Amidst Poverty We Found Community

On our visit to Cape Town in 2013, we wrote about several excursions we took including one to Bo-Kapp that covered a great deal of information on Apartheid. But more than a decade after the end of Apartheid, the majority of South Africans still live in dire poverty. We were pleased to have the opportunity to visit one of the townships, Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay.

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 In some ways, a person might describe Hout Bay as a picturesque seaside suburb that is like a microcosm of South Africa, with a wealthy (mainly white) community living along side both the black as well as a “coloured community” within the township.  

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Imizamo Yethu is an informal settlement established in the early 1990s when 450 families who had been squatting in “shacks” or temporary shelters around Hout Bay were moved to this area. Prior to that time blacks could not afford, and by law were not allowed to buy, property or homes in Hout Bay and had no choice but to look for vacant land on which to build their temporary homes.

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This was done without permission and led to struggles with white residents. In 1989 the local government intervened and a piece of land was developed with basic services on which blacks were allowed to build their temporary shelters. As mentioned above, however, the land was set aside for 450 families and now houses over 34,000.

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Imizamo Yethu (in the Xhosa language) literally translates to “Our Struggle” and is also purported to mean, People Have Gathered. It covers 18 hectares. The settlement has dismal water facilities; few toilets and a sub-standard sewerage system. However, the streets were free of debris, and we did not detect any noticeable small as we walked through the community.

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 The Niall Mellon Township Trust, a non-profit organization based in Ireland that sent volunteers to build several hundred basic homes for people in Imizamo Yethu in 2002, improved the living conditions. The community also includes a health clinic that is sponsored by two Rotary Clubs, one in Hout Bay, South Africa and the other the Rotary Club of Coolamon, Australia.

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Afrika Moni, was the ideal person to take us through the township as he lives in Imizamo Yethu; and therefore, explained the way of life and enumerated the problems within the township from an insider’s perspective. Additionally, he seemed to know everyone we met along the way.

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Within the community we saw a hair salon/barbar shop, convenience store, as well as an oil drop-off collection point for used automobile oil to be picked up by the city and a waste drop-off facility for sorting waste for recycling. These provided some employment for residents. 

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However, most people are dependent on outside establishments for their jobs. A young man we met had been promised construction work that day, but no one picked him up for the job. He did not exhibit bitterness; rather he was spending the day doing volunteer work in the community.

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 The children appeared to be well taken care of, healthy, clean, happy and content. Day-care is provided in one of the homes; and when we arrived the kids had either just awoken or were sleeping. In contrast, the children in a two-room primary school were wide-awake, enthusiastic, and both sang and danced for us with a great deal of animation and gusto!! 

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One aspect of our experience that neither of us will ever forget was the manners displayed by the children. We had brought chocolate squares that they viewed with interest. However, on no occasion did a child put out his/her hand to receive until it was obvious that we intended to give. And then, rather than grabbing, they put their hands together so we could drop the chocolate into their awaiting palms.

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Despite their poverty, lack of education, and their economic prospects, the people we met couldn’t have exhibited more camaraderie nor could they have been friendlier and more welcoming to us.

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4 Responses to “Amidst Poverty We Found Community”

  1. Well constructed blog! I really liked it and enjoyed looking and reading every word from it.Enkosi kakhulu…Afrika Moni(Tour-Guide in The Township)

  2. rozzellmaryann@aol.com November 25, 2014 at 11:45 am

    The children are beautiful! Like you say…they are well cared for & apparently happy. Of course the people have lived that way all their lives . The cleanliness is much different then in the Caribbean where such poverty has a different attitude & things are dirty. I was impressed with the young man that wasn’t picked up to go to a job. Instead he went & volunteered in the community. At this Thanksgiving time it brings awareness to be thankful.

  3. Carolyn and Sisters,

    It’s hard to determine whether to smile or cry in response to these pictures … Certainly puts into perspective the world’s advertising/marketing material trying to seduce us into purchasing totally non-utilitarian items.

    When will you design and create a book of your observations (represented by your photos and your text)? And, it surely begs the question of where to send charitable donations — to our grievously needy families in the US, or abroad, clearly more needy.

    Interesting juxtaposition of the haves and have-nots … My heart bleeds.

  4. A most interesting blog. The photos are stunning. Those children are beautiful.

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