Beginning as early as the 1980’s, refugees from Mozambique poured over the borders into the Nkomazi Region, fleeing the political conflict and eventual war in their home country. The refugee numbers reached the thousands by the mid-80’s, and while many of them contributed significantly to the economic developments in the region, most of the refugees lacked legal documentation and, therefore, were unable to access the medical and social programs offered by the South African government.
During the years of the Apartheid government, the Nkomazi Region was designated as a homeland called Kangwane. Many people were moved from the areas adjacent to the Crocodile River (along the border of the Kruger Park) to make way for the development of huge commercial sugar and citrus farms owned by white farmers and to enable the estbalishment of TSB, the major private employer in the region. People already living in the villages were not permitted to move to other areas of the country without obtaining Government permission. Travelling between the homeland and the rest of the Mpumalanga was thus severely restricted. The resettlement programs disturbed, not only the roots of thousands of ethnic South Africans, but also the natural evolution of Nkomazi communities. This lead to substantial obstacles to sustainable development during the following decades. However TSB has been world leader in developing a small-scale farming program benefiting hundreds of households in Nkomazi.
Today, the Nkomazi region relies heavily on its agricultural productivity and diverse workforce for sustained income. And even though Nkomazi is one of the largest sugar-cane and citrus producing regions in all of South Africa, the commonly erratic weather patterns and climate changes (due largely to the area’s unique terrain) often lead to irregular growing seasons, insufficient crop yields and drastic drops in employment. Add to this, the ever-rising number of immigrant families arriving from Mozambique, Swaziland and beyond in search of employment and the infra-structure of the region becomes increasingly strained.
The Nkomazi community is a rich mix of cultures and traditions that has blended the ‘old’ ways with modern technology, systems and norms to create a pleasant life-style that boasts a country atmosphere with the hustle and bustle of a typically African hawker and market scene.
The influence of the Afrikaaner is found on the commercial farms and in the towns of Malelane, Hectorspruit and Komatiport. This has blended with the English lifestyles of farmers and business people engaged in a thriving tourist industry into the Kruger National Park. The biggest portion of the land is populated by Mozambicans, who have brought the Shangaan influence, and the Swazi’s from Swaziland. The two main languages spoken are SiSwati (like Zulu) and Shangaan. However, in recent years, people from many other countries, including Pakistan, China, England, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Uganda, have settled in the Nkomazi.
The two most significant impacts on the commnity have been the drive by government to bring electricity to every village and the availablity of credit for purchasing cars and building homes. Ultra-modern homes are now found scattered through the villages and there is a continual steam of cars on the roads. Three shopping 'Malls', in Schoemansdal, Tonga and Naas bring the all latest consumer products closer to the people.
Two hospitals, Shongwe and Tonga, along with many village clinics offer modern medicine; however attending a ‘traditional healer’ known as a ‘sangoma’ is frequently the preferred method of treatment. At night the sound of drums echoing through the villages accompanies the sounds of crickets and frogs to lull one to sleep.
The facilities and level of education in the schools have improved over the years and many more youth are attending tertiary institutions. We hope many will return home and contribute to building a better Nkomazi.
The 'Nkomazians' love a good party or event. These are important gatherings as they provide opportunities for garnering community togetherness, for networking and relaxation. Most functions still support traditional entertainment and dances, and, traditional attire is often favoured.
Weddings: The tradition of paying "lobola", where the man pays the bride's family in either cows or an equivalent value for the bride, is still very strong. However the practise is becoming a hottly contested pactice. In the past, lobola was seen as proof that the man had the capacity and commitment to look after his bride. Today, lobola has, in some situations, been 'commercialized' with families expecting a 'high price for the bride'. This, plus the cost of a wedding, puts the price of marriage beyond the reach of many people and increasingly people choose to live together without the committment of marriage. Young women are opposing lobola because some men treat their wives as a "commodity or possession" which they have bought. Many brides choose to have both a customary wedding and a church wedding.
Funerals: The passing of a person is deeply felt by friends and neighbors and often a whole village will turn out for the funeral which takes place in the early morning at sunrise.