Written By Mack Makhatini

Built in 1934, Lamontville is Durban's oldest African township. Intended for members of the aspiring African middle class, it was also home to thousands of workers in the nearby south Durban industrial areas.

LONG-TIME resident, Jabulile Felicity Ngcobo (58) said the houses were initially built for couples, with single people housed at the nearby SJ Smith Hostel. “If you were married and your husband passed away, you were forced to remarry or move out of the house, as you did not qualify anymore,” said Ngcobo. If you were a boy and you turned 18 you were forced to leave home and move into the hostel. Only after you married did you qualify to apply for a house.

It was only in the late 1980s that people could lease or own the houses, Ngcobo said. Mam’Jabu, as her peers affectionately know her, is the former secretary of the Natal Organisation for Women based in Lamontville, with popular human rights activist, Victoria Mxenge, as its president during the years of oppression.

“Victoria Mxenge was a people’s person and many benefited from her scholarships. She was a nurse and decided to be a lawyer after her husband Griffith Mxenge was assassinated in Umlazi.”

She said the fact that several political leaders call Lamontville home may be one of the reasons its residents are so politically conscious.

One of Mam’Jabu wishes is for the house of Johnny Makhathini, who was Oliver Tambo’s right hand man, to be turned into a museum, together with that of a former councillor Gertie Ngubane who lived next door.

“These houses are unique and I believe they should be turned into a museum so that history can be taught on what happened to the ANC and IFP.”

Florence Mkhize (Martin West building was renamed in her honour) did a lot of work with Mam’Jabu. “She was a straight talker and very advanced in ANC policies.” Humphrey Phakade “Pax” Magwaza, actor, photographer, activist and member of the leading anti apartheid photographers’ collective Afrapix, passed away in Lamontville last October.

Magwaza was born in the township in 1962 and attended Lamontville High School. After matriculating in 1982 he became interested in drama and was intimately involved in the creation of Mbongeni Ngema’s famous play, Asinamali.

He was one of Durban’s youth activists who were recruited into Umkhontowe Sizwe, the ANC’s armed wing. He was arrested in 1984 in the wake of popular resistance against apartheid after the assassination of Lamontville community leader Msizi Dube.

Lamontville also boasts celebrities in the entertainment industry such as jazz artists Njini Xaba, and Bheki and Pinky Mseleku. The late comedian Ndaba Mhlongo of the hilarious movie Inyakanyaka was also from this township.

On the sporting front, who can forget Abafana Bes’thende, Lamontville Golden Arrows Football Club, the pride and joy of Lamontville residents.

This soccer team has done a tremendous job in putting Lamontville on the map by playing in the Premier Soccer League. Most residents love Arrows and the fact that even the elders go out to watch the game when Arrows is playing locally is testimony to that.

Henry Cele, who played the character of Shaka Zulu in the television mini-series, was once a goalkeeper for Arrows. Mam’Jabu’s dream for Lamontville is the establishment of a project centre for local co-operatives. “There are people who have bulky equipment that cannot be used in their homes. They require a place to work.”

She said there were neglected beer halls that could be turned into workshops producing bricks or tombstones to the financial benefit of residents. She said management of these small enterprises would also be the perfect opportunity to use the skills of unemployed graduates.

The mother of three is optomistic about the area’s future. “For the development of this area we have to be united and work together.”