Maverick Citizen

THE ACTIONISTS

Unable to turn away from the need in Alexandra, Linda Twala continues to serve

His work has covered everything from feeding schemes to building houses and planting thousands of trees; providing support to single mothers, people with disabilities and more than five thousand senior citizens.

Linda Twala is the opposite of what he calls a “what’s-in-it-for-me” person.

When you walk into his house, it’s clearly a place of work. People are milling around outside sorting through donated items. Big bowls of onions and potatoes are on the floor inside. Upstairs is his living space, crammed with photographs, newspaper cuttings, awards and memorabilia – a museum of artefacts documenting a lifetime of dedicated work in the community.

Linda is the grandson of John Hey Ka Nxele, one of the first residents of Alexandra, a township in Johannesburg that is now home to more than one million people in a single square mile. Many of its residents have no work, little food and inadequate accommodation. 

Linda has lived in Alexandra his entire life. 

In the 1960s, a woman by the name of Rosie Tshabalala would often come by the house, asking for food. Inspired by his own mother’s generosity, he decided to help her. She was so grateful that she would wave her stick and say, “One day, I want you to be the person who buries me.”

In 1967 she died and Linda honoured her request by arranging for her to be taken from the government mortuary and given a dignified burial at the church across the road from his house. This, he says, is how it all began.

“From that time, I continued to help the destitute… I was born to serve, not to destroy.”

Over the past 55 years, more and more people have come to Linda for help. He is unable to say no; it is deeply instilled in him to help people. He is passionate about Alexandra and about the people who live there. 

His work has covered everything from feeding schemes to building houses and planting thousands of trees; providing support to single mothers, people with disabilities and more than five thousand senior citizens. 

It’s not that there is any grand plan – he simply tries to help everyone who comes to him asking for help. And with that has earned himself legendary status, which explains the photographs with Madiba, his relationship with Oprah Winfrey and the Mahatma Gandhi award.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Sesi Mahlangu likes to see children walking tall – and it starts with a pair of shoes

This year Linda wants to raise enough money to pay for 600 children from Alexandra to go on a helicopter ride to inspire them to achieve more – to let them know they can be pilots, doctors or lawyers. DM

The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who don’t just talk, but who take direct action. The people you can go to when you don’t know where to turn; who won’t stop working for the change they want to see in the world. The Actionists is also a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa.

Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles a wide range of people around the country who are providing vital services, intuitive solutions and unrelenting activism. And through the website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide tangible ways for people to get involved. The intention is to inspire and inform, to challenge the idea that nothing is being done, to create a network of Actionists and to bring people who need help together with the people who can provide a solution. 

Daily Maverick will be running an Actionist profile every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next year. Get in touch, nominate Actionists in your circle at www.theactionists.co.za or email [email protected].

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