Archive for August 2013

A National Emergency?

IMG_3095 - CopyThere has been much interest in what happens after our time in Mamelodi. What are we going to do? What are we going to change? How are we going to make a difference?

For Ena and I, Mamelodi for a Month has always been about a journey and not a destination. It has been about creating a conversation rather than creating action.It has been about changing ourselves, not others.

In some ways, this frees us from the responsibility of having to start something, build something or create something. But we will forever be burdened by knowing that if we sleep in a warm bed, millions won’t.  When we go to our jobs, millions don’t. When our kids go to good schools, millions can’t.

This is no longer an academic concept for us. It is a real experience. I will forever be haunted by the wasted potential of the army of jobless in Mamelodi I meet on a daily basis. They should be welders, salespeople, accountants, teachers and so much more.

Are we really “Born to Suffer” as we saw graffitied on a nearby shack or are “Friends Few When Days are Dark” that was painted on another?

The problems with places like the Mamelodis of South Africa are too complex for any individual to influence. There are too many glass ceilings at play. Too many pieces of string to unravel. Sure, if an Early Childhood Development centre was started, that would be great, but what of the low quality schooling thereafter. What about the lack of electricity to study at night, what about the high rates of drug addiction and alcoholism that pull families apart. What about the exorbitant cost of transportation on the family budget. Even if all of these were addressed, where are all the jobs to strive for in the first place.

Surely this should be a collective National Emergency. We seem to have national key points around far more peripheral things. Do we want to have collective conversations that change contexts or are we happy for the context to define us.

If we sit back, can we really expect a mythical hero-leader to stand up and and rescue us from futures that increasing look like Nationalisation or Higher Tax Burdens to share the wealth around? How do we build stronger bridges rather than higher walls?

There is only so much we as a family can do. However, if this month of ours can inspire other people to be more proactive with the people their lives intersect with, surely more can come from it than just waiting for politicians to rise to an increasing loud call for action?

Mamelodi Street Party – A Meeting of Worlds

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Our Mamelodi Street Party on Saturday was our opportunity to introduce forty family and friends to our life in Mamelodi. It was a celebration of the meeting of two worlds – spanning not just the black and white divide but more definitively the rich and poor divide.


Crossing the first divide for our guests involved catching a taxi from Pretoria East to Mamelodi. Itumeleng was their very willing taxi driver. Earlier in the morning his passengers had been chatting about the white family in Mamelodi and this was his chance to be a part of the action.


What impressed Ena and I was how important this event was for Leah and her immediate friends. It gave them a face and a sense of importance of being central to hosting such a unique event. Behind the scenes, they had worked hard to brew umquombothi and pineapple beer for the festivities. I was amazed at their initiative and coordination in finding huge pots for the pap and the marshaling of an army of helpers to prepare the food. This was the community contribution. Everyone else brought the piles of meat and the result was an impressive feeding of a crowd that soon swelled 200. And unlike the biblical event, there was absolutely nothing left over.


Jan, our neighbour, was keen to make the point that this was not a Party but a braai. He was disappointed that Black Label quarts were not part of the equation and that its cheaper cousin, umquombothi was an unappreciated free alternative. But for the rest of the rest of us, it was a happy experience with kids running wild between the shacks and new friendships were crafted around the local shebeen’s pool table.


But when it was over, our friends caught taxis back to their cars and then drove back to homes with lights, heating and hot water, while Ena and I stayed on as the inside-outsiders. The local Sangoma had started conducting divinations for some of the revelers and we had the interesting task of politely asking him to do so out of the comfort of Leah’s living room. We also had to deal with Jan’s drunken monologue about the absence of Black Label and a rather scary drunken brawl a few meters outside our shack in the wee hours of the night.


And it was back to bucket baths, primus cooking, cold evenings and handwashing for us. At least for the rest of the week…


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