On Tuesday, early in the morning, some citizens engaged in a protest in Jozini. They took large stones and put them in the road. They took tires and set them on fire in the road. They blocked all the access roads to and from the small town of Jozini.
Why? Water service is not available for all of Jozini inhabitants nor does it extend to the rural areas around Jozini. Water service in Jozini itself is on again, off again, unreliable. People have been promised improved water services for many, many years. It has not improved, apparently.
Another reason? The Jozini mall has not hired many locals to work there. Unemployment is a huge problem in this area (and South Africa in general).
7:00 am. I went to school as usual on Tuesday, right after putting a visiting volunteer on a taxi headed to Jozini and hopefully on her way home to the Battlefields area. Once there, I was informed by some teachers that four teachers were unable to come to school because they live in Jozini and all the roads in our direction were blocked. I Whatsapped the volunteer and learned her taxi had reversed direction and was headed south to Empangeni by another route. I was able to cover some of the teacher-less classes, teaching English with impromptu lessons to Grade 4, plus teaching my own Grade 7 English and Creative Arts classes. I haven’t taught a full day in years! I was exhausted!
7:00 am. The next day, Wednesday, I again went to school as usual. The same four teachers were still unable to get to school and again I taught impromptu English lessons with Grade 4. There was sporadic news about the advance of the protestors coming north on our main tar road towards us.
11:00 am. I heard and saw a mad rush of learners with their backpacks heading towards the exit gate. I went outside to find out what was happening and was told that we were going to send the children home. A few former students had been dismissed from their high school up the road and come to report that they had seen the protesters, had seen the stones in the road and the burning tires. We quickly halted the riotous rush, formed an assembly, told the children what was going on and that they should go directly home. The entire school was evacuated in record time!
At home, I contacted other volunteers to tell the story and I was soon contacted by Peace Corps Safety and Security chief, Gert Ackron. He listened to what I knew, said he was going to make some calls and investigate. I am the only volunteer on the exact route the protesters are taking. I am about one block off of the tar road on a dirt road. Gert told me to stay in my house and don’t get curious and try to see what was going on.
Gert made some calls to the Ingwavuma police headquarters (my area) and gave me the number of a policeman to call and tell exactly where I am located. I did that. He knew exactly where I live; my host father is a policeman!
So basically, I have been under “house arrest” and haven’t been anywhere. I heard noises in the afternoon and evening, protestors in our area, blocking the road, chanting, singing. Then, a quiet night. I Whatsapped my cohort and received supportive messages. I have heard from my principal (stranded at her home in Jozini) and other teachers. Everyone says “stay safe.”
6:00 am, Thursday, my principal called and said there would be no school today. I took the quiet early morning opportunity to walk out to the main road to view the scene. There were branches in the road, stones, burned piles of branches, tires and a twisted guardrail pulled into the center. No traffic, of course, although one car drove in and through and around the debris to get through. I took some photos.
There were protestors outside mid morning. I could hear them and kids came to tell me what was happening.
I have managed to make it through the day somehow. I have had visits from neighbor kids. I have begun packing to leave, taking pictures off the wall, filling my small suitcase with things I want to bring home. Giving away things I don’t want. Watching Ken Burns’ film about our National Parks. Reading an Emma Donoghue book titled “Frog Music.” Playing Solitaire and doing Crosswords. Texting friends. Making chicken soup.
Gert called again. He said the “memorandum” had been given to the government officials and things would be winding down. Someone was clearing the road. The Ingwavuma police were going to drive down the mountain and see if they could make it all the way to Jozini.
4:45 pm, Thursday. I got curious (oops!) to see the road again. I walked there and it was totally blocked by branches, stones, tires and guardrail, there were police parked nearby, onlookers gathering, and blockades going farther up the road. There is no traffic and it isn’t over, apparently.
I am not concerned for my safety. However, I am anxious about running out of water. The water trucks cannot get through to bring water to the community JoJos. I am not at school so I can’t get water from there. I am only using small amounts of water so I don’t run out. No laundry. No bathing. Just cooking and drinking and dish washing.
I am also concerned about running out of food. I heard that some stores in Jozini were open but I can’t get there. I don’t even know if I can get to Bhambanana.
It is odd for me to not be allowed to be involved in a protest! It is not my country! Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to do any political activity.
8:00 pm, Thursday night, Gert decided that I should leave for the weekend. I decided Togo to Manguzi. He heard from the Ingwavuma police that there was a huge number of bulldozers ready to start clearing the road at 7 am Friday. There was also supposed to be a huge number of police ready to keep the road clear.
Bad night. 3 hours sleep. Worry, think, worry, think.
7:00 am, Friday. Nope. No bulldozers. No police.
11:00. Host brother went to Bhambanana and bought me some food!
11:50. I told Maite (Peace Corps) that I was safe, I did not want to go to Manguzi, and the road wasn’t open anyway.
Lots of children have come to draw and read books.
12:00. Principal arranged with Mxolisi (our former teacher’s aide) to bring me water!
3 pm. The road is still blocked. Some community members are awaiting the arrival (1:00) of government officials to discuss the situation and come to an agreement.
5:30 pm. Calls from Gert. He has been told the road will be open tomorrow.
It is a very long day.
6:45 am Saturday. Mxolisi brought 50 liters of water! I can wash my clothes. I can wash my hair.
The road is open to Jozini. Mxolisi told me that there will be a meeting with parliament officialson Monday (or Tuesday?) in Jozini to hear what will happen with the water situation.
Done. For now.
About 11:00 today, I got a phone call from one of the teachers from our school. She also lives in this area, along the road. Her husband is a policeman. Apparently, the road at the Bhambanana T-junction is blocked in all three directions. Last night and this morning, angry protestors came out and made a lot of noise and stopped the traffic. It is NOT a water issue. They are angry because the white man who owns most of the land at the Bhambanana area does not want others to come in and develop it with their businesses. He has been in the area a very long time and rents out business space to various shops. I was told that a meeting was called and the issues are being discussed by tribal leaders, government officials, business people, community members. This road is the connector to Ingwavuma (west), Skemelele (east) and Jozini (south).