My Unsung Heroine

Lungi has worked as our domestic for the last 16 years and, gradually, I have learnt so much about this quiet spoken and humble woman. Her story is quite amazing in my estimation. She is the 5th child born into a poor family of 6 children and yet this has not stopped her from having a spirit of love and gentleness but also being a strict but loving disciplinarian of her children, with her husband, Justice. This is her story.

Lungi was born on 20 August 1955 in KwaMashu, outside Durban. This was at a time when apartheid was in its development stage and KwaMashu was one of the first Black townships in the Durban area. Like all Black townships it was far from work opportunities and transport was expensive especially for the lowest paid. Lungi’s mother was a domestic worker in Durban North and her father left the family soon after her youngest sister, Busi, was born. She has not seen or heard of him again.

In 1969, when Lungi was 14, her mother died at the age of 40. This left the 6 children orphaned and alone. The eldest sibling, Janet, at the age of 22 was the only one with any form of employment, also as a domestic worker in another Durban North home. On her limited income there were no luxuries and definitely no money to pay school fees. This meant that the 4 younger children had to leave school. As the schooling which they had thus far received had been at a ‘township school’ it was very poor education indeed, leaving them with a limited use of English. Sadly, this often causes people to believe that she is stupid but I have gradually learnt that she is most definitely not! During the next 11 years, Lungi was unemployed and unable to attend school so she spent time doing the regular laundry tasks in the local stream and cleaning house. With 2 older brothers, a younger sister and Janet out at work, the household duties fell very much to her. Food was extremely scarce and without the local YMCA they would have gone unclothed. Yet, amazingly Janet kept this family together, disciplined them and instilled deep moral values.

Lungi’s first job, when she was 25, was in a tailor’s where she ironed newly-made clothes. This job lasted for 7 years when she was retrenched as the factory closed down. This clearly explains why she wants to iron every piece of laundry in our home!  A couple of years before starting this job, she met Justice, 7 years her senior, who was a machinist in a factory at Jacobs, south of Durban. When they married in 1980 Justice already had a son, Mdu, from a previous relationship but, as he had been abandoned by his mother, Lungi welcomed him into her home. Over the next few years they had 3 children of their own. Then Justice had a second relationship with the mother of Mdu resulting in the birth of Prince in 1985 who was also abandoned. Lungi agreed that he too be part of their family as ‘he could not be left alone’. Their own 4th child was born to Lungi and Justice in 1989 and was given the name Nkosinathi which means God is with us. He certainly must be when one considers how generous, compassionate and welcoming she has shown herself to be. There is no doubt that Justice too is a man of love and compassion but I think that Lungi has had to be just that much more to agree to take in his 2 children from another relationship and treat them as her own. Both of these young men are now employed at the local brick-making factory.

After a number of years of unemployment, Lungi was finally employed by the local university as a temporary tea-lady where her younger sister, Busi, was employed on a permanent basis. Lungi would fill in whenever Busi was on leave and also if other tea ladies were away. She held this post for just 5 years when, with the university merger, she was again retrenched. It was here that I met her in 1996 as I was in the department in which she worked. Finding her very friendly and pleasant, I asked her to work for us in our home one day a week and she has gradually found other daily jobs at our church and with friends. After 20 years in the factory, Justice too was retrenched as that factory closed down. He finally found work as a night-shift security guard for a block of flats on Durban’s beachfront earning a very meagre salary so these daily domestic work positions were very welcome for the family.

Of their 4 children, the eldest is a painter who was retrenched a few years ago and now does work as he can find it, usually coming via personal reference. Their 2nd child suffered a stroke at the age of 2 and was in a coma for 2 months. On discharge he had to relearn to use his limbs but was found to have lost both his hearing and his speech. He attended Vuleka School for the deaf and dumb at Nkandla until the age of 18 when he had to return home. The family has cared for him these past 15 years and, although he can walk and use his arms without difficulty, he is also mentally disabled having the basic intelligence of a 2 year old.

Delisiwe (known as Dulsi) is the third child and she could not find work after successfully completing Grade 12 until, at the age of 28, she got a post as a House Mother at a Children’s Home, becoming ‘Mother’ to 15 children aged from birth to 16. The Board of the Home encourage their staff to improve their qualifications and she has been able to complete a couple of certificates in Child Care and Social Work. She is extremely happy in this job and dearly misses the children when she has to take each alternate week off.

Nkosinathi, the ‘last-born’, finished school and began, as many young black boys have done before him, to do gardening. He started with us and in no time had jobs with other people in the estate where we live. He has a truly beaming smile and is just like his mother in looks and character. It soon became clear that he, too, has a heart filled with compassion and really wanted to be a nurse. After 18 months he was accepted by McCord Hospital, a former Christian based hospital in Durban, where he excelled. The most amazing thing to us was, on being told that he had been accepted, he responded that he could not go yet because had saved ONLY R3500! – from odd-job gardening over 18 months? How could we not agree to assist with the difference? He came 2nd in class that year and so received a bursary to cover his fees for the 2nd year. Struggling to find work he returned to gardening. Yes, South Africa has a nursing shortage but posts get frozen. Lungi had taught all her children that no job is beneath them and what a fine example of this. After a year he was employed, first part-time and then permanently, by a local hospital. He is now training to be a qualified Registered Nurse and passing exams with distinction.

What is truly wonderful about Lungi & Justice is that they have taught good morals and ethics to the children. There is tremendous respect for their parents and for anyone to whom they are introduced. Whenever a gift is sent home, for example at Christmas, we receive a phone call to say thank you. When we arranged for Lungi to see our doctor when she was very ill, Justice asked for us to ‘thank the kind doctor who made Lungi well.’  There are not many children who say thank you even to their own parents let alone their employers.

But, what truly adds the cherry to the cake of this special couple is that there was a 16-year old girl in Dulsi’s ‘home’ who has no one else in the world. Lungi, once again, could not see a child being left without family so they have adopted her as their grandchild. Mpume was left in a rubbish bin at birth and, after being rescued, was sent to live in this Home. At the age of 18 she will had to leave so Lungi and Justice have embraced her into their family. When Lungi told me about this I could hardly hold back my tears. Here is a family who have been through so much on very little financially and they take in another child. Would I have done it? I don’t think so. I told her how I felt saying how amazing it was that they could do this when they are not rich and her immediate reply was, ‘Richness is in the heart.’ There is no doubt in my mind that this is very true for her and her family. Justice once told me that his only regret is that he could not provide more for his wife and family whom he clearly adores.

We were very touched to receive this SMS from Nkosinathin recently:

l am very plz about what you have done for my family, sometime l wish l can buy you a world, cannot explain the way l feel about things you have done. You gave me name and my family respect in my area. love Nathi


1 Comment

  1. Wonderfully told story Vicky!! Well done!! Lungi definitely one our “unsung heroines” – and there are far too many with the same story! Praise
    God for His goodness!!

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