Horses have been good to old George Zwane. With his horses and his cart, George has made his living in this world. For over 50 years, George has travelled the streets of Johannesburg – fetching rubbish and dumping rubbish.
George is now 82 years old. And he is still on the road with his horses and cart. Together they have gone to many places. And they have seen many things.
George does not want to rest. Every morning he gets up at five to feed and clean the horses. By seven, he is on the road – doing what he knows best.
George likes to keep moving. So he takes no chances. “I have three horses,” says George. “Charlie, Start and Sweetie. They are all good pullers. But I only need two for the cart. So if one gets sick, I got one spare just like a spare wheel.”
George’s horses may get sick some times. But George never does. He is not rich – but he has his health. His eyes are good. He still has a couple of teeth. And his memory is not bad either.
“I was born in Vryheid In 1901,” he will tell you. “My father called me Umkhonto. But when I went for baptism, they called me Georgie.
“My father died when I was very young. So my mother married the brother of my father. That’s how it was in those days. My new father took us to Ermelo.”
Little George grew up like most other kids in the countryside. He learned the ways of the fields. And he understood the ways of animals.
So when the umlungu came up to George and said “Hey boy can you work with horses?” George gave a big smile and said, “Certainly!”
And so George got his first job. He worked for a school near Ermelo. George fetched the children’s dirty clothing with a horse and cart. He took the clothes for washing. And then he brought the clothes back.
But after three years, George got tired of that job. He wanted more money. And in those days, if a man wanted more money, he went to only one place: Johannesburg.
“When I came to Johannesburg, I found few houses,” says George.
“And very few women. All I saw was lots of horses. And horses did everything. They were the lorries and the taxis.
“I got a job with horses in Braamfontein. I lived in the backyard of the company in Juta Street. I worked hard for that man. I worked the whole day and half the night.
“But I learned many things. I learned how to pack a cart nice and tight. If you dropped a tabIe or chair In those days, then you paid the carpenter.”
In 1925 George married the woman he loved. Her name was Dora and she cost him 15 head of cattle. She came to stay with him in Johannesburg.
“We found a room at the Jewish church In Bertrams,” says George. “I was a lucky man. Most men did not live with their women.”
When George got married, he wanted to better himself. So after work every day, he rode his bicycle to the night school in Doornfontein – Mondays to Thursdays.
And he soon got another job. He worked at a girls domestic science school in Bertrams. “I made the fires in the stoves every morning,” says George. “And when the girls went home, I cleaned the pots and pans. Those girls never cleaned their pots. They were too lazy.”
In 1929 George and Dora moved to Alexandra Township. In those days, black people could buy land In Alexandra. And Alexandra was not like it is today.
“There was plenty of space,” says George. “Only the top part was full then. But down here at the bottom, there were few people. A man couId choose his own piece of land.
” In 1932 my first chiId was born. Now I thought about things. I decided I must do what I know best. So I bought some horses. And I went into this business.”
George worked hard. He got up early every morning and came home late at night. “I did five loads a day in the old days,” says George. “There was plenty of work and lots of open land to dump my load “
George didn’t get rich. But he brought home food for his family – a family that got bigger all the time. George was the father of 14 chiIdren. But, he will tell you sadly, only four are still alive today.
George saved his money carefully. And he slowly built a house for his family. When the house was finished, he built a few rooms outside. And then he built a small church for himself. George is a religious man. And he always wanted his own church.
“I am a bishop,” says George. “I have a church for the poor people of this world. They come from all over.”
So for many years, George travelled many miles with his horses and cart. And in his spare time he prayed with his poor friends in h is church in Alexandra Township.
George knows much about the town ship. He has seen many things. He remembers the dangerous Msomi gang. But he doesn’t like taIking about that. He knows what he must talk about. And he knows what he must not taIk about.
He remembers the times when people didn’t use the buses – because the fares went up. “In 1957 people didn’t use the buses for a long time,” says George. “I helped the people in my cart. I took the washerwomen to fetch the washing at the white peoples place.”
So George lived through the times – times that were hard and dangerous. George made his way slowly and carefully. The good things came slowly – but old George Zwane was his own boss. And that’s what mattered.
But then life turned a bit sour for George. He lost his house. It happened seven years ago.
George heard they were knocking down the township. It was true – the government wanted only hostels in Alexandra.
They wanted to buy his house. George thought he had no choice. So he sold his house and his land to the West Rand Administration Board.
George decided to move to Evaton. He liked Evaton. So he took the money they gave him, and bought lots of building material – bricks, windows cement and wood.
George rented a shed in Evaton. And he sent all the building material to Evaton. Then he found a man to look after the shed.
But alas! The man he found was no good. When old George went to his shed in Evaton, the man was gone and so was the building material.
So George still lives in Alexandra Township. In the end, they did not knock his house down. The money he so carefuIly saved is all gone – and he now has rent to pay.
George Zwane does not rest. The wheels of his cart still turn. “The work is harder now,” says George. “I can only do one load now. I must go far to find work. And I must look hard for a place to dump.”
But George does not complain. The road is hard. But he does not want it to end. “I’m glad to be here,” says the old man. “Over here, I know what’s what. But I don’t know what’s waiting for me on the other side!”