Most of us love Sundays. We sleep a little late. Then we get dressed – in our Sunday clothes. And we feel nice and free.
Some of us go to pray. Some of us fetch a couple of “chommies” for a drink and chat. And some of us look for the shade of a big, green tree.
We are the lucky ones. Some people aren’t so lucky – like Nomathemba Sithole. She works even on Sundays. She never gets a chance to wear her Sunday clothes.
Every day of the week, vou will find her outside the Ikhwezi station in Soweto. She will be hard at work – cooking meat for her customers on a steel dustbin lid.
We went to visit her. We tasted her “malamohodu”. And believe us, it was good. We asked Nomathemba about her life. She told us. And we listened – while we licked our fingers.
Nomathemba Sithole was born in Msinga, Natal. Her family still live there. She was the third of five children. Because her family did not have enough money, Nomathemba and her sisters did not go to school. Nomathemba cannot read or write. She does not know her age.
Like all the other girls in the village, Nomathemba married a migrant worker. He cleaned offices in Johannesburg. Nomathemba did not see him very often.
In 1969 her husband got very sick. He died three months later. And Nomathemba’s troubles began.
Her husband was dead. She had no money. And she had three children to feed. One of her sons, Qiniso, is deaf and he can’t talk.
Nomathemba wanted to feed her children. And she wanted to send them to school. So in 1970 she came to Johannesburg to find work. She got a job as a cook. She cooked for workers who cleaned offices.
In 1977 Nomathemba left her job. She went to join some of her friends from Msinga. They worked for an electrical company – as trench diggers. Nomathemba was now a trench digger in Soweto.
Nomathemba did not get more money at the new job. But she was happy because she was working with her friends from the country. “1 liked working with my friends,” she says. “But I hated digging trenches and I still do.”
Then one day last year, Nomathemba and her friends lost their jobs. The company said they had no more work for them.
Nomathemba had problems again. She had no money and she wanted to keep all the children in school. But she didn’t manage and her eldest child, Mlungu, came to work in a factory in Johannesburg.
Nomathemba had no money and no job. But she had her friends from the country. And they did not forget about her. They were now selling all sorts of things at Ikhwezi station. They told Nomathemba to come and join them.
Nomathemba’s friends sold everything at the station. Or nearly everything – they didn’t sell meat. So Nomathemba decided to sell meat.
She was clever. She knew people can buy raw meat at many places. But when they walked past and smelled her meat cooking, they would think twice.
Nomathemba remembers when she first started., “In the beginning I didn’t know much about this business,” says Nomathemba. “People try all kind of tricks. Like the time when two men started fighting near me. I ran to stop them because I don’t like people to fight. When I got back to the fire, all my meat was gone – and so were the two men.”
Nomathemba laughs when she thinks back. And then she remembers another funny story. “One evening a man came from the beer hall,” says Nomathemba. “He was very drunk. He asked me to cook him a piece of meat. When I wrapped the meat for him, he started screaming. He was holding his trouser pocket. He quickly told me the truth. He stole some meat – and it was too hot for his pocket. I laughed and told him to keep the meat free of charge. Today he is my friend and one of my best customers.”
Nomathemba gets up early every morning. She has to get ready. Sometimes she must first go and buy meat in Fordsburg – many miles away. She always gets to the station at 10 o’clock in the morning. She leaves at eight in the evening. She stays late because many of her customers come home late from work.
“Standing the whole day and selling meat is not hard,” says Nomathemba. “But the police make my life hard. They often arrest me because I don’t have a licence. I spend a lot of money on fines. Sometimes I pay R40 in one week on fines – and I only earn about R60 a week.
“Maybe I will go back to my old job and dig trenches again. They tell me there is work at the company again. I will get about the same money I get now – but I won’t have to pay all these fines.”
So hurry people! Go to the Ikhwezi station before Nomathemba goes back to the trenches. Follow your nose and you will find her. You won’t be sorry!