Photo of Ayanda, InsightShare associate from South Africa

COVID-19 outbreak offers a time of reflection for rural South Africa

Ayanda Mncwabe-Mama’s video explores the richness of African identity in Mnqaba James village, South Africa, stating ‘our being and value as Africans is within’. Through interviews with three residents of Mnqaba James village on COVID-19, this richness is amplified and refuses to become one neat perspective. Although they all agree that the international response to COVID-19 has created financial instability, food shortage and a lack of education, they have different ideas about how this relates to culture and tradition. The backdrop of the pandemic offers a moment to listen to people’s thoughts on the past and their directions for the future, and to consider what this might mean.

Reactions to the COVID-19 crisis in Mnqaba

When I came across a “call-out” from InsightShare encouraging the sharing of stories from our communities, I let my conventional self be crippled with fear of these virus stories. Now, the task of going out filming rocked my comfort zone. But then, after seeing the poverty and inequality this virus has exposed, I became curious about my neighbours activities at this time.  On the 21st of April I decided to get my gear and solicit three views that I felt would offer unique and important ‘Covid stories’.  

My first conversation was with tat’uCirha, Mr. Nyengani, a reliable elder who usually tends other neighbours livestock for quick cash: since his wife works in the city of Port Elizabeth and his children live far away, he has a lot of time to himself.  As a pensioner, he is finding it difficult to survive with all travel restrictions, and living alone does not help his situation.

The second conversation I had was Anele, a driven youngster who once came to me to ask for advice for a coffin business.  He has a young family and, unlike many young people, he isn’t reliant on government grants nor has time for drugs which now float in abundance in every village.  

My third target was mam’Zantsi who has just returned back to the village with her husband after years working in Johannesburg.  She is part of an NGO and always ready to come up with solutions to our community’s problems:  recently, our primary school was threatened with closure by the Department of Education because a lot of parents take their children to the schools in town, and so we are left with seventy odd students and three teachers.  Mam’Zantsi is one of the few that strives to unite and motivate our village.

I did not know what to expect from the shoot, yet I was sceptical of the indigenous knowledge depth that would be shared. Eight years in this village had made me aware that my sense of traditional behaviour was different everywhere, and Mnqaba was just that – different to my expectations.  With a population of about 200 families and four church denominations, wearing traditional attires seems to be reserved for special holidays, some come to me for indigenous healing herbs in my garden and find it strange that I only advocate for African spirituality and not both (Christianity excluded, ‘why’ they ask).  All three people interviewed, offered unique perspectives on tradition and identity, questioning whether hugging is African or western, whether we are being pushed further from or closer to our roots. Each felt differently, uncovering the richness, but also the complexity, of community identity. 

So, capturing this insert about my village, was a refreshing surprise and a contrast to what I see everywhere in the media about Africans in rural settings.  Our being and values as Africans is within, it does not matter if one does not see us without.  Culture evolves but we should never forget our innate wisdom because this alone can help save us from the Covid-19 – going back to our ways of knowing.

Oh, did I mention that music in my insert was “extracted” from one of my neighbours? He is a reluctant artist but adamant he needs a job as a security officer.


Are you looking for ways to support community-led initiatives, such as local language radio broadcasts to spread essential, reliable information about COVID-19? Your support is essential to support marginalised communities as agents of change. Please donate here or contact us to discuss partnerships.

Find out more about how our network of Indigenous hubs are responding to the crisis here: COVID-19: Indigenous Insights.

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