Community activist Nhlanhla ‘Lux’ Dlamini is not one to shy away from getting his hands dirty!
Born in South Africa’s biggest township Soweto, south of Johannesburg, the vibrant young leader won the respect of many after a video of him mobilising and calling on proud ‘Sowetans’ to defend Maponya Mall went viral.
Elsewhere in the country, looters were running amok vandalising shops and malls alike. But Dlamini would have none of that. Growing up in the township, Dlamini was raised in a two-roomed house in Meadowlands, Soweto with his mother’s siblings and his relatives who also lived and shared the tiny match-box house.
“It was a full house. We were about 20 people in a two-roomed house,” he says.
A young Nhlanhla grew up to scenes of much unrest in the townships with the institutionalised racial segregation of the apartheid regime against non-whites. Being brought up in a house that was abuzz with activity, everyone prioritized and ensured he had a well-rounded and stable upbringing which saw him going to the affluent ‘white’ schools in the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg where he eventually landed a scholarship.
During this time at the Parkhurst Primary School, he got to experience the contrasting reality of the deepened inequalities against black people where he lived and where he found himself spending his day.
“As a child, all I knew and understood was that white people are rich and black people are poor. As young as I was, I already knew that I had a natural responsibility to try and close that gap because it didn’t make sense to me as a child. That is how my activism started,” he recalls.
In a bid to bring his two worlds together, Dlamini spent his school years sharing books, equipment, and any resources he could access at his privileged school and took it back home to his peers in the townships. In his own little way, this was an attempt at honouring the vow he had made to himself.
“I knew that something had to be done. And it grew with me and consequently led me to join the right programs. I declared that I will go back into the township and make sure that I don’t sell out.
“I don’t want to buy a house in Sandton or Rosebank because the infrastructure is better. Therefore, I have a responsibility to ensure that I am part of building proper infrastructure in the townships,” he says.
Having led his community on service delivery protests to Eskom offices or leading the crowd of supporters outside the magistrate’s court in support of the late Tshegofatso Pule’s family, he is no stranger to being a leader.
He is known for serving the community and pushing the agenda on matters relating to service delivery, youth empowerment, exploring culture, and cultivating the township economy, which all form part of his first love for community activism.
Besides his busy schedule, his passion has him spearheading the Soweto Parliament, where he currently serves as the president of the movement.
“We have work that dates back to 10 years ago, but we grew much stronger in the last five years. Our job is to make sure the township progresses and to protect it from further dilapidating,” he said.
Soweto Parliament is a passion project that Dlamini founded with a group of friends. The non-political movement is focused on tackling challenges faced by communities in Soweto and investing resources through sustainable radical programs.
“In the township, when someone has leadership characteristics, we automatically think he or she is going to make a good comrade but it shouldn’t be like that,” he says.
“We created a platform for young people to exercise leadership outside of politics. I am one person that advocates for young people to never lose their independent thinking, so Soweto Parliament is such a formal platform that gives young people the opportunity to lead their communities with no problems,” he says.
On #ProtectMaponyaMall, he says he realised that the law enforcement and government were not doing anything, while the malls around Soweto were being looted and burnt down.
“We started asking which mall was not looted, and they said Maponya Mall. I said ‘no, it can never be looted, we are going to protect it and that’s how we made our way there,” he recalls.
Dlamini and the residents of Pimville spent five days braving through the cold winter nights guarding the establishment against potential mayhem and looters. As it is affectionately known, the big elephant was launched in 2007 and is the biggest shopping mall in Soweto, boasting over 170 stores.
“At the centre of our priority was to protect the township economy because we knew the number of jobs that would be lost,” he said.
He believes they saved at least 2000 jobs.
“It is also being aware of our history, we understand who Ntate Richard Maponya was. It was the protection of a legacy that the education system does not prioritize,” he continued.
Dlamini further revealed to President Cyril Ramaphosa that the days guarding Maponya Mall were not rosy. He was quoted as telling Ramaphosa, during his visit to the affected looted areas in Soweto on Mandela Day, that those six days were “hell”.
“You can imagine not sleeping for days while people tried shooting at you,” he explained during an interview. We are talking about people with rifles and machine guns shooting at us because all they want is to access Maponya Mall and loot. It was a nightmare,” he said.
Dlamini is convinced the country faces a leadership crisis under the ANC government. He is of the view that the current political leaders are out of touch with the harsh reality that most South African citizens endure daily. He called on young people to assume that leadership role with immediate effect.
“If you look at old pictures of Soweto and you look around you today, you will realize that not much has changed. The people are suffering while their leaders are driving fancy cars and living in the suburbs,” he said.
South Africa faces its hardest battle against the Coronavirus Pandemic which has further widened the socioeconomic inequalities in the country. The unemployment rate sits at an alarming 43.3% and youth unemployment at 74.7%, respectively.
Dlamini’s hopes are for the youth to rise, take power, and be in control of their future.
“Every era has a revolution and now is our time as young people to fill up spaces and take charge because our government is failing us,” he said, adding that young people needed to be their own leaders for the country to move forward.
By Thando Nondywana and Nomfusi Magazi