Tembisa celebrates 60 years of colourful history

James Dlamini has lived in Tembisa on the East Rand all his life, and according to him, "there is no better place to live".

His four-roomed house was one of the first to be built in Xubeni section 58 years ago.

Dlamini, 60, reflected on the multicultural township as it marked 60 years of existence last month.

He said a group of families were moved to the area from a farm in Pinedene, outside Olifantsfontein.

"There were farms and open fields around here. Our families were the first [to be moved] into the area. We lived in shacks made of wood. A year later [in 1958] a farmer called Mazambane built us these houses.

"The houses were later taken over by the municipality."

The first school in Xubeni, Dlamini said, was Marhulana Primary School where he attended school until Standard 2. The school remains in good shape today.

Dlamini took over ownership of the family home when his parents died, and now lives there with his children.

His section, the first in Tembisa, was called Tshamahansi but was later renamed Xubeni.

The first shops in Xubeni were owned by the Thabethe family, who are still operating from there.

Joshua Khanyile, 70, arrived in Tembisa in 1965. He was a librarian at the township's first library at Rabasotho civic precinct.

As one drives down Rev RTJ Namane Drive, popularly known as "Straight Line", the vibrant, lively nature of the township is apparent.

The popular Swazi Inn market place stretches from near Mehlareng Stadium down a busy linking road to neighbouring Ivory Park.

While the Namane Drive goes through the busiest part of Tembisa, the township's main artery is Andrew Mapheto Drive. Also known as the M18 or, colloquially "Rabasotho Line", it is also the route of the Harambee BRT system.

While efforts have been made by residents and Ekurhuleni metro to make the once dusty township look beautiful, there are black spots here and there. These include the infamous Sethokga Hostel near the Oakmoor train station. Apart from looking shabby, this hostel is also feared for harbouring criminals and fugitives.

But for some, like Joshua Phaiphai, 53, the hostel has been home for 33 years.

"[During apartheid] you needed a permit and paid monthly rent to live here, or else you would be arrested by the Black Jacks [municipal police]," recalls Phaiphai.

"Only men were allowed to live here, and we were not allowed to remain indoors during the day as we were expected to go out and work.

"The police would lock the rooms in the morning and open them at 4pm when we were expected to return from work," he recalled.

"Now life here is better; we use water and electricity for free, and we do not pay for our rooms. The biggest challenge is crime, but we are happy."

Among its icons, Tembisa counts the late Struggle icon Thami Mnyele, who was also a celebrated artist.


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