July 24, 2008

Kayamandi is the second oldest township in South Africa,  started in 1941 with houses to accommodate migrant labor coming to work at the university or on farms and wine estates.  The next year, officials began moving black communities from nearby towns to Kayamandi.  By the 1970s, the the population was split about half families, half migrant workers.  The town on the other side of the road was “colored”, kind of like a buffer in between Kayamandi and white Stellenbosch.

The migrant workers were mostly from Xhosa speaking communities and is therefore most widely spoken (Kayamandi means “good home”).  The population has exploded recently due to urbanization and the end of apartheid (somewhat ironically) and now there are an estimated 33,000 people on less than 2 acres of land.  70% of inhabitants live in dwellings considered “informal”, which to my eyes translates to “shack”… homes made out of scraps of metal, wood, cardboard, cloth.

All of the informal dwellings are one room, housing an entire family (the average family size in Kayamandi is 8 people) and  10 or so homes share a bathroom.  There are also some “hostels” from the ’60s, built by companies who employed people in the community.  They were originally designed to hold 2 men each, but it’s a family each now and it seems like they have been loooong since abandoned by any company or organization.

There are also some brick houses a little bit up a hill.  Some of them are government housing and some of them are for those who are a bit better off (I saw a few satellite dishes =) ).

The main issues are unemployment, HIV/AIDS and malnutrition.  50% of children are supported by single mothers.

There’s a high school and a primary school, as well as a new pre-primary.  The South African government recently made pre-primary necessary in order to enter elementary school.

So that’s some of the facts and a little history.

Oh, and Coca Cola is truly a monster.  It is everywhere.

I saw a few food stands.  I will never forget seeing them— they’re all about their meat here, but I wasn’t really prepared for seeing a table FULL of severed pigs’ heads or a grill heaped with sheep heads… or a table full of decapitated chickens with kids and women standing around plucking out the feathers.  Not exactly the vegetarian’s dream.

The children called us “teacher” because pretty much any white adults in the community are there for NGOs, mostly as tutors and educators (which is what I’ll be doing too, so I suppose they were right after all).  They were incredibly sweet tempered and lively… we all sort of wanted to take one home.  Seeing all of the little ones made me regret not doing the pre-primary teachers assistant.   I think I don’t really like kids, but it might just be spoiled American brats in grocery stores I don’t care for.  This little guy adopted her, hah.

I feel strangely guilty going into this community to “help”.  It seems incredibly presumptuous of me to assume they want my help.  After all, what right do I have to teach anything to their children?  I’m a college student of 20, I have no training in education- I don’t even like kids.  Mike, the guy who runs the program (and our AIFS resident adviser) has said a couple of times that usually it seems like the volunteers get more out of the program than the students.  To me, it’s the white man’s guilt.  We (as a community of privileged “takers”) brought our boats the their shores, used their land for crops, took their land for our swimming pools and tennis courts, gathered them up like cattle and shoved them onto the worst land (but close enough to town that they can still work for us), in the worst dwellings, and used a brutal, stringently racist police force to beat them into submission.  Now I get to walk into their community a couple of times a week for four hours, sit with their children with poor African faces, feel like I’m doing some good, go home satisfied, and leave in 6 months.
I suppose that is incredibly negative.  Happily, though, there are two NGOs in the camp working long term with the community on development and they will hopefully have a lasting impact.  I’m not saying what we’re doing is a bad thing, I’m just not convinced on who is benefiting and for what reasons.  Some students a few years ago started a basketball team for the high school and that seems to be going incredibly well.  Some of the players came to a meeting the other day and made me cry.  I wish we called one another brother and sister in America, it seems really amazing to me.  Anyways, they referred to each other as teammates, brothers and friends and said that the team truly did help to keep them out of drugs and crime.  They won their first tournament recently and a month ago some NCAA group came over and did a basketball camp with them.  They were so positive and excited, it was very neat listen to them.  I guess after all it is the little things like that, a basketball team in a township, that creates small communities of positivity and opportunity.

I’m going to have to deal with my feelings on this pretty deeply, I imagine, seeing as I want to invade =) communities and “help” as my life’s work.  It’s certainly not better to do nothing.  I’m just excited for the time when I can have a lasting relationship with a community and can see positive results for the people directly.

Okay, I’m going to go make some new friends.
Also- I figured out that I can comment on my own posts.  So if you ask questions in a comment, I will answer them there as well.  Just go back to the post where you commented and click on the comment button again.=)


10 Responses to “Kayamandi”

  1. Aunt MA Says:

    I feel the same way about any volunteering. Not so sure who is helping whom. But I guess I decided that its one way we really can understand that we are all part of a whole; we all affect each other’s lives, for good or bad. And one never know how big of a splash our individual pebble is going to make. So you go girl. Throw a boulder into your pond and do/learn as much as you can.
    Be safe.

  2. Martha-her mom! Says:

    Interestingly, Jason Carter, grandson of Jimmy and author of the current book I’m reading, spent 2 years in the Peace Corps in SA in the late 1990s. If it makes you feel better, he felt exactly the same way after spending months and months in the same township. He wondered what good he really did, what right he had to be there when he had no teaching background (he helped teachers re-learn how to teach after apartheid), and really, who was benefitting the most? He struggled right up to the end and probably still is.
    As ever, you are very insightful, thoughtful, and well-written.
    And, no, you can’t bring anyone home! Customs will notice!

  3. Martha-her mom! Says:

    A little clarification…
    Did you really mean 33,000 souls on 2 acres of land? That’s not physically possible except at a concert, is it? By bathroom that 10 families share, really, like we think bathroom with running water and flushing abilities? What is “NGO”?

  4. jessicakania Says:

    Less than 2 acres, and yes, that’s what I meant. A whole family in a 5’x5′ home makes that possible. The bathrooms I saw had running water, that was where anyone who wanted clean water would get it so it was kitchen/bathroom, but there are no showers or baths in them.

    Non-governmental organization, so it has no direct and ideally no indirect government ties and they rarely receive government funding. They’re usually either advocating for some kind of change, physically helping that change happen, or both. I want to work for an NGO eventually, that’s where I want to end up, unless it’s with the UN. =)

  5. irbaktam Says:

    How utterly awesome. You have handcrafted an experience that most people can’t even dream of. Love every minute of it. Go Bucks!!!!

  6. Kathy Says:

    Jes, when I was in Ca, they had tail-less cats called MANX, also they have longer back legs so they kinda travel bunny-ish. Have you found out about the local cats yet?
    I love reading all this! Keep up the great work!!

  7. Josh Says:

    really interesting (though upsetting!) history of the township, wild pictures (how gross, all the heads on the board!), and thoughtful perspective youve got on NGO/humanitarian work. those are definitely really tough questions to ask and answer ..

  8. Courtney Wallace Says:

    Hey Jes
    That is wonderful that you are there. Just got a email from your mom letting us know that you are there. Hope you are having a great time and I look forward to reading all your blogs.

    Have fun and be safe

  9. janet Says:

    What a neat littl eblog you have. Where are you from? I am South African but have been living in America for years now. Going ina few weeks to go visit and want to take the inlaws to the elephant and cat park in knysna. Did you see any bushman drawings in the cango caves? I haven’t been there since I was in middle school and dont want to take my inlaws out if they are harldy there- would be a wast of time. Do you mind responding on my blog- if you care to respond- so I have your blog on mine as a reference for following in the future and so I can see when you respond? Thanks so much. Enjoy your travels. You seem quite adventerous.

  10. janet Says:

    Oh geez, excuse all the typos. My starbucks just kicked in.

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