Ntombi Theys is a lifelong resident of Alexandra, one of Johannesburg's oldest black townships. Her childhood sprawled across one of the most violent times in the neighbourhood's history, as it became an epicentre of protest and resistance against the apartheid regime. For much of her adult life, Theys has been deeply involved in city politics as a ward committee member and community organiser, working to reduce the neighbourhood's high rates of poverty and unemployment, and to fight crime in the area. She told her story at the offices of the Alexandra Stadium, where she works as an administrator, and at her home in Alexandra.
You know those black, black winter nights, the kind when you put your hand out and can't even see your fingers? That's how it was. Very dark and very cold. I'd been calling the city for months complaining about the streetlight outside. People could fall, I told them. People could be robbed. It's not safe for a street to not have light, I said. But in actual fact, things can take a long time to get fixed in Alex, things can take a long time to change, and so that night the light was still off.
My little house is attached to my mother's, and she has the tub, so when I woke up, around 5 am, I went around to her side to bath there. Only when I got close, that's when I could see something was really wrong.
Her door was open and the bars on the window were all twisted up. When I looked in, it was like the place was full of holes. A hole where the TV was supposed to be. A hole where the heater was supposed to be. The microwave was gone; so was the kettle. They'd even dragged our fridge halfway from the kitchen to the front door, but I guess that one was too much, or maybe they got spooked, because they left it right there next to the couch.
At first, I was afraid to go any further. My mother and my daughter were inside, neh? And it wouldn't be the first time you hear of someone being shot and killed for a television in Alex. In actual fact, that's how it often is.