Dale Says

January 26, 2010

A Place of Hope

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 11:43 am

A Place of Hope: Touring a Township in South Africa

The hand-written poster in his house defines his philosophy:

“We didn’t inherit the world from our parents — we are borrowing it from our children.”

He is driven by an unshakable hope for a better future and believes that great things can be achieved when his diverse community works together. There are indications the efforts are paying off, but a great deal remains to be done.

His name is Afrika Moni and he guided us through the township of Imizamo Yethu, near Cape Town. He is a determined young man with a soft voice and a calm way of dealing with people. His goal of finding a better life for his community motivates him, and he has dedicated himself to helping achieve his dream.

Townships are South Africa’s slums. There are dozens of them throughout the country and they collectively house millions of people. Some folks moved to the townships when their neighborhoods were deemed “white only,” others came from rural areas of South Africa looking for work; still others are refugees from neighboring African countries.

This township is a few miles south of Cape Town, near the coastal city of Hout Bay. Here the contrast between wealth and poverty is striking. Residents of Hout Bay are typically white and affluent and they live in some of the nicest houses in the country.

But across the street in Imizamo Yethu 20,000 people live in rows of shacks that sprawl on the hillsides. Their presence is resented by their wealthy neighbors and many are unemployed.

Imizamo Yethu began in the 1980s when thousands of South Africans moved to Cape Town looking for work and found a shortage of public housing. Some built shacks in the bushes, which was resented by the residents of Hout Bay. In 1989 the local government developed a piece of land for settlement, which became the township. The city provided basic services such as streets, water, electricity and sewage, and residents were allowed to build temporary shelters. They named the settlement Imizamo Yethu (which in the local Xhosa language means “our combined effort”).

Now, 20 years later, the township has a church, a YMCA and community center, and a few small businesses. A police station has been built in Hout Bay to keep peace.

Homes are small; a few are brick and concrete, but most are scrap wood and tin. Some houses have running water; the rest share communal water facets. Most houses are supplied with limited electricity which must be supplemented by the residents.

Over the past few years there have been some improvements. Volunteers, including a group from Ireland, have built a few brick homes, and the South Africa government is putting up a few more. But most residents still live in shacks.

An elderly woman in a tin shack pleaded with us to help her get a better home.

“When the rains come, the water runs clear down to the floor,” she told us. “And I can hardly stand the noise on the roof.” She applied for a brick home, but has heard nothing.

The children of the township are dressed, though most are barefoot. They attend school in a nearby town and Afrika hopes they will stay in school because education is the best way out of the township.
Life in Imizamo Yethu is bleak, but there is hope.
We saw signs of hope in the faces of the children and in the voices of the people as they walked home in the evenings. Many were singing — they had made it through another day, and they had hope for tomorrow.
Afrika also has hope. He and others in the community hope to find a solution that will provide everyone decent living conditions.
If you want to help Afrika Moni contact him at www.suedafrika.net/imizamoyethu.

About the author:
Dale Fehringer is a free-lance writer who lives in San Francisco. He can be reached at dalefehringer@hotmail.com.

About the photographer:
Patty McCrary is a free-lance photographer who lives in San Francisco. She can be reached at fehringermccrary@aol.com.

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