iNzinga is an extremely remote hillside Zulu village at the end of 25km of dirt road in one of the poorest municipalities in the Impendle Municipality of KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Impendle is one of the most remote parts of KwaZulu Natal Province, which had the highest AIDS infection rate in the world in 2007.
iNzinga is arid, mostly sunny, spare and stunningly beautiful. It is blessed with a reliable supply of clean water from springs on Impendle Mountain, yet suffers from very high rates of malnutrition, illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, crime, infant mortality, and HIV/AIDS.
The Zulu were great, proud, innovative and fierce warriors. They were the last of the South African indigenous peoples to be defeated by the British during colonization, and maintained their fierce independence even through apartheid. The people of iNzinga today are Zulu – proud, generous, and easy to smile. All speak the Zulu language, and most speak English as well as Zulu. If you’ve seen any of the movies about Shaka Zulu, you have some highly dramatized sense of the people. Yet there are some truths from those movies. The dress was very accurate to traditional Zulu dress, and the depiction of the kraal (community structure) in the round was accurate and still holds true of many rural village structures today. People still live primarily in traditional round mud houses with thatched roofs.
In small, remote villages like iNzinga, there are no jobs or employment opportunities except for a few teachers and government administrators. Women constitute the large majority of the population as most men of working age, who are able, leave to large cities to find work and send enough money home to help the family survive. Unfortunately, this brought not only the breakdown of the traditionally patriarchal family unit, but because the men were gone for so long (most come rarely home due to the cost of travel), some brought AIDS home to their villages.
Today, with much of the traditional family and village social structure decimated by AIDS deaths and men working afar, overwhelming poverty, no real prospects for jobs, underfunded and understaffed education, and malnourishment, these are communities on the brink. Communities that sustained a people for thousands of years (local San people cave paintings are among the oldest in the world), are now imploding under the weight of disease, poverty, hunger, and despair.
Eighty-six percent of people in this area live below the South African poverty line (most live on less than $2 per day). The unemployment, illiteracy, and crime rate are all 50 percent or higher. The HIV/AIDS infection rate is the highest in the world. Most of the crime is property theft and domestic violence, as is common with this level of poverty. Most income is in the form of government subsidies and money sent from fathers and husbands working afar.
Despite the life these daunting figures allude to, our experience is that the majority of people in iNzinga are kind, warm people who are willing to work hard for a better life for themselves and the betterment of their community. There is strength and hope. Women have found strength and leadership and are becoming the backbone of the communities. Inkosi (tribal chiefs) and other village leaders are realizing that much of the answers lie in the great Zulu traditions that always sustained them through tough times, and a sense of community, hard work, resilience, and fierce Zulu determination and fight are evident, even in the face of these tremendous odds.
This is a community of great need. And a community of great value; a community small enough and hard-working enough that they can drastically improve their own lives with just a little bit of the right help overcoming poverty and disease and lack of jobs that have overwhelmed them.
They are a people with fertile land, but not enough equipment, seeds, or knowledge to make it produce for them. A hard-working people with no opportunities to turn their work into anything fruitful. A strong community caring for each other when the demand for care is overwhelming. iNzinga and other communities like it are so full of poverty and despair, yet also so full of hope and great, unrealized value.
Helping this village get from its knees to its feet will be our gift (our isipho) to them. Once on their feet, they will be able to add their gifts to the world. And they are gifts of great value.