top of page

The forgotten soldier


Private Fanyana ‘Mack’ Mlambo is an old man. He owns nothing. All he has in life is a small mud hut -and plenty of time.

He is proud of the hut. He built it him­self. So he looks after it well. But he has no use for time. He has no job. He has no money. And he is very sick. So he can’t do much.

All day he sits outside his small home. He looks around him. He remembers the old days. And sadness fills his eyes ­- eyes that have seen much suffering.

The place Private Mlambo lives in is called Ekuvukeni. It is near Ladysmith in Natal. Twenty thousand other people also live there. The government moved these people to Ekuvukeni. The government gave the place it’s name. It’s a strange name. It means the place for people to rise up and build a new life.

But the place is hot and dry. It has no water. Cattle and sheep cannot live. Mielies dry up and die under the hot sun.

There are no jobs in this place. People don’t have money for food. There is no hospital and many children die from diseases. There is only one small school. Most people get no education.

Ekuvukeni is not a place of life. The people did not choose to go there. Nor did they choose the name. They say, “Silahliwe -we have been thrown away to die like flies.”


Fanyana Mlambo was born on a farm near Pretoria in 1918. His young life was happy. He herded cattle, made clay oxen and swam with his friends in the river.

But happy days don’t last forever. Fanyana’s mother and father died. He was left alone. So he went out to work.

His first job was in the white gardens of Pretoria. They paid him 10 shillings a month -less than sixpence a day. When Fanyana was 20 years old, the whole world went to war. They were fighting against Hitler, the ruler of Germany.

South Africa joined the war. And at home the people suffered. Food was expensive. Jobs were scarce. People did not have enough houses. And Fanyana still only earned sixpence a day.

Fanyana was poor and hungry. So in 1939 he joined the army. They called him ‘Private’ Mlambo. The army taught him to drive big trucks. Then in 1942 they sent him to fight the Germans in Italy.

“Those were tough days,” he remembers. “It was cold and wet. There was lots of shooting and noise. We were very scared.”

“The army gave us guns,” he says. “A soldier with a gun doesn’t just stand around. So I shot people with it.” Private Mlambo was fighting for his country.



n 1945 the war ended. Private MIambo came home. He was happy. But again the happiness did not last for long. The army said: “Thanks and goodbye.” They gave him ten pounds, an old bicycle -and two medals.

Fanyana looked for a job. It wasn’t easy. All the soldiers wanted jobs. So he went to work on a coal mine near Vryheid in Natal.

Fanyana became a fireman on a train at the coal mine. He was the man who threw coal into the fire on the train.

He worked on the mine for more than 10 years. It wasn’t too bad. The pay was okay. And Fanyana met a woman who became his wife. Her name was Evelyn. Together they had 10 children.

But then the problems came back. Fanyana’s wife Evelyn died. Then he found out that working with coal is not so healthy. He got very sick.


he mine said he must stop work. They gave him a pension of six pounds a month. And they sent him away.


Some of Fanyana’s kids lived on a farm. The farm was owned by Indians. It was near a small town called Wasbank.

Fanyana’s kids paid rent to the farmer. They lived on the land. They grew mielies and kept cattle. They called the place Estandini.

Fanyana went to live with his kids. He rested his old worn out body. For a while his problems were over. But again not for long.

Many black people Iived on farms in this area. Some people paid rent. Other people owned the land. The government did not like this. They called these places “black spots”.

“People living in black spots must move,” said the government. “They must move to the homelands. Only people who work for a white farmer can live on white land.”

But the people did not want to move. So the government sent bulldozers to smash their houses and trucks to move the people. In 1978 the trucks came to Estandini. They broke down the houses and dumped the people in Ekuvukeni.


“When we came here it was terrible,” says Fanyana. “We got no houses. We only got a toilet made of tin and an old tent. We built our own houses with mud and grass.”

Fanyana needed his pension more than ever. He went to the office in Lady­smith. They gave his pension three times. Then they said the pension was finished.

“Now I stay here in the place of suffering,” says Fanyana Mlambo. “I have no money, no job, no pension, no nothing. Now what do they want me to do? To crawl away and die?”

He is trying to get his pension again. But he does not have much hope. He has suffered too much to hope. Fanyana Mlambo was once a proud soldier. He fought for his country. Now he is old and dying. He has been thrown away and forgotten -like so many others in this country.


If you would like to print or save this article as a PDF, press ctrl + p on your keyboard (cmd + p on mac).

bottom of page