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Cape Town Diary. Part 6. 19 May 09

Phil Oct 2008

Township Tour 1

On Friday morning, our new friend Jeremy takes us on a township tour. It’s to see some of the people who have become part of Jubilee Church.
Our first stop is to see an impressive building in Gugulethu that houses Khanyisa Community Church, a church-plant from Jubilee.
Once off the motorway, we drive along dusty roads surrounded by a combination of brick ‘chalet’ houses and anarchic shacks made of wood and tin. There are painted words and pictures on some of the buildings and at first I supposed them graffiti but in fact they are trading signs, saying ‘Hairdresser’, ‘Coffee Bar’ and the odd slogan announcing that ‘Jesus lives’! Most, if not all, of the people here are deeply religious, not necessarily Christian, but like in England where some people will claim happily to be Catholic or Protestant but know nothing of meeting Jesus.

As we pull up next to the building, a group of smiling young men who are part of the church are hanging around and we’re lucky they are because Jeremy’s car won’t start when it’s time to leave. There are many men walking by in two’s and small groups and you can’t help but feel a bit nervous.

So after an amusing bump start, we’re on the road to the next township which is a problematic one. ‘Joe Slovo’ is a meandering sprawl of shacks in the ‘Langa’ township. The name comes from an anti-apartheid housing minister and has over 20,000 residents. The government wanted to move most of them on to another township called ‘Delft’ on the outskirts of the city, but this has been challenged in the courts. So the government is now building small brick houses in ‘Joe Slovo’ but there won’t be enough for everyone. Community life is very important to these people; they look after one another and they’re scared at the prospect of being moved amongst strangers. Townships mostly govern themselves and who knows how they will be treated by the residents of Delft?

We hear that a while ago the police came round and gave numbers to many of the shacks. To have a number is to be on the waiting list for a brick house. Some are already complete and the shacks of the people who moved in were demolished. But into the consequent waste land came outsiders and constructed new shacks. If you haven’t a number now it’s hard to prove you were around at the original numbering time and therefore the police assume you are not eligible. We met one lady in this predicament but with the right contacts it seems like it’s going to work out for her. Eventually everyone not eligible for a house will be forced out of the land and into Delft.

Jeremy asked the lady to tell us what God had done for her. She told us first of her husband cheating on her, of many beatings and of leaving with the children to live in the township. The church had arranged for some employment for her and now she said proudly she had enough money to look after her family. It was a cleaning job at someone’s house, no great income by any means but enough to live. She pointed to the plastic roof which the church had provided to replace the leaky one. As she told her story about meeting Jesus, we were sat in a small room with two old sofas, an old TV, a fridge, two electric hobs, a table and a few ornaments. There was also a second room for sleeping in. The whole floor-space was about the size of a medium caravan. For electricity, a long extension lead ran from a meter belonging to a family we had just visited. A number of residences were being powered like this and the danger of fire was ever-present. Cables from main energy pylons dangled precariously above our heads.

As we chatted, Amy noticed two rats scurrying along a ridge where the join of the wall met with the ceiling. They do the best they can these people, make their homes as best as possible and take pride in where they live. Even with the shacks that just comprise one room there is still an order and tidiness about them for these buildings are their homes and what they have is what they have. There is no running water or bathroom facilities, they have to go to the communal ones and I saw some on the way in – but they weren’t exactly the Ritz!

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