Looking like she has just stepped off a New York fashion catwalk, Stella definitely has the air of a global jetsetter about her. Born in the ‘Old Town’ Dinella suburb of the Emjindini Township, Stella introduces herself as a true Barbertonian. As we drive around Emjindini Stella points out the different districts, each with their own unique character and flavour.
The first thing that hits you is how tidy the township is. There is no rubbish lying around, the streets are wide and clean. While they may not be tree lined the brightly coloured houses and beautiful gardens give a real feeling of vibrancy. Stella explains how most people have saved up to build on to the RDP housing the government had provided, resulting in some of the most interesting architecture around. Of all the houses in the township, the home of Bonnie is perhaps the most unique and quirky. Built by his Dad, Simon, this incredible feat of artistic design is made from discarded materials Simon collected from the various building sites he worked on. Material destined for the scrap heap that now take their place in this amazing Gaudiesque creation.
Other buildings that stand out include the new library that wouldn’t look out of place in any modern metropolitan development, and the stunning Anglican Church that is straight out of “The Little House On The Prairie”! There are of course your expected mix of taverns and spaza shops around every corner, each competing for their slice of the market. Other clichés like free roaming dogs and barefoot children playing with a tyre and stick can also be found, but you have to search for them.
It leaves the question is Emjindini authentic? The answer is simple, absolutely; it simply shows how our views of what a township is have been severely skewed by the media. “I want to bring people into our township and show them there is nothing to fear”, Stella explains with such passion you know every word is true, “We have a lot of cultural heritage here, a heritage I am proud of and one we want to show the world”.
Part of Emjindini’s cultural history is that it played a big role in hiding the Struggle Leaders like Nelson Mandela during the Apartheid years and the tour includes a visit to the school where he stayed en-route to Swaziland. That heritage of looking after each other is still evident in the ever present sense of community in Emjindini. The old age feeding program is a prime example of this, where the town’s elders, who can no longer look after themselves, are being cared for by the community. So is Gogo (Grandma) Ellen, at 79 Ellen should have people caring for her, rather than it being the other way round. Yet her feeding program ensures 250 of the community’s most vulnerable children, and the sick, are fed. This she does with no formal funding, just a will and determination to help others. It is hard not to feel very humble in her presence, especially when she asks you with such pride to sign her guest book.
After many stops, hundreds of photos and numerous stories we finally arrive back at Stella’s place. Like many of the other buildings Taribo Lifestyle Lounge would not look out of place in Cape Town or Durban. This two story venue may still be in the process of being completed but it has already hosted numerous events including a fashion show, the Miss Mpumalanga competitors and the Heritage Day celebrations. Stella has big ideas for the place and with her passion and drive I am sure she will achieve every one of them. When I ask her what she wants the future to hold for Emjindini and Taribo, her answer is simple “I want to look around and see a mixture of faces, black, white, Indian, coloured and Asian, in Taribo and in our Township. I want to see all races socialising together, laughing together and enjoying their lives together”.
It is a beautiful vision and one I hope will be realised. Tours like this help to break down the barriers raised by mis-conception and mis-understanding and assist toward achieving that vision.
The Emjindini Township Tour