A chance encounter in the Impendle Library changed a few lives. That’s the sort of thing that happens in small country towns.
Keen reader Zandile Sihakane was delighted when a library opened in the main street of Impendle where she has lived all her life. Before that, there were just no books around and accessing the internet was an expensive and labour-intensive activity.
As luck would have it, Samantha Rose who lived nearby, and Zandile started a conversation one day amongst the bookshelves, shared contact details, and soon became collaborators in community development. “Zandile struck me as someone with vision, who is proud of her heritage and community and believes in herself,” recalls Sam.
When she finished school, Zandile was not able to study teaching due to financial constraints. Instead, she volunteered at a creche near her home, knowing that she would learn and be around kids which she loved, even though she wouldn’t be earning any money. This she did for 5 years. “Many people in the area think you are crazy to volunteer. They would rather just sit at home than work for nothing. But you are not going to get anywhere sitting in your house. I learned a lot in those years.”
Samantha had been working on building a tourism initiative in Impendle, where there are few income generating possibilities, and was thinking about introducing self-sufficiency education in the local schools to help protect the natural environment. Impendle is an extremely beautiful place with lots of wetlands amongst the rolling hills. “I thought this was a very good idea because I like to learn new things,” says Zandile with her usual enthusiasm, “I was happy to join her team.”
Together they visited schools, often riding two up on Sam’s motorbike along the dusty roads. They conducted lessons on alternative energy, natural building and organic gardening and permaculture. “We wanted to raise people’s consciousness about living sustainably, eating better and looking after their surroundings. I quickly fell in love with permaculture.”
When she became pregnant, Zandile needed to build her own home. After watching how her neighbours did it, she set about making mud bricks from the soil on her site and almost single-handedly erected a cosy dwelling with views across a wetland.
Unfortunately, around this time, funding for their project dried up and Samantha left the area. Zandile continued to visit her schools, stretching a small grant from N3TC as far as it could possibly go.
She feels sad that many local women make their living digging blocks of wetland peat to sell as building material. “They say they are feeding their families, and unless I can give them a job, they will carry on. Our precious wetlands are being destroyed and they have no idea how important they are for the water supply of millions of people downstream. I wish to start an environmental NGO right here in Impendle, hiring the young people who have good training to all work together to make a big impact.”
Despite the snow that regularly blankets Impendle, the fierce storms that destroy homes and schools and the wind that whips across the fields, Zandile is undeterred. She continues to plant gardens, encourage her community not to dump rubbish in the rivers, inspire youngsters to care about snakes and solar cooking, and walks her beloved dog, Lotheni, in the grasslands as often as she can.
Zandile is the change she hopes to see in the world.