The Month That Should Not Have Been

Conventional ‘wisdom’ dictated that Mamelodi for a Month should never have happened. It did though. And here are some insights into how challenging it can be to go against the status quo.

Before moving to Mamelodi, close friends and family shared strong reservations about the risk involved in our venture. This was particularly in exposing Julia and Jessica to all the perceived riskiness of a township. “If you want to take a decision to move to a township, please don’t take your kids along.”

Apparently we were being reckless and irresponsible parents by willingly opening our children to the multitudes of social ills that ekasi life is ‘synonymous’ with from illness, lack of seat belts on taxis to violence and child rape. If we had listened to this discourse, either Mamelodi for a Month would have been dead in the water before it started or Ena and I would have had quite a soulless experience of living in Mamelodi sans children.

The other mindset which came through as an undercurrent to our month was that “We were making a mockery of poverty and essentially had no right to live in a township.” The significant media interest we received definitely added fuel to this fire. Why should a white family living in a shack for a month warrant so much attention when this is daily life for millions of black South African families? To this assertion, Ena and I would agree.

However, the anger in these messages could have been enough to stop the bravest plans in their tracks. To get a sense of how this social commentary played out, read a couple of the tweets below that came our way before the Month in Mamelodi began and ask yourself how you would have responded to them?

These were some lessons that stood out in swimming against the current. They are important takeaways in guiding future experiences:

1. Trust Yourself: Listen to others but not at the expense of trusting yourself. If you are doing something for the right reasons, do not be afraid to transcend conventional thinking. It is not about trying to please detractors. Significant decisions will always have critics.

2. The Litmus Test of Real Life: Despite the misgivings of some of the ‘intelligentsia’ regarding our Month in Mamelodi, we never met a single detractor in Phomolong. Rather, we were overwhelmed the love shared by the people around us. They completely understood and appreciated why we were there. Real life should be the litmus test not academic or social discourse.

In all of this, the question that stands out is: in a country as culturally and historically complex as ours, should it really be so tough for people to cross over boundaries? Should the social conversations not be more encouraging of authentic intent to bridge chasms?

The reality is that divides are in our heads not our hearts and perhaps it is time to be led more by our hearts.

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18 comments

  1. Thank you for being brave enough to take your beliefs one step further and highlight the everyday lives of the majority of South Africans, giving us (more advantaged) a new set of eyes when viewing this situation.

    I found your suggestions regarding the unemployment, transport subsidies and metrorail quite valid and I wanted to know how can you get this to the voices which need to hear this.

    I studied occupational therapy and thereafter Public Relations and Marketing and now sit in the renewable sector however I still think like an OT.

    Are you going to get this message out to the public via the media?
    Have you thought about how you are going to take your learnings and transmit them to those that can make a difference?

    It would be so worthwhile if you do and a pity to lose focus on such an immense and humbling learning experience if you didn’t.

    With best regards and thank you
    Claire

  2. Elana says:

    Hey Ena and Julian,

    Seems like this experience has turned into something far more than you anticipated – both good and bad. Kudos to you both for continuing on and living out an experience you believed in. There will always be people who agree and disagree with what you do in life, but you’re the ones who live your lives and there’s only so many opinions you should take into account. I believe your children and yourselves are so enriched by this experience and you can’t be expected to change all the lives of those in Mamelodi. Thanks for trying to also educate those that don’t live in townships – to at least some of the hardships of living in a township. I believe you achieved that goal of opening your family’s perspective to a lifestyle that a significant number of South Africans live and your children will definitely be the better for it. Thanks for sharing your journey with us! I hope we can all appreciate our lives and comforts more and have a more empathetic view to those less fortunate – through your experience.

  3. Marlik says:

    Decision’s becomes easier when your to please God outweighs your will to please the world.

  4. Peter Munnings says:

    Well done guys. I feel very privileged to have got to meet you – you’ve been a great inspiration.

  5. David says:

    Of course you took a risk with your children, pretending you didn’t take a risk, and calling the risks “perceived”, just makes you look silly … the point is not that there were no risks, the point is that you accepted the risks, and were fortunate that nothing bad came to pass.

  6. David says:

    What I mean is, I just think it would have looked better if you had just said, “yes, there were risks, but we decided to take those risks anyway, so we could have this experience”.

  7. David says:

    To be clear, I think it’s overall a good thing you did, and I wish we had more of it. I wish it wasn’t risky to do this sort of thing. I did something slightly similar, and I almost got attacked a couple times for it. People like FriendsOfVavi must take their hatred and bury it for good, it is toxic and destructive.

  8. kgabo Frederick Hlako says:

    Thanks for that, i realy like ur lifestyle. Travelling is a good thing indeed, experiencing other lifestyle, putting your in other people’s situation, is realy good. You have done a wonderful thing guys. Thanks Leah as well, for everything that she did to support u. May good God bless you and your kinds with more years to come. Thank You

    yours
    Kgabo Frederick

  9. Mpume says:

    God bless you guys

  10. Asanda says:

    I followed you until the end and I want to say congratulations guys. Truth is, I was praying that nothing happens to your kids too. So sad considering that there are so many kids whose reality is the risk of being raped etc. Glad you are back home safe. I hope you will be inviting me to come experience your world:-)

  11. Asanda says:

    Oh, it would be nice to use your experience for change. I know it was about changing your lives, but it wouldnt hurt.

  12. anonymous says:

    What the Hewitts did was incredibly brave. Hateful 7/31 tweets did not deter them. They could have bailed but they went anyway. Twitter needs to revise their TOS agreement. Hate should be unwelcomed everywhere, no exceptions. If Hitler were to tweet extermination orders, would Twitter transmit them faithfully?

  13. Anynomous says:

    Upon first hearing this story, I was in disbelief and shock. Thinking to myself : ( why would they want to do this?) is it mockery? Since visiting your site and reading your stories and credentials, I apologise for thinking anything negative! Thank you for the awareness on the Metrorail and cost of Taxi. You two along with your children are beautiful spirits!! I hope your story is share with many in a positive light. You showed the love people share no matter what social demographic.

  14. Susie H says:

    It is such a shame that so much of what is perceived from a public viewpoint these days comes from twitter/facebook. The power of twitter is indeed a terrifying thing when used for no good. Thank you for pressing on, trusting your own instincts to do what you felt led to do. Thank you for caring so much for Leah, that you wanted to truly understand her circumstances. Easing her transportation costs will (obviously from your chart of living expenses) do so much. So often, household help is relegated to a non personal space in our lives, and yet when we have someone that spends that much time in our home, shouldn’t we develop relationship with them? Even come to care deeply (love) them? I love that you both followed through with your plans, were able to ignore the naysayers, and came out of it with exactly the understanding you were looking for. Bravo!

  15. Jacques says:

    There are a collection of faceless racist people on twitter! They remain just that!

  16. thato hlalele says:

    Look, they may be hurtful tweets especially when you are trying to do sumthing good. As you have seen poverty in our country is a real issue they thought you mocking the leaving conditions of black people besides you wud be going back to your leaving conditions in a months time. It was good what you did it was only for a month though. You had a glimpse on how poor people lived but how they actually feel don’t think you really know most people have been doing that all their lives, but what you did never the less was good, great actually just wish more White and sum elite Black people could see how the poor suffer. God bless you.

  17. giovanni taylor says:

    I don’t understand what the point in all of this was? Prior to this experience, did you not know that poor people have difficult lives? I do agree that it was not a good idea to risk the children, especially when it’s unlikely they’ll remember it.

    But more importantly, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to pay your housekeeper more, so that she can at least afford a taxi? What is the endgame here?

  18. Jeannie Wright says:

    The people that left the tweet needs to be put in an air plane with a parashute and pushed out in the poorest part of south Africa
    . ⑧✴✴

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