By Hadebe Hadebe
Not so long ago, those who came from rural areas and small towns were a laughing stock to city dwellers. People who lived in places such as Umlazi, Soweto, Gugulethu, Mdantsane and Atteridgeville never really thought much about their cousins from the hinterland.
Berated as ‘Jimmy Come to Jozi’, individuals from the fringes of South Africa like Limpopo, North West, KZN and Eastern Cape were treated as not just second class citizens but also as airheads. Nobody took them seriously in anything.
There were historical reasons for these divisions.
The white economy could only absorb a limited number of Africans who worked in mines, industry and households. These individuals were later granted a ‘superior’ status in relation to other blacks – they were given township houses and permanent residence in South Africa. As a result, this gave them some proximity to the job market and access to clean water, electricity, etc.
This privileged status made the city dwellers complacent and regarded themselves as a better breed in comparison to millions of blacks from the ‘semi-periphery’ (small and mid-sized towns like Estcourt/ Ladysmith, Witbank or Rustenburg) and the ‘periphery’ (proper rural like Giyani, Mqanduli, Msinga, Nzhelele, Taung, etc.) The white economy outcasted the latter group as excess labour that was only good enough to come to urban settings as migrant labour.
Excess labour was mainly seasonal and or was needed on a temporary basis in mines and industry. Hence, the rural folks stayed in hostels and also required special permits to remain in urban areas – amagundwane. What would have been ordinarily a simple exercise of searching for a job for the rural peoples was a traumatic ordeal. It involved long trips to and from the cities since they lived in the hellish and underdeveloped rural settlements.
A process of job searching meant separation from their families for extended periods, poverty, abuse and neglect. Since these people needed to live, they endured the harshness of apartheid laws, muggings and loneliness. They spent hours in hostels and compounds, which were jail-like. They sang imbube and danced to keep themselves entertained. They had to while away time and challenges of poor pay.
All in all, the rural peoples were intermediation between the city slickers, who saw themselves as more South African, and migrants from the neighbouring states. In a way, rural peoples and migrants from places like Lesotho, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe were lower-class blacks in the exploitative apartheid economic system. They had no status in the same way as rural men were in Johannesburg, Durban or Cape Town.
Things got interesting for rural folks when they were made citizens of extremely dehumanising homelands in the 1970s. The traditional labour reserves such as rural Zululand, hinterland Transvaal and no-man’s land in the Cape were converted into self-governing territories without viable economies to speak off. They literally became countries overnight but without any capacity to uplift the rural people from excess labour to people with rights.
Nonetheless, the people were stripped of their South African citizenship and handed over to these quasi-countries that relied heavily on Pretoria for existence. Their residents retained their status as cheap labour, which was at the disposal of the white economy to exploit. Despite the noises about how better life was under apartheid and homelands, the truth is that humiliation was the game of the day for all sundry.
Meanwhile, those born and grew up in Soweto, Kagiso, Daveyton, KwaMashu or New Brighton became closer to the ruling white communities, in their heads at least. Psychologically, they saw themselves as superior and better than their fellow blacks, whom they still treat with disrespect and disdain.
“Le kom ver”, “motso kontle”, “farmboy”, “Zulu boy”, “AmaShangane”, “Le drumetela”, etc. are some of the discriminatory terms used inntownships to characterise rural people. This ‘othering’, unfortunately, has not stopped.
The discrimination has been converted towards hating African foreign migrants in recent years, but the posture is exactly the same as it is/ was against rural folks.
Laced with tribalism and superiority complex, the hatred towards migrants, either from rural areas or African hinterland, has always been there in cities. In Durban townships, rural people were called derogatory names like Amampondo, “abantu base ma farm”, or “izinyoni”.
A Sowetan still views himself as creme-de-la-creme of blacks and takes pride in speaking bastardised Zulu or Sotho, which is an essential indicator that he is unlike “them”.
What generally escaped most people is that the ‘amazemtiti’ class, i.e. educated and land-owning blacks, never relocated to townships. They either became ruling elites in homelands or maintained their status on the fringes of society as teachers, priests, police officers, nurses, and professional classes.
Generally speaking, they had better life and standard of living than township dwellers and or rural people. This group maintained cohesion and was never really disrupted by the politics of the time.
This formidable retained shape and form in mysterious ways – these blacks sent their children to better schools and lived in better areas. Today, some of the better- educated blacks came from these eminent families of professors, lawyers, public servants, and not industry workers.
A sizeable number of their children went to elite schools locally and abroad. These children were destined to lead a ‘free’ South Africa. Unlike the sporty wearing, Dickies clad Tshepo and Sipho in Diepkloof or Lamontville.
On the other hand, the rural peoples understood their predicament better than anyone else. They imagined a better life that would enable them to access better employment and a good living. They invested heavily in their children’s education, and people from rural areas swelled student numbers in universities.
Most graduates come mainly from rural areas even up to this day. Township folks continue to gloat about their self-importance and fake superiority. They do not realise that they are no longer a ‘standard’ that they once imposed on rural people for many years.
Rural blacks bypass staying in Umlazi, Nyanga or Katlehong and move straight to former white-only areas like Umhlanga, Sandton or Durbanville. In comparison, they are better educated and earn better salaries than the township’s people who languish at the bottom today.
The point that is often ignored is that the success bar in city townships is placed way too low. Township fellows and ladies prioritise self-image from menial retail jobs and clothing instead of upskilling themselves.
This might come across as an insult, but rural kids trounce their township counterparts in everything. In short, that is how ‘Jimmy Come To Jozi’ ruled Gauteng and other big cities.
Siya yi banga le economy!