· Roddy Bray's Story-Letters from Southern Africa
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| It was in 1988 that I first drove along 'Zola
Budd' road. Zola Budd was a turning off the freeway 'you did not take'. But I
was 18 years old and, true to form, I determined to drive this way whenever
These were still the dark days of apartheid. The road took its name from the
famous runner (who ditched South Africa in favour of the UK and later
accidentally tripped Mary Decker in the LA Olympics) - apparently because
drivers sped along the road very fast. Zola Budd was near a new showpiece
township the government was building. Named Khayelitsha ('New Home'), it was
the inadequate response of the racist government to pressing criticism about
the vast numbers of homeless blacks living in the sand
dunes outside Cape Town.
From rural areas to the east, poverty stricken black people were arriving in
their thousands. In the late '80s, hated influx controls had been abandoned. In
various forms such controls had, for a hundred years, kept black people from
settling in Cape Town. Now, the dam had burst and week-by-week buses packed
with people and goats, chickens and even cows, arrived in the heaving
Emerging form the buses into the urban crush, people set about buying wooden
poles and metal sheeting with which to make a home. Then they would strike out
with animals and children across the dunes to find some space to make their
own. It was on my forays along Zola Budd I watched more and more shacks appear.
Soon the road was lined with shacks and more appeared across the dunes, the
wind blowing sand around them. Today there are 650,000 people in Khayelitsha
(as a comparison, Liverpool in the UK has 450,000) and the shacks and the
townships have merged to form one vast urban sprawl.
'How can they live like that?' an American guest asked me two days ago. 'Don't
go into the townships' a guest house owner recently warned my visitors. People
look at Khayelitsha from the outside and see a jungle of shacks and twisting
alleyways in the sand. There are few visible signs of familiarity - one cannot
see police stations, hospitals, shops, businesses or schools. It simply appears
to be a crazy world of shack dwellers.
You have no idea of its size - it could stretch forever. It appears a place
where soon you would be lost, where strange and fearful things could happen,
where you might meet desperate and bitter people lurking in urban chaos. You
might expect to be beset by the poor pleading for help or thieves robbing you
My youthful inquisitiveness gave me a familiarity with Khayelitsha, and by 1993
I was going there most Sundays to attend an Anglican church that met in a
primary school. As a liberal-minded, left-leaning post-grad student, I had
decided that it was important to show my pale face in the townships - to make a
little statement that not all whites were hostile or entrapped by fear, and to
say that the townships were not 'no-go' areas and, yes, you did come out alive.
For a year and a half I attended the Anglican service in the primary school,
knees wedged under tiny school desks, the ladies, dressed in their purple
Women's Fellowship coats, swaying beside me as they sung their hearts out, the
men standing proud in their Sunday Best, eager to be deacons. I remember that
our service was sometimes interrupted by the enthusiasm of a Pentecostal
congregation in the schoolroom opposite. Their 'Amens' carried loudly through
the broken windows.
I was not the only white making this weekly trip into 'the jungle'. A British
couple, Bob and Rachel Mash also attended. Rachel was preparing for ordination,
since women had just been accepted into the priesthood.
Near the school a new section of Khayelitsha was under development called
'Harare'. I watched the area develop remarkably quickly. The Provincial
Authority built roads and put in water and sewerage systems, then people moved
onto marked plots and built their shacks. In the mid-1990s Rachel returned to
the area to become minister of the new parish of Harare. Old Mutual Insurance
had donated a simple pre-fabricated building, and here she held her church
services. During the week it was well used as a training centre, a charity
called Triple Trust offered classes there in leatherwork and sewing.
The people who moved into Harare established a civic committee. They punished
criminals in the area - quite severely - and word went out that this was a
'respectable' part of Khayelitsha. Rachel discussed ideas with community
members to improve services in the area. A committee was formed and with some
donations they started a health clinic.
It was soon apparent, however, that jobs were - and remain - the key problem
(unemployment presently is 67% in Harare). So the community worked with
Rachel's help to turn the pre-fab building into a craft market. Initially the
market opened one or two mornings a week. Today it welcomes tourists five days
a week, providing an opportunity to buy crafts and meet the locals as xylophone
players entertain. Matanzima, the manager and 'chef de marché', welcomes
The small health clinic became less essential as the government opened a day
hospital in Khayelitsha. But the problem of AIDS loomed large on the horizon.
Today there are members of the community trained to offer AIDS education and
who run support groups for those with the disease.
Education for the children was another problem. With so many mothers out
seeking work, childcare is essential. The community committee, with Rachel's
participation, first established a crèche in a donated shipping
container. I well remember seeing fifty children crammed, obediently, into this
small space, with fifty more outside playing. Then they set about raising money
for a joint church-pre-school facility and with help from Anglican churches in
South Africa, the UK and New York a new complex was built with a large hall,
classrooms and a fine play area.
When my wife (also a 'Rachel') and I drive down Zola Budd on Sundays to go to
church in Harare we do not see a jungle. We are very aware that the communities
of Khayelitsha are exceptionally poor and unemployment denies work to roughly
two thirds of all adults. HIV/ AIDS is running at 25% and TB rates are likewise
very high. Crime, inevitably, is common. But we are privileged to see that
hard-pressed communities have pulled together to provide for themselves. The
Province also, to its credit, has provided basic services, medical facilities
and schools sufficient for almost all the population.
Most wealthy South Africans, and many visitors, look with fear at the
townships. In truth the most exciting developments are happening in amongst the
'jungle' of shacks. You find sinners - but you also find saints, who work with
courage and vision to provide support to their communities.
Church services in the new
building are full, the people wear colourful clothes, there is gusto in the
singing, outsiders are welcomed with great enthusiasm, and after communion it
is normal for people to dance and sing as the children kneel to be blessed by
the priest. Here is a celebration of life, a display of humanity and a
determined enthusiasm that I think would surprise many who whisk past this
'jungle' as fast as their BMWs will take them.
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