I was born and bred in the township of Umlazi in KwaZulu-Natal. It is the fourth largest township in South Africa, and the only township with its own car registration plate: NUZ. In Umlazi, there is a small section called Chicago where I have lived for the past 21 years, although I still couldn’t tell you how it came to be named Chicago! One thing I can tell you, though, is that it is divided into two parts: the middle class and lower class, and that this segregation is deeply felt.
However, despite this divide, the young people of Umlazi have been kept together through a shared love for the performing arts, reading, storytelling and our belief in the power of these practices to uplift the children of our community. Life in Umlazi is not easy. A high rate of AIDS-related deaths has led to many children being orphaned and leading child-headed homes. These children often drop out of school and search for jobs to support themselves and their siblings.
I strongly believe that a child’s place is in the playground, where they can play, explore and enjoy their childhood. I advocate for the “your child is my child” notion, which calls us to hold each other accountable and become one big family working together to raise all our children.
In 2009, the young people of Umlazi set up a non-profit organisation focussing on the performing arts and dedicated to the children of our community. We started a project – Dlala Mntwana (isiZulu for “Play, Dear Child”) – where children get to do what they do best: play. They also, often for the first time, experience a theatre performance aimed at sparking their imagination and curiosity.
Further, with the support of our local library, we have signed up many children for library cards to encourage them to read. I know this helped me so much in my own childhood. I have also learnt that some members of our project are offering afternoon homework classes, helping with health-related issues and providing food parcels. No doubt we are on the right path to a better definition of community.
So, you can imagine it saddens me to hear an elder say, “What can you do for a child who comes from a shack?” The question implies that one cannot expect much from a child who comes from these conditions. This is exactly what we are fighting against! Every child deserves equal opportunities. No one’s future should be determined by their background, or where they were born. Every child should be allowed to dream because there is always potential for those dreams to come true, especially with community support.
I believe that young people understand this. But we will not be young forever and we must share whatever knowledge and skills we have with the next generation while we can. We must empower them through literacy and enable them to imagine better prospects for themselves through stories and storytelling. It is for these reasons that I am excited to be a part of the Nal’ibali campaign’s FUNda Leader network – an initiative aimed at supporting young people such as me and my friends in Umlazi to nurture a love of reading amongst the children in our community.
There is a maskandi song by Shwi Nomtekhala, which when translated into English goes: “Rise nations, for if we die, who will look after our children and who will take care of them?”
Mpumy Ndlovu is a storyteller and television actress committed to changing children’s lives through theatre and literacy. She is using her passion and profile to champion Nal’ibali’s FUNda Leader volunteer network and encourage young people everywhere to join the campaign and help children fall in love with books and reading in their home languages.