which in my case was my relative, used to put our money aside for us. They’d give you what you could spend. When you wanted to buy something, you’d tell your guardian. It’s unlike today where young people carry money for themselves as soon as they arrive. Under that system everybody lived a prosperous life, relatively speaking. Everybody bought a cow. Everybody sent money home. It wasn’t a choice, it was like a law to keep everybody straight.