By Lumka Oliphant

  • The name “Tintswalo” sparks debate in South Africa, highlighting opposing perspectives on her significance as a symbol of democracy.
  • Despite attempts to silence her story, Tintswalo’s existence cannot be disregarded, echoing the historical oversight of women’s narratives.
  • Reflecting on personal experiences, the journey from humble beginnings to academic and professional success underscores the enduring impact of Tintswalo’s legacy.

Tintswalo. I had to google the meaning of this name that has tongues wagging in South Africa. There are two opposing sides to the story of Tintswalo – the child of democracy. Some want to erase her existence and are shutting down anyone who wishes to tell her story. But I am not surprised; we erase the story of women all the days of our lives. But Tintswalo, born out of democracy, cannot just be swept under the carpet. She exists, and I wish to raise my hand and say as the President was describing Tintswalo of 1994, I remembered that I was in standard 8 when Tintswalo was born.

In 1996, when she was two years old, I was in matric. I remember vividly, the year 1996 for it was the year the women of South Africa went to Beijing, China to represent me to the peoples of the world and promised that they would make sure that the laws of this country will and must empower me. Two years prior, they had asked my parents to vote for them and promised them “A better life for All”. In 1996, I matriculated with an exemption that gave me entry to any institution of higher learning. I would be lying if I said my parents could afford to take me to a tertiary institution but the new democratic government had just said get your foot in and once you are in, we will take care of the rest.

I was from a two-roomed house in Langa. Please take note that I am not saying bedroom. The house consisted of a kitchen and a bedroom. There was no bathroom and the toilet was outside the yard. We used a communal tap and had to fetch water in buckets for our day-to-day use. Only when my parents voted did we get electricity. We used a paraffin lamp for light and relieved ourselves in a bucket in the evening. Stay with me on this. I hated doing chores. I hated, in particular, the one chore that fell on me as the young one “ukuchitha ibucket lomchamo wendlu yonke”. This chore was the most degrading because you had to be the first to wake up. This bucket no matter how we cleaned it, its stench remained. The one thing that motivated me to stay in school was that bucket.

I wanted a home with a flushing toilet inside so that my kids and my nieces never have to relieve themselves in a bucket and be given such a degrading chore. I hated even to clean the ‘vaskom’ we used to bathe ourselves. My mother was very particular about hygiene and wanted certain things to be done a certain way.

On passing my matric, I was accepted at Peninsula Technikon now Cape Town University of Technology. There was what was then called TEFSA now NSFAS. We called Tefsa umalume (referring to Minister Sibusiso Bengu). For Tefsa was the uncle who paid for our tuition, books, accommodation and food at school. For the first time, I got to know other South Africans because I truly believed that TshiVenda people were not South African and it was not possible to have a language called SePedi. My first roommate spoke SePedi.

In my second year, I got an internship in one of the biggest newspapers and I bought a TV and a fridge for my family with my stipend of R3000. After graduating, I got a permanent job at the sister newspaper. I built a home for my parents with a shower and a bathroom each with a toilet. I went overboard with the toilet because I never wanted even one of us to wait while another was using it.

Today, my home has 3 bedrooms, a lounge and a dining room with a proper kitchen. I went on to work in other large media houses before I joined the government. I remember my first trip outside the country was to America. Mathatha Tsedu had chosen me to go to Maryland and Boston. The second again under Tsedu’s leadership was to Dubai.

In 2002, when the World Summit on Sustainable Development was in Sandton, my first child was born under better circumstances. I have never had to pay for my studies because this government said it would take me to school. I may be angry at load shedding because truly we bury deep scars of not having electricity and how dare this democratic government take me back to that place?

I may be very angry that my son who is in aviation is treated like a second-class citizen in that industry because the economy of SA Inc. remains in the hands of the minority. But when President Ramaphosa spoke of Tintswalo, he was speaking about me.

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