Jacqueline Cox

Jacqueline Cox

Age at interview: 49

Darling, South Africa

Born in the scenic winelands of Wellington in Paarl (which is barely an hour’s drive from Cape Town), Jacky is a slight and cheerful woman. Her expressive smile exposes two missing front teeth, which make her smile even more endearing. Her voice is quiet yet firm. There is no doubt from the matter-of-fact way in which she speaks that Jacky is a no-nonsense woman. Yet when she talks of her childhood, and even adult mischief, there is a glint in her eye that reveals another side of her one might not immediately see upon meeting her. Her Ithemba home is a worn-out wooden cabin separated into different rooms with bedsheets as makeshift drapes. There are many children milling around the home. The sandy soil outside the cabin has been transferred from elsewhere to help soak up water in what appears to be a wetland. Even in this minimal space, Jacky has decorated the home with mats and seat covers made from recycled supermarket bags, adding vibrant colour into her home.

I was born in a place called Wellington — which is in Paarl[1] in Boerland — in 1968, into a family of eight children, all of whom are girls. Eight girls in one household resulted in some hard times. Our mother was a single parent raising all eight of us. We grew up in poverty. My childhood taught me to be compassionate towards others and to think about other people's needs.

After attending St. Alban's Primary in Wellington, I went to Bergrivier High School. It was after completing grade 11, when I was 18 years old, that everything went downhill. I had to drop out of school and start working in order to make extra income for the household. My mother had to work days and nights to provide for us, which meant we were home without her most of the time.

Life growing up was hectic financially, but also because of the clashes amongst us siblings in the house. As you might imagine, we did not always get along very well, and so there was always a lot of fighting. Yet, we still had a very strong bond. Living in a small space made it even more hectic — ’cause, you know, when you want be in the bathroom, there's always six or seven others who also need to use the bathroom.

For my mother, it was important that everyone in the family got treated equally. So, if there wasn’t enough of something, then nobody got it. It was a bit tough because sometimes you really wanted that thing, but then you couldn’t get it because there are seven others who also need to get it. That's how my own children are also growing up now.

I learnt to share, to be patient and tolerant, and especially to be a helping hand. Sharing and helping are the two most important things in my life. Even if it is two o'clock in the morning and someone knocks on my door, I will get up. There is no way I'm going to sleep. I'm going to get up and see what they need.

A recipe for mischief

As much as we [sisters] fought, we also did many things together, things that I find a bit embarrassing now. We gave our mother problems, not serious ones, just childish, naughty problems. We were not rude but we used to create chaos.

One vivid memory I have is of a woman who lived next door to us. She used to be our target when we played Toktokkie. Toktokkie is when you take a stone and fling it. We used to fling the stones on the neighbour’s door. Then she would open the door and find nobody there. Or we'd throw stones on her roof, and she'd come out thinking somebody's looking for her and then there’d be nobody. We used to tease her constantly, and then, when my mom would get home, she'd call my mom complaining, “Your children are rude! They’re harassing me.” We would all get a hiding from my mother, but at the end of the day, we would laugh together about what we’d been up to.

We also had a game that we used to play every year during Guy Fawkes.[2] You take an elastic stocking, put sand in it, roll it in ash, make it wet, and put a cord it. When you’re done, it really looks like a snake! We would set up our makeshift snake in the middle of the road, hide, and wait for some unsuspecting person to walk by. When somebody comes by, we’d pull on the cord to make it look like a moving snake. We used to have fun with that thing, I'm telling you! People used to scream, and then my grandfather would say to my mom, "The children are outside again." Whenever they heard people screaming, they knew it was us.

I remember one of my sisters used to find frogs and operate on them, because she said she was going to become a surgeon. Whenever my mum caught her, she would be banned from playing outside for a week, but that didn’t stop her. Thinking back, I realise that my sister was just curious and experimenting.

My mom would call us and say, "You better make sure you are in bed right now." We would agree to come home only to slink in through one door and sneak out through the other door. We used to get a lot of hidings because we got ourselves into a lot of trouble. Eight sisters are a lot and it is a recipe for mischief.

Even with all the trouble and fights, it was lovely growing up with many sisters. We would fight amongst ourselves, but if anyone else dared come in or threaten one of us, then all eight would attack that person. Our motto was, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” If you hit one sister, you had to deal with the other seven. We looked out for each other.

Just down and out

After dropping out of school, I started working in different places, but I was never happy. It was always one problem or another. When I was 24, I had my first child. Her name is Kim and she is 25 now.

It was a very difficult period of my life when she was born, because I was a single mother. I had to move from place to place because, you know, when you’re not working, you're not welcome in people’s homes. When Kim was nine, her paternal grandmother came to get her, and so she started living with her.

I had my second child, Jarren, when Kim was seven years old. He is 18 years old now. The real problem came when I had Chadd and Monrico within a year of each other in 2004 and 2005.

Life was already a struggle — because my family was angry with me for having children — and so no one was helping me. I understand their anger. I was working, but it was hard to get enough food for all of my children. I wasn't really stranded; I was just down and out. It was at this point, 13 years ago, when Monrico was six months old, that I moved to the Ark [City of Refuge].[3]

It doesn't end here

Even while there [at the Ark], I continued to be a bit rebellious. I was always one of those outcast type of children. I was at a point of my life where I didn't give a hoot about anything. In the Ark I started learning values, though.

One of the pastors at the Ark encouraged me when she said, "You know, life is not in the Ark. It doesn't end here. This is where your life starts, and this is where you need to pick up. You must leave the past behind and start afresh."

They had educational programmes like beading and parenting skills. Before the Ark I did not know about or even care about parenting. That changed my whole mind-set on life. I eventually realised that my children were actually suffering. At first, I didn't have that motherly instinct, that maternal feeling. I started attending the parenting classes until I felt ready to leave the Ark.

I remember thinking to myself that I would never be in a situation that would make me come back to the Ark. As I was leaving, Pastor Greg said to me, "Jacky, your life is out there. You're supposed to do children's ministry."

I looked at him when he said that, and I thought to myself, “This man must be mad.”

When I look at my life now, there's always hundreds of kids around me. There are always kids that come to my home sometimes just to plait my hair, and sometimes it’s just to be around me.

Start a new life

I moved from the Ark into Mfuleni to start a new life, and that is when I got some work looking after an HIV-positive woman who was very ill.[4] When I moved in with her, she seemed to be so close to dying. Nobody tended to her. She was on antiretroviral drugs [ARVs] for managing her HIV status, but nobody had been going to pick up her tablets.

One morning, soon after I arrived, she called me because she was coughing blood. I rushed her to the nearest clinic. From that point on, I was up every morning giving her the ARVs, looking after her, and washing her. It was just like looking after a baby. After a while, she started to feel better, so I had more time to do other things.

One day I was on my way home from visiting friends in Ithemba [Farms][5] when a woman came to me and said, “Please, don't you want to look after my home?” She didn't know me from a bar of soap. She continued, “I've got nobody to look after my animals; I've got nobody honest to live here.”

I responded, telling her that I've got a place to stay. I've got electricity. I've got everything a woman needs. She explained to me that she had come to visit her farm and found that the people who used to stay there to look after the farm had just packed up and left.

I agreed to take a look at the farm, and when I got there, I saw a goat with her kid. Immediately, my heart just went out to the goat. I just felt I couldn’t leave the goats alone. I wondered who was feeding the goats. My oldest son, who was with me, said, "Mommy, let’s move here." I agreed to take care of the animals during the day, with the understanding that I’d still be going home at night.

One night, after feeding the animals, my children decided they were not going home to Mfuleni, so I agreed to stay on the farm for the weekend. But after that, there was no going back. We only went back to collect our stuff. That’s how I started farming, and this is how I moved to Ithemba Farms on Old Faure Road.

This goat cried for me every night

At first I was sceptical about the whole idea of farming with livestock, but once you get to work with the animals, you fall in love with them. Goats, for example, are easy to handle and fall in love with because they're very human like.

Can you imagine me crying and praying for a goat that was having trouble delivering? People thought I was mad, but I was praying out loud that night. One of the goats that I was looking after was in labour, and because it was pushing too hard, the whole womb turned the wrong way round, such that the mouth of the womb was on the inside and the kid couldn't come out. I started crying. It’s so embarrassing to say but I started crying. The goat was looking at me. She was expecting me to help her, yet I was just standing there helplessly. At that point I didn't know anything about looking after animals. She was unable to deliver and died; it was heartbreaking.

That process with the animals was like an initiation into livestock farming. Beauty, from the farm next to ours, used to tell me I was a terrible livestock farmer, because she said I was humanising the animals. I can’t help but to develop close bonds with the animals around me.

Beauty had a small goat that ran from her farm to my farm. I phoned Beauty to let her know her goat was in my yard. And I asked her to come and fetch the goat, but she didn’t. So for a whole week, I let the goat sleep in my house, because she was still a baby.

She used to sleep at the foot of my bed, and in the morning, when it was wake-up time, she used to jump on my bed. She would stand over my head, so I would chase her off. But she would keep jumping back on until I decided to get up. When I finally did get up, she would run to the kitchen and jump on the table. I’d have to put butter on bread for the goat to eat. There are a lot of people on this farm who can confirm that this goat cried for me every night after Beauty took it back.

One day Beauty came to me to tell me she needed to slaughter the goat. I broke down and begged her not to kill the goat. She said to me, "Jacky, you're a farmer. She's not a pet." I said, "Yeah, but she became my pet." That is how I relate with all the animals that I work with.

A pig of ours tastes better

At the moment I have pigs. To me, pigs are good because I can make a faster income than with other animals. When they give birth, they don't give birth to just one or two babies; they give birth to roughly 14 to 21, which means that, including the mother and father, you can have as many as 23 pigs at one time. They take about eight months to grow fully; then you can sell them or you can breed them again. Usually, I breed my pigs three times a year.

With pigs it is relatively easy to take care of them: You feed them in the morning and give them water. In mid-afternoon you check on their water and give them more water if necessary. And at night you feed them again and give them more water.

If you see that your piggies are getting skinny, that likely means that your pig has worms. What I do when this is the case is take an aloe plant, chop it up, and put it in their water for three days. The reason I don't use chemicals is I've heard from one of the ladies that buys pigs from me that whenever they slaughter a pig of ours, it tastes different and better than the pigs you buy in the shop. So I don't use chemicals on my animals at all. Nope.

Mr. Juncker, the owner of the farm that I had been taking care of, whose wife had initially invited me to live on the farm, used to be in Eastern Cape. Then a lot of something happened to him financially. He phoned me and said, "Jacky, I can't feed the pigs anymore." So for two years I fed the pigs using my children's salaries before, eventually, he gave the pigs to me.

From that point I continued to keep the pigs until the housing department came for a census. They told me they had been made aware that the owner of the farm was no longer active on the farm, and I confirmed this. They contacted Mr. Juncker, who told them he was no longer able to continue farming and that he was happy for me to continue farming if I wished to. So the employees of the housing department noted that the farm owner was inactive but the farmworker, me, was active. That is how I gained control over some land in Ithemba.

Running when there’s help needed

I am a community worker in the Ithemba community. I work with old people, women, and especially with abused women and children. I don't know how I started doing this work. It’s just a passion that I've got, a passion that I learnt over the years working with people and running when there's help needed.

This is a way of being that I learnt from how I was raised. I have been this way since childhood. As an adult, I realised that there's a lot of women out there who don't know their rights and a lot of them don’t know how to advocate for themselves when they are abused.

Being with Surplus People Project [SPP][6] and the Food Sovereignty Campaign [FSC],[7] I learnt what my rights there. I remember thinking at the time that, “I have to share it with other women because being abused is not something that you can just overlook.” I'm just trying to help other people see what their rights are and to help them overcome their fear of being abused.

We're not animals who live here!

I wish that each and every family that lives in Ithemba could have a proper place to stay, with water and electricity. I feel that government has the attitude that since certain people have been without electricity and have been without the necessities of life, that they can continue to live without them. For me, government should really consider creating an environment where they can be happy and where they can at least live as normal people.

The wooden cabins that people in Ithemba live in are not safe for people to live in over long periods. There are a lot of people on the farm who burn to death or freeze in winter. We lost a three-week-old baby because of the cold in the winter of 2017.

When a shack breaks, like when mine broke in 2017, the government doesn’t allow you to repair it. They say it is government property and should only be repaired or replaced by the government. The problem is that they just don’t do the repairing.

There is an old lady who used to live down the road from me who has been in hospital twice because of injuries she got from holes in the cabin floor, because it is so old and broken. I mean, we're not animals who live here!

Whether we occupied the land or not, they can’t just evict you if you’ve been in a place for more than 72 hours. They have to settle whoever has occupied the land somewhere first. My community has been in court, fighting the government about evictions and resettlement for a long time now. I think we're going to have to go back to court again, and this time we're going to claim our rights.[8]

The more confident and vocal I became

I started at Surplus People Project about four years ago. I attended an SPP community task meeting after being invited by a friend. During the meeting, updates on community activities were shared and tasks were set for upcoming activities. At that point I didn't know my head from my toes. I kept on attending meetings and going to workshops. The more I went, the more I learned about things, like how to do natural farming without any toxins and chemicals.

The more I learnt, the more confident and vocal I became. Eventually I was selected as the secretary of Ithemba Farmers Association and the contact person for SPP. I also started involving other people as well, because there's a lot of work to be done. There were workshops for abused women and workshops for women on income generation, like beading and fabric painting.

As a result of what I have learnt from my time working with SPP and my community, I can speak to ministers and advocate for my community around land rights, because I know what the law says. As a result of my work, I was nominated as the secretary of the Food Sovereignty Campaign in 2017. I have been a member of FSC for about four years.

At the FSC, they teach members how to sustain ourselves from the land, and they fight alongside us for land. They teach us our rights. They help us with occupying land and give us education on land reform rights. The campaign is helpful, especially for the legal battles.

Our water was cut off

In the early months of 2017, our water was off for two weeks. In order to get water, we had to pay 10 rand per bucket across the road. We are all unemployed, so how are we going to get 50 rand for five buckets a day?

The reason the government shut the water off was that we had done an interview for an SABC 2 documentary on evictions.[9] We showed the world what was happening in Ithemba. The same day that the documentary was on television, our water was cut off because the municipality wanted to punish us for speaking out about the eviction threats.

Our children were being mocked at school because they stunk. We had a lot of problems because we had no water.

During the two-week shutoff, FSC, along with SPP, came in, and they helped us with legal issues, because there were 18 people arrested for protesting the shutoff. After two court sessions, our people were finally released.

People needed to leave

For many years this land was just lying idle until a gentleman called Oupa (“Grandpa”) Mdolo, who has now passed away, approached the municipality and got permission to start his farm. That was more than 20 or 30 years ago now. Seeing how much empty land there was and that Opun had started farming, other people also started coming to farm, and that is how the farming community grew.

One day in 2008, officials from the housing department came and saw that there were people living here. That's when they started the first eviction process, but they didn't get very far, because that eviction was stopped because the farmers were given permission to continue farming until the housing department needed the land.

Then later that year, they came back and said that the government wanted to build houses, so people needed to leave. This was strange because a few years before, they had said there was no way in hell that they could build houses here because it is a wetland. I think they changed their minds because after 10 years of farmers bringing soil to soak all the water and the wetness away, they realised they might be able to build. And so they started threatening eviction again. That is when the Ithemba community took the government to court and won the court case.

The court ruling stated that if the housing department wanted the land back, then they have to give alternative land for people to resettle to. In November 2016, the housing department came with eviction letters again, saying that they have identified Penhill farm as the new settlement area. The problem, however, is that there are already other farmers there who have occupied that land. I think moving there will cause serious problems with those that are already settled on Penhill farm.

Maybe they want this place for something else

The Ithemba community has been having meetings with rural development and land reform officials recently. The officials are currently conducting a survey to check who is on what farm and if the farm is still active. They will try and get land reform rights for those people who have been on the farm eight years and longer.

There are also people in Ithemba who are not farmers but are just staying here because they don't have anywhere else to go while waiting to be allocated housing. I've made a list of people who need housing and sent it through to the rural development office, because they said they need to distinguish between people who need housing and farmers who need land.

The other issue we are dealing with is that the housing department has a condition that if they facilitate the resettlement of Ithemba farmers, the farmers must practise integrated farming with both livestock and vegetable farming. This is not going to work because 95 percent of the Ithemba community are pig and livestock farmers. There are very few who do crop farming and poultry.

Their conditions are unreasonable, because how do I know how to plant a seed when I'm a pig farmer? It is setting people up for failure. The government’s strategy will deprive people of an income and push them into greater poverty.

I think they think that the community is a bunch of dummies. There are people who are educated here, very well educated.

The government is playing with us. Maybe they want this place for something else. In any case, we’ll continue fighting.

I have not given up that cause

When we meet with Jacky a year later, she is living in an established community in Darling with her children. The tired but determined Jacky we met in Ithemba is now a vibrant, glowing, and equally determined Jacky.

After over a decade of living in Ithemba and working to protect the interests of the members of the Ithemba community, I realised how tired and drained I was by working so hard and seeing so little change. I have not given up that cause, but when the opportunity to leave Ithemba and move to Darling — an hour’s drive from Ithemba — presented itself, I took it.

A friend offered me a place to stay with my children, and I could not deny myself and my children such an opportunity. So now I am still working on the issues facing Ithemba residents, but I am doing so remotely.

Here in Darling I have not been able to avoid getting myself involved in community activist projects. I have only been here a few months, but neighbours and community members already know that I am committed to fighting for what is right. And I have already started mobilising women so that we can create a support system for abused women and children here in Darling.

I want to be remembered as a hardworking person who always fought with government and who will always be in their faces, because that's who I am. I will fight for my people ’til the very last drop. Kids need a role model. They need somebody to look up to, somebody they can trust, and somebody who will encourage them and uplift their spirit. I’ve tried my best to do all of that in Ithemba, and I will continue doing so.

  1. Paarl is the third oldest town and European settlement in the Republic of South Africa and the largest town in the Cape Winelands.
  2. Guy Fawkes Night — also known as Guy Fawkes Day, Bonfire Night, and Firework Night — is an annual commemoration observed on November 5, primarily in Great Britain. It commemorates the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
  3. The Ark is a place in Cape Town for people who find themselves homeless. A Christian ministry, it provides food, shelter, and clothes for people who have nowhere else to go.
  4. Mfuleni is a relatively new, predominantly black, township about 40 kilometres from Cape Town, South Africa.
  5. The Ithemba Farmers Association consists of 300 poor black households that have practised subsistence agriculture for as long as 25 years on a piece of land between Khayelitsha and Eersterivier.
  6. Established in the 1980s, the Surplus People Project (SPP) publicises and supports communities in the struggles against apartheid state forced removals. This work culminated in the publication of the seminal five-volume SPP reports documenting some of these forced removals. SPP emerged from the radical liberal tradition in South Africa, and in the post-apartheid era, SPP’s focus shifted to support community struggles for agrarian transformation, including food sovereignty, equitable land ownership, and alternatives to dominant models of production. SPP aligns itself with social justice movements.
  7. “The SAFSC emerge[d] out of a need to unite organisations, social movements, small scale farmers, farmworkers and NGOs championing food sovereignty into a national platform in advancing food sovereignty strategically in South Africa. This led to the Food Sovereignty Campaign Assembly that took place in late February 2015. At this Assembly, the campaign was further developed, a programme of action agreed to and a national coordinating committee elected, representing the SEM, community organisations, agrarian, small scale farmer, environmental justice and food price sectors.” For more see https://www.safsc.org.za/our-story/ (accessed November 7, 2018).
  8. Following a court order to settle Ithemba farmers, there was no progress in terms of the actual resettlement, as the land on which the farmers were meant to be settled was another piece of occupied and contested land known as Penhill farm. The court order therefore only created tensions between Ithemba farmers and the Penhill farm occupiers. The minister of human settlements, Western Cape provincial government, and the Penhill Residents Small Farmers Co-operative Ltd., Case No.: 429/2015.
  9. The South African Broadcasting Corporation owns SABC 2, a television channel and one of the main national broadcasting stations.