Number 43, Trelawney Park has been home for the Masilela family, for over forty years, from the time uButhongo arrived in Swaziland in 1965. Many people have argued that the house qualifies for a place in the annals of South Africa’s liberation history. Aware of the temptation of self-praise, the family has been reluctant to accept this idea, let alone internalise it. Over time, however, they have developed a deep appreciation of their history.
Number 43 started from humble beginnings, both of structure and intent. Like any other home, it was developed for the purpose of raising a family, of strengthening family bonds, of offering decent education for the children and a healthy lifestyle. That at least, is what its architects, uButhongo and uMagogo, had in mind.
When uButhongo arrived at Number 43 in 1965 he did not have enough money to construct a permanent house. Instead, he could only afford to build a makeshift structure out of corrugated iron that had been used and reused many times. As a result, the walls and roof had many gaping holes reflecting old scars left by nails over years of repeated use. One could stand outside the house, peep through these openings and literally see everything inside the house. Because of the porous nature of the building, it was quite common to find a snake or two in the house, and uTodd, one of the children, developed the habit of catching them.
While makeshift, the new house at Number 43 was fairly large, with decent partitions, allowing uButhongo and uMagogo the privacy of a bedroom, plus a kitchen and a spacious sitting area. By night, the nine children used the kitchen and sitting area as bedrooms. In summer, the house offered all the warmth required by any family. However, in winter it would be bitterly cold, with temperatures periodically around zero, and the family would cluster around a Welcome Dover coal stove for warmth.
A certain Solly Mahlangu, who became a close family friend and later a benefactor, was hired to assist in transporting the family belongings to Swaziland. On the morning after their arrival, they went to Peter Forbes also known as Mabhodweni by locals, hoping to be shown the plot that uButhongo had paid for two years earlier, only to discover that the subdivisions had not been done. Forbes suggested they move temporarily into a huge, decrepit Dutch farmhouse, which had not been occupied for many years and could well have been a hideout for criminals.
This turn of events left uButhongo in shock and disgust. The ‘great trek’ in search of a better life had instead landed them in misery. He was confused as to what to do with his belongings and the children. He felt as if he were in the ‘Gramadoelas’, an Afrikaans word for ‘in the middle of nowhere’. USolly saved the day by offering uButhongo temporary refuge on his property at Number 43, Trelawney Park, which was not far from Ngwane Park, but much closer to the centre of Manzini. This gesture was warmly welcomed. On their arrival at Number 43, which was still bush, they set about clearing the place and erected a makeshift structure to see them through the first few months. This structure ended up being the family’s principal dwelling for the next five years. It served them well, providing the warmth they needed. This was in spite of the gaping holes, which allowed the vagaries of the weather to be felt at the slightest change.
Usolly, the original owner of Number 43, disappeared for about five years. On his return he found uButhongo having built the main house, at which point said “You have worked very hard on the property, you have paid off my debt . . . it is now yours, just keep it.” A true stroke of good fortune. That is how the property ended up in the hands of the Masilela family