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We ask three elderly women about sustainability on Heritage Day

by | Sep 24, 2020

To commemorate Heritage Day, Twyg intern Nobanzi Sokhuthu spoke to three elderly family members about sustainability and about their memories of growing up in rural areas during apartheid. They were born in the Eastern Cape between 1947 (the year the Royal family visited South Africa) and 1956 (the year when South African women marched to Pretoria to protestthe introduction of the Apartheid pass laws for black women in 1952).


Nozibele “Mambathane” Sokutu is from a village called Emaxesibeni in Tsolo. “When I was growing up, retail shops were very few or non-existent so the only way we could get new clothes for Christmas celebrations was to ask someone in the village to make dresses and suits for us.  Even for newborn babies, clothes were knitted. Our father was a very stingy person so we only bought new clothing once a year. We were well trained to mend our own clothes. Clothes didn’t belong to one person, they were shared among siblings moving from one person to the next.”

“Sometimes when there was animal hide available we used it to make a clothing called ‘isikhakha’,” says Nozibele.


Noncedo “Mamjwarha” Beja was also born and raised in the Tsolo area, in a village called Upper Sinxako. She says, “Farms were the most common source of food for each family. Supermarkets weren’t that popular among the villagers because there was the danger of bumping into the apartheid police. We avoided towns by all means. Each family had a garden or a farm which is called ‘intsimi’ that produced wheat, corn, beans and some fruits. ‘

Ukugraya’ and ‘ukungqusha’ are two processes used to turn maize into maize meal which is called ‘uGrabha’ and samp. As for rice, it was only eaten by wealthy families.

Before the use of the western medical ways, Noncedo says they harvested medicines such as Umhlonyane (for fever/flue), Umphompho (for stomach bug), Usikhikhi (for babies), Inqwebeba (for cleansing), Isihlambeso (used by pregnant women), Impepho (to chase away bad spirits).


Nosizwe “Matshabalala” Sodinga says, We didn’t produce much waste because we weren’t buying packaged food. Everything was farmed, even medicine was harvested in the mountain.

Food leftovers were giving to dogs and pigs.  Old, ruined clothes were burned. Nosizwe says they stored cow or sheep milk in pumpkin shells, called ‘Iselwa’ or ‘Isenza’. There weren’t any eating spoons. Only wood cooking ones were available. Women used washable cloth as sanitary pads and as baby nappies, says Nosizwe.


Dry cow dung was used as a form of energy to cook. And, wood, according to all three women wasn’t from trees that were chopped: They gathered branches that had fallen.


For beauty and hygiene they remember using the most eco-friendly ways like straightening hair with warm stones and coal as a form of toothpaste.


  • The first Heritage Day celebration took place in 1995 to honour the late King Shaka Zulu but later the government decided that it should be a celebration of the diverse cultures in South Africa
  • Images were sourced through the Creative Commons. The image of Nosizwe “Matshabalala” Sodinga was supplied.



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