Zanele Khumalo

Interview conducted in June 2018

I am 33-years-old. I was born in Nquthu. Growing up in Nquthu was very challenging. I lost my dad while I was in grade 4. We survive with my mom as a single parent. My mom was never employed. She never had a job, but she used to sell vegetables and do some handwork, like crafting mats. She also had a small old jersey sewing machine, which she used to sew jerseys for us. She also sewed jerseys to sell in order to feed us and pay our school fees.

What I remember the most about growing up is that I could not leave home to play with other kids in the neighbourhood. We saw that we were poorer, which made us so scared to mix with other kids.

I went as far as grade 12 in school. My favourite subjects were maths and biology because I dreamt of becoming a nurse. I was not able to pursue my studies any further because of serious financial constraints.

My younger sister passed away and left her three children who needed to be looked after. My mother took them in, but looking after them and her own children was too much for her. She was really struggling to put a plate of food before us.

I had to find work to help her, so I moved to Ladysmith in 2003 to look for a job.

I had no family in Ladysmith, except the lady that I knew with the same surname as mine. I stayed with her while I was still looking for job.

In 2004, I got a learner ship from a company called FG Nights for merchandising. Merchandising involves packing goods at shops. After my learner ship, I started packing goods at Shoprite and Boxer.

It is difficult to say I enjoyed working there, but the point is that I had no choice; the situation back home was forcing me to take any job that I could find. 

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I worked for Shoprite and Boxer for about a year. Then, I heard that another company was training machinists, so I decided to go learn to be machinist. I earned my machinist certificate.

After I completed training as machinist, one lady told me that Lilani was looking for machinists, so I went there looking for work. During that time, the company was called Lilani, but it is now called TCI. I got the job as machinist.

To be a machinist, I think the skills one needs is to be able to sew and check the stitches. Quality always comes first. One should do a good job the first time so that the customer gets good quality. You must also work quickly so the customer gets the order on time, so production needs to keep going.

To be a machinist is not necessarily a difficult job. If you like what you do, you don't think it's difficult because you love it. All of the workers here at the factory, we take care of each other.

I take home R830 a week after deductions. I budget very carefully. The company runs an internal serving programme, and I save R250 every week. I also take R100 and buy Shoprite stamps which I saved to buy groceries in December when I go home during holidays. I go home to Nquthu about every after 3 months, and I use these stamps to buy them food. R90 is my transport cost per week, and R50 is for my insurance which I saved every week. I also save R200 per week for three weeks and send it to my mother to buy food. At the end I am left with R150 for myself to buy food, and luckily I also collect a R370 grant for my son which assists me to take of him and pay my rent. 

My son’s name is Sinqobile Lungaka Ntombela. He is five years old and I call him "Boy Boy." He is in primary school and likes maths, Zulu, and English. He likes to play soccer and to sing. He is in the school choir. 

Sinqobile’s father passed on when Sinqobile was 3 months old. He shot himself. Before all that happened, he told me to take care of the baby. When I asked him why, he could not answer me. Later I was told that he was lying critical in ICU in Durban. I really do not know the reason why he killed himself.

The father of my child was taken away, but I'm still alive. I have to provide for my son and also my family back home. I'm the breadwinner. What else am I to do? There aren’t as many opportunities at home.

My child is my greatest joy and my first priority.

Every day, I am joyful because my child is alive and passing school. I am joyful because my mother is still alive.


Interviewed and transcribed by Vilina Membinkosi, Lisa Petersen,Sheridan Wilbur, and Lily Koning in June 2018