Eni Nenzhelele

Eni Nenzhelele


I had a happy childhood. Now, that I have said these words I think to myself, “How can you say that?” We were so very poor and often went to bed hungry. Yes, that was true but I also had a happy childhood and even today I can say, “Ndi takala” – I am happy.  By saying this it does not take away the hardship but it does not make me unhappy.

But let me begin when I was a child. My mother was called Tambani and she had eight children, I was number 4. In those days, when I was a child in 1950, life was far more difficult than now. My father had left home to go and look for work but never returned. My mother was left with 8 children. Every morning we went into the hills to search for wild spinach, miroho – that is the Venda word for wild spinach or any green leaves that we can cook. School, we thought, was a waste of time and furthermore only boys went to school. The old people used to say, “school make little girls mad”. I did not want to go mad so I did not go to school.

We planted pumpkins and beans; we looked for wild honey in baobab trees; we picked  wild cotton and collected wild fruit. In those days there were fewer people and more food in the veldt. We had goats and a few chickens.

One evening, we had already been asleep for quite a while in our kitchen hut when we heard, “Kho! Kho! Kho!” Someone was knocking on the door. We were too scared to make a sound

Aa! Ndi madekwana!” – “good evening” in our tshiVenda language. My mother recognized the voice and opened the door and there stood her sister Mushou and her son Malori. We blew on the coals and made tea and gave them something to eat. We were glad to see our aunt and Malori. It was exciting getting a visitor that time of the night. We all had tea but quickly fell asleep again. The two sisters were talking and that night, before I dozed off, I heard that my aunt was running away from her unkind husband. She could not stand his cruelty any longer.

Eni’s house. Ina with Pastor Piet Mavheta, Eni’s cousin ‘Malori’ who acted as interpreter. Eni is hidden behind a grandchild

Now there were even more mouths to feed.

At night my sister and I tried to think of ways to help our mother. My mother and her sister made their own plan to feed all of us. They started raising chickens. They did not even have enough food for us children but they managed to feed the chickens. After a few months they had 30 hens. They borrowed a donkey cart with three donkeys from a neighbour and early one morning set off for Musina, about 40 miles away. Musina is our closest town. It took them two days to get there and two days to get back and only 18 hens survived the trip but they came back with a bag of mealiemeal, sugar and better plans to protect the hens against the blazing sun next time. My mother and her sister Mushou struggled to feed ten mouths but there was always laughter, we were poor but happy to be together. They made many plans to survive so that today, I can honestly say, we were often hungry but seldom without fun.

It was close to Christmas one year and our mothers had forty two chickens ready to take to Musina. Early one morning they set off. When they reached the Nwanedi River the donkeys refused to walk through. They shouted and dragged and urged the donkeys on. They were halfway through the river when suddenly much water came rushing down. My mother and Mushou managed to cling to tree trunks and dragged themselves out. Donkeys and chickens were lost forever. Later that morning the two women arrived home on foot and told us what had happened. That was one of the few times I saw my mother really heartbroken.

Eni with her husband Samson who is also part of the ‘Malappi’ team

Today, I am a grandmother of seven grandchildren; I am the supervisor of our embroidery group and everybody in my home is in the malappie team – the cloth team.

My eyes are not so good anymore, but I received a pair of reading glasses and now I can see very well. I want to thank everybody who buys our embroideries. Please remember these embroideries are food to us. I sign my name Eni.
Thank you.”

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