SA Trip – July 29-30, 2014

Apartheid – Township – Coloreds: I’ve heard all the words, but what does it look like; how does it feel, what does it mean today? These were constantly riding on my mind as we sat in the mini bus for our Township Tour on Wednesday. Five learning-discovering-feeling-seeing-tasting-listening-processing hours through two areas just outside of East London. Our driver, Velile, was very informative and neutral as he talked about the practices during apartheid and with some pride for what the government has been and is now doing to improve life for the black population. It’s been 20 years since the end of apartheid, and great improvements have been made in this country of 54 million which is one of the largest economies on the African continent. south_africa_provinces

Within the Eastern Cape in yellow, outside of East London, is the Township of Mdantsane which was a major focus of our tour.  It is the second largest township in South Africa after Soweto, which is outside of Johannesburg. These were places where the black Africans, Coloreds and Indians were relegated to keep them out of the main towns and cities.IMG_4149We also visited Duncan Village and a part of Buffalo City before heading out to the Township which Velile quoted as having a population as 1.6 million but all other resources say 160,000. Regardless of the accuracy, it’s huge.  Here is a map of our 5-hour tour.

First some context in numbers of (what I consider) some key development concerns. In the Eastern Cape province,
the poverty level is 56.8% (58,6% female as compared to 54,9% for males).
71.5% have access to electricity.
71.2% have improved sanitation while 9.4% have none.
Nationally, 90.8% have piped water.
The national unemployment rate is 25.5% while in some areas it is 50%;
inflation is at 6.6%.

So I have to ask myself, how would I be?  Who would I be?  How would I live and sustain myself and my family? It has taken me several days to wrap my head around everything we saw and experienced and the magnitude of the daily challenge confronting people living in poverty and then translating that to the government’s challenge.  Admirably, huge strides have been made in the 20 years since the end of apartheid, such as “providing basic services – such as water, electricity, sanitation and housing – to large segments of its population. But even with these concerted efforts to reduce under-development, together with a social welfare system that has enabled thousands to access education and food, a day in the life of many people living in South Africa still involves concerns, such as crime, health, and finding some form of income to make a living.” Stats SA ( There’s so much farther to go.  These initial pictures are from the area of Duncan Village, originally built for migrant laborers in the factories, where not a lot of housing improvement has happened.  When someone needs a shelter, they simply build it out of corrugated tin or wood from pallets.IMG_4106IMG_3860IMG_3858

Even in these conditions, kids construct toys and seem to create fun.IMG_3852IMG_3851IMG_3881Winds can be strong, and construction can be very flimsy.IMG_4004IMG_3878

You can see the electrical lines, many of which are illegal, stolen from the main lines.IMG_3861IMG_3874

Small businesses are everywhere; here’s a Public Phone and a Shoe Repair shop,IMG_3872

and this is called a garage or car repair shop.IMG_3871

There are lots of hair salons, and this guy has a small fruit stand.IMG_3870Onions, potatoes, tomatoes and oranges are sold everywhere.IMG_4001

These women are searing the hair off of a sheep head; it is then boiled.  People buy them, split them open and eat the bits (not the brains though) as a snack with beer, like we eat peanuts.


Nationally, nearly 91% have pipped water, even if it means in a shared area.  Laundry is a constant daily chore.  School uniforms must always be clean for one thing.IMG_4005IMG_4002IMG_4000   IMG_3999

In this area, we saw the Kwanda Community Worker Program. These are volunteers who get paid for 8 days of work though they work all month cleaning up the community. They are mostly women.  The distinction of ‘men’s work and women’s work’ has women doing most of it. If a man can’t get a job in the factory, he doesn’t chip in at home or consider lending a hand in the community because that’s women’s work.  Many of them just sit around.

IMG_3867 IMG_3866 Once an area is cleaned up, No Dumping signs are sprayed on the wall.IMG_3994

Garbage is collected regularly – one of the services provided by the government.IMG_4007

Local mechanics.IMG_3884

We stopped at a local primary school, and it happened to be a day they were practicing for a fundraiser for a trip. The song they were singing?  “We are the world!”  Left to right: the principal carrying spinach (what we call chard) for the lunch, our driver, Velile, Michael, Matt and Maria, both from Australia and also on the tour with us. IMG_3887  IMG_3885IMG_3988IMG_3886 IMG_3889

Velile helped out with “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” and I joined in for “Three little monkeys jumping on the bed.” See video  IMG_3909

All students wear uniforms; it obscures the poverty distinction. School uniforms match color of school, more so in the later grades.

IMG_3917IMG_3923 IMG_3925IMG_3954 IMG_3934 IMG_3932IMG_3896IMG_3936IMG_3960IMG_3958Meals are served daily.IMG_3970IMG_3974IMG_3973

This school started in this woman’s home.  She kept expanding and bringing in more students.  What an amazing woman.  IMG_3975She has also added day care for the preschool kids.IMG_3977IMG_3982IMG_3985
That would be me, not wanting to nap!

Since 2000, when the UN and NGOs defined the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be reached by 2015, South Africa has already achieved the #2 goal of universal primary education with a completion rate of 95%. While this is great, the quality of ‘education’ is lacking and shows up at the secondary level where only 44% of learners complete through grade 12.  They drop out in 10-12 because they are so poorly prepared in the foundational grades.  The government takes this very seriously and has committed 20% of the 2013 budget to improving education.

As we drove towards Mdantsane, the housing improved greatly, and Velile described the efforts of the government to provide good housing.  Nationwide, the percentage of dwellings are described as 77.7% Formal, 7.9% Traditional, 13.6% Informal, and 0.8 Other (Source: Stats SA).  Here in Mdantsane thousands of new houses have replaced the old tin ones and provide basic amenities. These efforts are continuing.  When Mbeki was President, he wanted people to think of the townships as suburbs to remove the stigma of the past, so they started paving streets and adding new street lights which we saw in many places.


There are two things to see in this next picture.  One is the park which was built as a youth effort of provide an after school place for kids to come and study, have a meal and play.  If they know they can have a meal, they will go to school.  The other is the clearing work just behind the park. Here the government will build temporary houses for people in transition to a new house.  They have to tear down the tin houses in order to build the new ones, so the people will stay in these temporary ones in the meantime.IMG_4015

Below, the housing in the background will be torn down and new ones built. In the middle here are long houses (that look like barracks) built during apartheid for migrant workers. The laborer stayed for free and could have his wife from the village visit once a month, but she had to pay.  The rest of the time, a local girlfriend could stay without paying.  This was one way the apartheid system broke up the families.  Later, after 1994, many of these men were ashamed to go home because their wives had done all the work while he stayed with the girlfriend.  They are destitute and broken men.IMG_4016

Another policy of apartheid was to build very nice houses for the civil servants to give them a superior status. They also built the railroad a distance away so that there was no easy access; they didn’t want blacks easily coming to town.  They also physically separated the blacks and coloreds (those of mixed race) to ostracize the coloreds and discourage further mixing; they wanted to preserve the purity of the white bloodline.  Giovanni who works for Mirijam is colored, very fair skinned, with strait hair.  He told Michael that the way they determined if you were colored was if your skin was light and your nappy hair would hold a pencil.  He escaped the designation and was considered white.  One colored town was called ‘Far Enough” which meant that it was far enough away to be ok.  The road that passes by Far Enough used to be called Black Road. Now it is called Death Road because at the end or first of the month when someone gets a paycheck, he buys booze, and lots of accidents happen. Velile had just lost a friend last weekend. Now there are many police checkpoints alone this road to try to change that.  I find all of these so difficult to wrap my brain around, how inhumanely we can treat other people, but it still goes on around the world in so many ways. We never seem to learn.

We had another treat along the way.  We stopped at an orphanage started by an amazing woman in her home.  She now has 18 children, some old enough to go college and one who now has moved on and works as a social worker.  We met 8 of the young ones.IMG_4027

Several people have volunteered and worked to expand the original house which was her 82 year old mother’s, build out this wonderful kitchen and contributed appliances.  Her electricity bill is R800 per month (about $80). That powers two refrigerators, a washer and dryer, iron and electric stove and lights.  She does have help.  We saw 3 other women working on laundry and on cleaning the children’s rooms.  2 and 3 of the small ones sleep together across the mattress.IMG_4028

Another room apart from the house used for after school play and studying was built by a volunteer and has been supplied by donations.


The Australian couple brought some supplies and lollies for the kids, so they’re all enjoying their treats.

.IMG_4056 IMG_4053 IMG_4052
The one in the middle above has AIDS and is on medication.  This little one also has AIDS. She is actually 5 years old but is very stunted in her growth.IMG_4062.

These guys are all personality.

IMG_4065 IMG_4064

At 60 years old, she’s a remarkable woman.IMG_4090

We went on to the town center in Mdantsane, past built stores, shipping container stores, makeshift stalls and an open market.


Thrift clothingIMG_4116

Both oranges and pineapple are abundant in this region.IMG_4124  IMG_4120IMG_4128

And finally a place to eat South African style.IMG_4136IMG_4141
They’re eating Fat Bread, raised dough that’s deep fried, very much like a donut, and homemade ginger beer. It was way too heavy for me.
I noticed a girl doing what looked like homework, so I asked her what she was studying. She had actually finished 12th grade, and because she didn’t have money for university, she was doing adult education classes provided by the government to train and build skills, in her case, as a hospital aide.IMG_4140Someone had planted a garden next to the stand and was growing spinach, cabbage, beetroot, onions and tomatoes.IMG_4148IMG_4147

The last stop was at a local tavern that is usually full on the weekends.  You can buy meat in the store in front and braai (bbq) it inside the tavern.IMG_4169IMG_4172IMG_4170

I had noticed a hospital nearby, so I asked Velile a question. If someone gets sick and goes to the hospital or a clinic, do they also go the the medicine doctor?  Yes, many people do, but not everyone, not Baby, our house cleaner. And here is the Medicine Woman.IMG_3841IMG_3846 IMG_3840

Aloe vera for burns.IMG_3843The apprentice who explained several of the herbal remedies to me. This one is for the flu.IMG_3842

There are several more stories about dowry and circumcision and about how the Taxi system works and what amazingly resourceful and entrepreneurial people these are, but this blog is long enough.  It was a very full, mind blowing and amazing day.



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1 Response to SA Trip – July 29-30, 2014

  1. Selina Heaton says:

    All so interesting. Your pictures remind me of Jamaica. We forget what people are challenged with daily…often living in tin and cardboard. Yet always the cleanest clothes, amazing entrepreneurship, the most beautiful teeth and happy smiles….and always so so generous.
    Thank you so much for sharing!


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