Yes we can
Posted by Iwan Russell Jones on 22 October 2010, 8:52
THURSDAY 21 OCTOBER – Today was a free day and, rather against my better judgment, I signed up for a visit to Kayelitsha shantytown on the edge of Cape Town. I don’t like the idea of pain tourism – rolling up by the busful to visit the poor as though going to see strange and exotic animals in the zoo. But this trip sounded well-organised, so I went.
Kayelitsha is one of the biggest and fastest growing townships in South Africa. It has a population of two and a half million, and a thousand new people set up home there every day. There are areas of well-built and long-established housing, but many of the dwellings are so flimsy that even to call them shacks is an exaggeration. This township that is actually a city, seemed to go on forever as our bus made its way to Sinethemba Community Organisation in the Harare district.
A crowd of people was waiting to greet us and they broke into singing and dancing as we entered the centre. Sinethemba means ‘yes we can’ – they were using the name long before Obama created his campaign slogan – and the whole emphasis of the place is on self-help. Mama Nolitha, who runs the place, told us about their soup kitchen which serves people affected by HIV/AIDS and TB, and delivers meals to the homes of people too weak to get out.
Much of the food is grown in their extensive garden at the back of the building, and Nolitha’s husband, Mninawe, is responsible for this. Their daughter, Buhle, helps run the youth group which, among other things, tutors younger children. It’s a remarkable family (pictured above) in a remarkable community. Most of the work at Sinethemba is done by volunteers who live here.
They provided lunch for us: thick vegetable soup with bread that they’d made that morning. As we left they gave us each a tin mug like the one our soup had been served in, and asked that we place it on our table at home to remember them. It will be the most precious gift that I leave South Africa with.