In 2008 Thembinkosi “Terror” Qondela defied the odds and resigned from his permanent job at the University of Cape Town (UCT) to focus on the development of his own community, Site C.
He put to an end what was a promising career for the benefit of others by starting Whizz ICT, where he trained the less fortunate to use computers – all on a shoestring budget.
“I was growing as an academic, but my passion was to serve the community,” he said.
“I had two choices, either to grow as an academic or to go back to my community. It was a big decision that was not supported by my own family, friends and those who knew me well.”
The 49-year-old could easily have kept his job at UCT and moved to an upmarket neighbourhood, but because of his love for people he chose to remain in his mother’s shack, a shack he moved into when he first moved to Cape Town in 1992. Having worked as a mine policeman at Rustenberg Platinum mines between 1990 and 1991, Mr Qondela, originally from Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape, moved to Cape Town to further his studies.
His application to study social work at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) was turned down, but that did not deter him. In 1993 he studied political economy at Khanya College for a year.
Today Mr Qondela is taking his fight a step further. He is one of a few individuals who will be competing in the upcoming local government elections as independent candidates.
He is squaring up against current councillor Mlulami Velem of the ANC, Phindile Maxiti of the Democratic Alliance and Lazola Somazembe of the Economic Freedom Fighters.
He described his decision to stand as a ward councillor as a difficult one, and as a response to “voices” within the community. He had been approached by many individuals to stand as the ward candidate, he said.
“I did not support that until this year when active members of the community painted a picture of what is happening in the ward,” he said. “They feel that the ruling party (ANC) is not helping them and their (ANC) unwillingness to resolve their problems is another challenge. They are taking me to office where I will have power and authority to effect change.”
Asked whether any political parties approached him to be their candidate, Mr Qondela said: “I did not see any credible organisation that I could involve myself with. And they should be questioning themselves. If people in one community can approach someone to be their candidate that means something is not right within their ranks.”
Mr Qondela labelled standing as an independent as a monumental task that required a lot of effort and financial support, amounting to about R74 000.
However, his campaign has progressed without any hinderance, with his funding coming from the community, friends – and his own pocket. But it is his good track record that has put him head and shoulders above the rest. “If you have a good track record, you don’t need to go and ask for support and make promises to people,” said Mr Qondela.
If elected ward councillor, Mr Qondela said his biggest project would be the launch of a ward development fund, to develop skills and revive the ward. He vowed to contribute 30 percent of his salary towards the fund. He would then request local businesses to contribute 5 percent of their profits, with every working individual contributing R10. The money would then be used towards the development of the ward and its people, particularly young people who could not study at tertiary institutions. “People must realise that they are responsible for their development. If we can do that people would be very proud of where they come from and also contribute towards further development of the area,” said Mr Qondela.
Mr Qondela said the community struggled with youth unemployment, crime and drugs, and these were issues that did not only need government intervention, but community involvement. He said government should avail community facilities to young people for their development.
“We must blame society for the challenges faced by our young people,” he said. “Here in Site C we have a Blue Hall sport centre, but young people are not allowed to use it. What is happening there is you find burial society meetings and other gatherings. When we close these facilities for them we are sending them to the streets.”
Mr Qondela said the time had come for the people of Site C to take ownership of their community and drive their own development and not rely on political organisations.