Katsjourney Around the World: 27 December, 2002 Cape Flats, South Africa

: Fri, 27 Dec 2002 06:36:27 -0600
New Years Greetings to my dear family and friends!

Can you believe it is almost 2003?  I’ll probably writing ‘02 for the next three months!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas.  Mine was the sad and enriching.

On Monday I did a Township Tour in the Cape Flats.  You may recall this is the not so attractive area far from Cape Town central to where the South African government forcibly moved the blacks and “coloured” people starting as early as the 1950’s.  Interestingly, one of the tests they used was with a pencil stuck in the hair. If the pencil stuck in the hair you were classified as “black”.  If it ran through the hair and fell out, you were “coloured”.  Coloured people have any shade of brown skin (Indians, Malays..the Muslim population, or any mixed breed)…basically non-Europeans.

If you shaved your head, you had to prove you could speak Afrikaans.  If you could get away with it, typically they classified you as coloured, rather than black.

We started at the District Six Museum.  This was once the thriving interracial new friend flats tourneighborhood near central Cape Town with a beautiful view of the ocean.  It has become a symbol  of the horrible results of apartheid. 60,000 people forcibly removed from their homes and jobs.  All homes were bulldozed.  Nobody wants anything to do with it now, so it lies barren.  A rich piece of real estate.

Township homes
Typical housing in the Cape Flats.

There are photos of what happened before during and after the removals.  Complete families were separated because there could be no interracial marriages. From there we went into the Township of Langa.  It is the oldest formal black township.  There we were able to witness first hand the living conditions from the height of apartheid.  Many of the homes were in good condition with little gardens.  However the deeper you got into the neighborhoods and into the informal settlements the more the living conditions seemed unimaginable.

We visited a “herbalist”.  It was like a mad witch doctor out of a movie. The clinic was in a large shack with a dirt floor.  It was so dark and smoky (from incense)  it took several seconds to get my eyes adjusted.  There were clothes lines twisted above our heads in a spider web.  Hanging everywhere were such things I have never seen….roots, dried skins of animal parts, bones, twigs, you name it.  People waited in line to have the herbalist cure them in very unsanitary conditions. It was like another world just 10 kilometers from the cosmopolitan center of Cape Town.

Seriously, this is a witch doctor!
Seriously, this is a witch doctor!

There were several old men sitting on chairs.  I asked if they were in queue to see the herbalist, but the guide told me the were just there visiting to get drunk. You see, the unemployment is incredibly high in the townships…close to 80%. They are so poor and cannot afford public transportation into town to hold down a job.

Some of the women have empowered themselves to make beaded crafts and pottery to sell to tourist on the tours.  We visited a school where they teach some of these skills.  I bought a beautiful plate and some place mats.  Very African! Pottery ladies

We also went by some areas where boys become “men” in certain tribal beliefs.  They are usually around the age of 18 and here they are circumcised without the aid of any sort of medicine.  Can you say ouch? They stay in these small huts made of tarp for about 6-8 months.  Now women are allowed.  Just the boys form the village that nurse their family members and treat them like kings as they heal.  Yes, these things still go on in this world.

Speaking of things that go on…There is a belief among many tribes that if you have HIV or AIDS you can be cured by raping a young white virgin.  I believe it is that sort of lack of education that will be the downfall of this country and many others on the African continent.

Drinking beer on tourLastly we visited a “shebeen”, a local tavern.  It was in a shanty with a family of 12 people living in 2 rooms.  The fathers are all gone and the enterprising mother has starting brewing beer.  Now it is a popular tour stop as well as with the locals.  She has saved enough money with tips to buy a small refrigerator and has perfected a bottling system.  The beer is horrible according to my “white” American palate.  But the locals seem to enjoy it, as there were many drunks in there that afternoon.

It was amazing to see the results of prejudice and ignorance of a Nazi type governmental regime.  Yet, all the people were very friendly and waved hello as we passed them.

On Tuesday I spent Christmas in the Cape Flats with my taxi driver’s family. He is the first person I met in South Africa, giving me a ride from the airport.  I have used his service several times and asked in my forward American way if I could meet his family.  He and his wife invited me over for Christmas Eve.  By township standards, they had a beautiful house.  It had a front yard and several rooms.  Even 2 bathrooms!  They had a little Christmas tree that their daughter had decorated.  They even had a gift under the tree for me.  I was so touched!

Arnold and his wife, Chenza, live in a coloured township.  These are nicer than the black ones.  They are both a mix of Indian (from India), European and native African.  They have a daughter and a son that live with them.Christmas Arnold family

The son just had a daughter with his girlfriend.  They named her Sky’e.  It was fun to have a baby around for the holidays.  I bought her a little teddy bear and a bib with dolphins on it.  Justin, their son, really doesn’t care much for his girlfriend and does not want to marry her.  The baby lives with the mom’s family.  This behavoiur is very typical in the townships.  Thus, you see large families of both moms and daughters having lots of babies with different partners and all living in the same home.  Another cycle that will continue to put a serous strain on the country.

Anyway, we had a nice meal around 3PM.  It was a large cold plate of fruits, drumsticks and little meat pies.  We also had a nice sponge cake dessert with Neapolitan  ice cream.  Their Neapolitan is vanilla, strawberry and mint (green), rather than chocolate.  Then the son took a nap because he partied too much the night before and had another one Christmas Eve.

Arnold is a Baptist minister as well as a taxi driver.  You could see his disdain at his son’s behaviour.  Anyway, the daughter went to get her haircut and Arnold and his wife and I retired to the parlor to drink not-so-tasty wine (I was polite and drank it) and talked about all sorts of things.  All the stuff they say not to talk about.  Politics, religion, social problems, Nelson Mandela, apartheid and Oprah.

Oprah has been visiting South Africa for several weeks.  She is donating millions of $$$ for many causes here, as well as to build a school for girls to better themselves.  Chenza worksoprah mandela school in the social arena as a marriage counselor.  She had horrific stories of physical and mental abuse to women. It was enough to bring tears to my eyes.  Unfortunately, these woman 99% of the time go back into the abusive relationship because it is their only means of support.  Chenza loves Oprah’s message of empowering woman.  Arnold had a much more conservative approach.

It was a fascinating and wonderful afternoon.  We left for home right around dusk.  I was relieved to get out before dark.  A white woman in the townships after dark can be very dangerous.  Just a kilometer away they often hear gunfire from gangs.

On Christmas Day I worked with the Red Cross.  It was not what I was expecting.  Let’s just say the Red Cross here is organized disorganization. Nothing is on time and rarely do you know exactly what is going on.  I was picked up in a van full of volunteers 45 minutes late.  We drove out to the Cape Flats to a boys juvenile home.  These kids are often forgotten by their families, so a visit from other people is so welcomed.

The facility was built in 2000 and was nice.  The kids are there in sort of a holding tank to wait until their cases have made it through the judicial system.  They sleep in cells like a real jail.  There are about 150 of them ranging from 6 years old to 17.

When we arrived it was overwhelming.  They completely surrounded us.  At first I thought it was a hostile attack , but then I realized they were just excited to see us, yelling out, “Merry Christmas”.

We set up a speaker system in the cafeteria and sang songs.  Some of the kids got up and talked or danced.  We also had several of them involved in a little play about Joseph and Mary the night that Jesus was born.  They had so much fun with that.  Another girl (a foreign exchange student from Switzerland) and I were encouraged to make our way around the tables and talk to everyone, since we were special foreign guests. Boys home with boy

Most of the little kids were in there for burglary.  You see, the gangs get them to squeeze in between the burglar bars.  The older kids were in for car hijacking and murder.  Yes, I spent Christmas day with South African murderers too young to even get a driver’s license.  Wow!

I talked on the mike and told them a bit about America and how we celebrate Christmas.  I told them about my journey and asked if anyone spoke Spanish. They don’t, but they all knew “Feliz Navidad” from the song.  So I lead them in a very rousing version of  the song.  Several wanted their photos taken with me so they could hang them in their cells.

Boys home on mike

The main contact with the Red Cross reminded me of Reverend Desmond Tutu.  He gave some very powerful messages in prayer to the boys that it was not too late to change their lives around.  I hope the message sinks in to some of them. What an amazing day.  I will do more work with the Red Cross in January!

Well, that has been the excitement in South Africa.  I hope everyone has an amazing and PEACEFUL new year.



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