For quite a while, I wasn’t sure if I should post this story. Is it suitable for my blog? Does it do justice to the people I met and to what I saw? Well, I don’t know. But what I do know is, that I needed to write it. Because South Africa is not only penguins and beaches and sundowners and hikes on Table Mountain and game drives. South Africa is so much more.
It’s a bright and sunny Sunday when Charlie show us around in his neighbourhood, Vrygrond and Overcome Heights were I work. Vrygrond is one of the first inofficial townships in South Africa and home to 42.000 people, 5.000 of them children.
Charlie leads our little group, singing and dancing around. Everybody here in the township knows him and wants to habe a little chat wit him. »It’s because of my two jobs«, he says, laughing and shows us the big scar on his arm that used to be a gang tattoo. He got it in jail and removed it with a hot spoon when he decided to leave the gang and change his life. He is truly religious now and an arts teacher for children. His paintings show real talent and the kids love him! Soon, a bunch of them is following us through the streets. They are shouting: »Umlungu! Umlungu!« White People. Hands want to touch me, my pale skin, my hair. Without Charlie I would feel out of place, like an intruder in the new world.
We walk on and meet Zukiswe, one of our students in front of her house – a small shack with a wodden fence, a little garden and a carport. Proudly she introduces us to her children who are playing in the yard, shooting us shy glances. They are not all hers, she says, she takes care of her sister’s children today. Her sister works as a maid in Marina Gama, one of the more expensive living areas five minutes from Vrygrond.
The cliché of the white household with the black maid still holds some truth here in South Africa. »We need more jobs«, Zukiswe says. There’s not enough work for everybody. Especially not for the crowd of poorly educated people. South African unemployment is at a rate of 24 percent, the estimated number of unreported cases is of course still higher.
Many children drop out of school at pre-school graduation. What seems impossible for us, is normal here in the townships of South Africa. It’s more important for parantes that their childrenearn money, get food on the table, take care of siblings or do the housework. Many, like Viviane, one of our computer course students, hope for a better life in Cape Town. They leave family and friends in Eastern Cape, drop out of school before graduation and move to Western Cape. The Eastern Cape children might not have much of a perspective in Cape Town but the still have dreams: they want to become teachers, nurses, fire fighters or Hollywood stars.
The bunch of children is still following us. People are watching us either indifferent or a bit wary but never unfriendly. They offer us street food, a new hair cut or at least a high five while we walk past shacks, little houses with carport and alarmed defense. The streets are rubbish-strewn. I want to give the people here some rubbish bins, tarred streets and toilettes for every house, so they don’t have to share the honey bucket down the dirty road with five other families.
Although the living conditions don’t sound to good, the streets are brimming over with life. There’s a braai at almost every corner, hair dresser’s work in empty Maersk containers and their music plays so loud that you can hear it from afar. We pass a building that looks a bit like a house of cards and discover it’s a bar with a pool table. The players raise their beer glasses in our directions to say hello
»They’re dealing in here«, Charlie explains happily, »I used to work with them.« We stop waving at the men warily. They laugh and put on their faked Ray Ban sun glasses. A couple of meters away, kids and puppies are playing together in the mud. The township is full of contrasts and extremes. The whole country is full of contrasts and extremes.
Some time later, we are back on tarred streets, back on our way to Cape Town. We spend the evening in Camps Bay on the other side of town. It’s where the ›rich‹ people live. We sit down in a bar, close to the pool table and watch the match. The players raise their beer glasses in our directions to say hello. Where’s the difference to their fellow countrymen living in the townships?