By Sheila Berry
2021 was to be the year of jam making in Ophondweni. Not any jam but a very particular jam with the name of Qhomqhom in Zulu. This is the name given to gooseberries that grow in abundance in this part of KwaZulu Natal.
Fikile had been very excited when she first saw bottles of this beautiful golden jam, produced from the gooseberries picked by women who attended a trauma counselling session at the nearby creche last year in May 2020. Rather than dwelling on the shared stories that brought fears of hired hit men walking into her home at dusk and asking for her by name or a barrage of bullets blasting into her home at 10 o’ clock from a vehicle driving by, Fikile immediately saw the potential in making Quomquom jam.
As well as being an activist, Fikile was an entrepreneur, always on the lookout for projects to uplift the community. Once she got an idea into her head, she was like a dog with a bone…. she would not let go of it but would see it through to the end. Like her ideas for a recycling centre for plastic, tins and glass at her home that would clean up the litter lying around the place and generate a source of income.
Fikile always thought big. She had seen an article about a glass factory in Swaziland that produced handmade animals – the Big 5 – hippos, rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, leopards. She had been determined to visit the factory to learn more about the process and was extremely annoyed when Covid and lockdown prevented her from making the trip to Swaziland.
So, she was on the lookout for another project she could tackle that would not involve a long-distance journey to kickstart it. The Quomquom jam making project was a perfect alternative.
Fikile could hardly contain her excitement to produce bottles of sweet delicious golden jam when the gooseberries ripened next season. Such a stark contrast to the black bitter coal dust that laid a dark pall over the landscape and found its way into every nook and cranny, including her drinking water.
Sadly, Fikile never lived to realise her dream of gold. Her life was brought to a brutal end when 6 bullets were pumped into her body by two gunmen one night as she was cutting onions to make supper. Instead of bottles of gold, her family and the Ophondweni community have been left with a black brooding cloud of fear and sadness that permeates everything whenever they think of the violent end to her life.
It will take more than sweet golden Quomquom jam to remove the mounting bitterness that one year has passed since that dark day yet still Fikile’s murderers roam free, unidentified and unapprehended. Like the earth that is ripped apart by the Tendele coal mine, these painful wounds cut deep, and are the legacy we leave for future generations to inherit.