Archive for Julian Hewitt

Our Seismic Shift in Two Pictures

Here is a great visual of the seismic change we can expect from July to August. The aerial photo below shows our home on the east side of Pretoria. Notice the big houses, plenty of space and lots of trees

Bateleur Aerial Photo








Now 10km north as the crow flies, a whole new world opens up  The aerial photo below is of the vast informal settlement that that we will call home for the month of August. Our shack is located somewhere in the middle of the picture. Notice in complete contrast the absence of trees and high density living  connected by dirt roads. It is easy to see why we have no electricity or council sewage services to look forward to.

Mamelodi Aerial Photo

From Hillbrow with Love

“Why only a month?” was Nigel Branken’s first question. It was probably meant to throw us off guard and it had the desired effect. His question was quite a contrast to our often fielded enquiry of why a month in the first place.

We were in the middle of Hillbrow, sitting on their couch and swopping stories in their cheerily named apartment block called Blouberg. Not surprisingly, the apartment name failed to conjure up emotive images of Table Mountain that it might have been supposed to.

Looking across at the Branken's neighbouring building

Looking across at the Branken’s neighbouring apartment

Hillbrow is an inner city suburb so rough that high rise residents have a penchant for throwing things like engine blocks and pool tables onto unsuspecting passers as part of New Year Festivities.  Watching a big rubbish bag being tossed to the ground from 10 stories up, hitting the ground with a resounding thump only emphasised the point. As did the rest of the litter drifting in lazy gravitational pursuit.

It gave me that feeling of being on holiday. Not in the ‘sun drenched beach’ sense of the word, but rather that this was a parallel universe to my daily life.

Nigel and Trish were probably never quite your stereotypical middle class family. But two years ago, their decision to move from the leafy streets of Midrand to the Bronx of South Africa must have been quite a curveball to family and friends alike.

To Nigel and Trish, this is what makes them come alive in the world. It can’t be easy to have made the lifestyle adjustments they have needed to make. It also can’t be easy to be held up at gunpoint on a disconcertingly regular basis as part of an unofficial cell phone exchange programme.

But their story has been captivating enough to inspire Carte Blanche interviews and impact on many people around them in small, big and meaningful ways. ( The question of ‘What makes you come alive in the world’ is often a double-edged sword laced with incredible vulnerability and incredible passion.

Which brings me to what George Washington Carver would have said about the Brankens: “When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”

At least, there are some crazier people than us out there…

Framing our Month in Mamelodi

If it was up to my mum, our kids would stay at her home for the month of August. If it was up to another well-connected friend, he would be posting a full time security guard outside our shack. To some people it is a risqué endeavour that throws our family into harm’s way.

To others, there is great social capital to be made from this opportunity – white people challenging the status quo. People have commented about how we are giving our kids an incredibly unique experience. My favourite feedback comes through a Facebook comment from someone we have never met before. She said we should be prepared to be overwhelmed by all the love that the community will soon be enveloping us with.

If we are truly reflective though, Mamelodi for a Month is really just an empty canvas and onto which my mum, a good friend and a stranger are projecting personal values – be they fears, apprehensions or outpourings of love.

Ena and I are Christian and this is what frames our month in Mamelodi. It is a journey about embracing Christian values far removed from the comfort of our daily middle class comforts. You might call us neo-monastics for want of a fancy descriptive. God does not reside in a church. He is here and now. While it is easy to be a Christian on Sunday morning from 9h00 to 10h30, it’s by living Christian values on a Monday Morning when life happens that really counts.

But we are not missionaries. The people we will live alongside for a month have far greater faith than us in living a daily life of vulnerability. They have far greater entrepreneurial ability than us to live on the poverty line to get by. They have far greater stamina to survive illness without the comfort of a medical aid or in waiting for a bus at 4h30 in the middle of winter that might or might not come. In this regard, we have come to learn from people who have less but often much more.

Mamelodi for a Month is a canvas for us to challenge what is most important in our lives. It is a blank canvas to transform our context. And it is a space to engage you in a conversation around these two fundamentals.Blank Canvas Outdoor