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Many stories of inspiration despite hardship are folded into the Valley of a Thousand Hills

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Zukiswa Pikoli is Daily Maverick's Managing Editor for Gauteng news and Maverick Citizen where she was previously a journalist and founding member of the civil society focused platform. Prior to this she worked in civil society as a communications and advocacy officer and has also worked in the publishing industry as an online editor.

Our story as South Africans is not a single story but a layered and complex one, and there is inspiration to be found even in the most unlikely places. If we look for green shoots, we will find them.

I was working in KwaZulu-Natal this week and drove through the Valley of a Thousand Hills, which is hydrated by the great Msunduzi and Umgeni rivers.

Historically the home of the Zulu people, many battles were fought for the soul of this beautiful valley as the British and Afrikaners tried to claim the land for themselves.

Now a mixture of rondavels and matchbox houses dot the mountains as you make your way along the sharp, winding bends of the roads carved into the escarpment, passing cows, chickens and goats.

I was struck by how sharply the rugged natural beauty of the mountains contrasted with the harsh living conditions of the people there. I looked into the faces of and spoke to people who have little in terms of development and infrastructure, yet wake up every day with a determination to make something of their lives. It was a reminder that our people will always find ways to live despite trying times.

She said ‘yes’

In the village of Inchanga, which is about halfway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, I interviewed a bright young woman called Nontobeko.

At the tender age of 17 she was felled by a stroke and was paralysed for a year. This forced her to abandon her matric year.

Nontobeko had to repeat Grade 11 when she went to a new school, and so great was her determination to succeed that she later passed matric with distinctions.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Dineo Baloyi is a gift to the world and those seeking education

Today, at the age of 32, her love for her community has pushed her to overcome these great personal odds in order to thrive and help others to do so as well.

Nontobeko has built a farming cooperative that provides fresh produce for those in need in her community, such as the elderly, patients at the local clinic and orphans. She also trains others to be able to farm for themselves with the support of the traditional authority.

Our story as South Africans is not a single story but a layered and complex one, and there is inspiration to be found even in the most unlikely places. If we look for green shoots, we will find them.

This is, however, not to say that people are to be struggling perpetually – there is nothing romantic about a life of poverty and difficulty that could have been prevented.

My reflections, therefore, turned to lamenting the old adage of “out of sight, out of mind”, because people living in rural areas are for all intents and purposes hidden from plain sight. They are often the last to be considered when it comes to development and the allocation of resources – something that must change.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem The Invitation reads:

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes’.

That is what I was reminded of as I passed through the rural KwaZulu-Natal villages and reflected on Nontobeko’s story.

She looked at the full moon and said “yes”, and I too am inspired to do so. DM

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