Tuesday, January 10. This morning we again enjoyed the expertise of African Eagle Tours as we went on an exploration of the Langa and Khayelitsha Townships.
Our day began with a drive through District 6. District 6 is a barren, grassy area in the heart of Cape Town. It was once a community of mixed peoples: particularly blacks and coloureds (people of mixed black/white heritage). When Apartheid was passed into law, the government declared that blacks, coloureds and whites should no longer be allowed to live together even though they had been living together in relative harmony for many years.
The people of this large neighbourhood were forceably removed and their homes bulldozed to the ground. Many of these people were taken to settlements on the outskirts which became known as the townships. For many years the grassy area has remained untouched as people felt it was an important reminder of the events that happened there but I believe plans are in the works to build a memorial park and redevelop the remaining area.
We visited the District 6 Museum. This testament to the resilience of the human spirit is sobering. There are hundreds of testimonials from families who experienced the relocation; examples of the “pass books” that each were required to carry with them at all times which contained details of their ethnicity and rules about where they could and could not travel; remnants of a lifestyle lost that had been salvaged from the bulldozers; and, testaments of sorrow, apology, hope and forgiveness. I just can’t get my head around that this happened within my lifetime and that as I played blissfully ignorant in my childhood, there was such oppression here. I am not passing judgement but rather reflecting on how far apart our two worlds were and how disconnected our lives.
Our tour into Langa and Khayelitsha Townships was an eye opener indeed. Miles of shacks and shanties made out of corrigated steel or scraps piled one on top of themselves amid filth and squallor. These are the poorest of the poor in Cape Town.
There is a huge difference between black townships and coloured townships. Many black men travel into Cape Town to the townships from their tribal homes in search of work but most are illiterate and have no skills and there are no jobs. There are hostels that they can stay at but as weeks turn into years they long for their families and send for them to come and stay with them. As the old hostels were for men only, these ramshackle shacks served as family homes. Although they live in abject poverty, there is somewhat of a moral code there amongst themselves. Crimes within their community are punished brutally which often means that their desperation leads them to a life of crime on the city streets of Cape Town rather than the townships themselves. As they value the revenue the township tours bring, it is somewhat safe to go there with a tour. The coloured townships are another story however.
The coloured townships, from what I gather, are communities caught between two worlds. They are neither black nor white and so, often do not qualify for whatever meager social programs that are in place to try and help these people help themselves. They are fraught with gangs and violence even towards each other and are generally not considered a safe place to be.
I had been disappointed when I arrived in South Africa to learn that they were on their long summer holiday from school as I had hoped to visit some schools while I was there. I asked our tour guide about schools in the townships.
There are a few dedicated and motivated people who recognize that education is the only hope that these children will have to change their lot in life. There are small, overcrowded schools, many in peoples “homes” where instruction in English (which is now recognized as the universal language in South Africa and all children must learn) is given by qualified teachers. When the tour guide saw how interested I was in this, he arranged for me to speak with the teacher, administrator and township leader on the subject. We were allowed to tour the school and visit with a group of Kindergarten children who were there more on a day care basis until the start up of school again on January 11. What I saw was heart wrenching.
These are beautiful children. Their gentle eyes shone with laughter and delight and their faces just radiate with openness and innocence. It is so sad to know what fate awaits them if they cannot succeed in transcending their social barrier. As I sat amongst them, all of the children came over to me. A couple sat on my lap and a couple more stood with their arm around me. One little hand patted my shoulder in the very gentlest of ways.
The school itself is run by two very dedicated ladies who do everything from feed to teach these children. The townships are fraught with social problems and most children come to school with issues of hunger, physical abuse, sexual abuse and poverty. These women offer everything to these children and they do so with absolutely nothing. Their small five room home is a recognized school for 120 students. For most of those children, school is the only safe haven they have.
I’m afraid the privileged students at Blyth Public School will get little sympathy from me when they start to whine about how hard done by they are!