The ABCs of building a brighter future

By Kayla De Jesus Freitas

The youth of the small community of Kliptown, in Soweto, face many issues in their daily lives. These include substance abuse, lack of basic facilities and rampant crime. Despite this, however, there are centres all around the area that aim to assist these youths in building better lives and securing brighter futures.

Walter Sisulu Square, a monument designed to mark the creation of the Freedom Charter and South Africa’s movement to democracy, stands proudly in the centre of Soweto’s Kliptown district. Small groups of children shuffle restlessly across the monuments’ vast courtyard, on their way home from school, passing droves of tourists snapping pictures in the shade of the Soweto Hotel.

They chatter among each other as they hop between the train tracks that separate the dream-like opulence of the hotel, at the edge of the square, and the reality of their lives in the tiny zinc houses of the region of Kliptown known as Emva Kwe Sporo, meaning the place behind the railway.

Despite the shine on their school shoes and the smiles on their faces, this is a reality that is rife with substance abuse, crime, violence and significant school drop-out rates, explains Faith Dhlodhlo, a social worker at the Kliptown Academic Citizenship and Economic Development Centre.

“I don’t know whether the area doesn’t have enough recreational facilities, or something, but mostly the youth are finding themselves in these situations because they lack employment, or they leave school early and then they are unemployable,” she says.

This despairing tale of a community filled with forgotten children is, however, anything but the Kliptown narrative. Centres and programmes that attempt to help youths refrain from engaging in criminal activities, by providing them with positive alternatives, are dotted throughout the area.

This is a community that embodies resilience and determination to secure a brighter future for the youth.

Regarded as the oldest township in the Johannesburg region, Kliptown was initially established in 1903. The Freedom Charter was, thereafter, signed in the area in 1955. Today, however, Kliptown is a far cry from the rights outlined in the document.

The living conditions, which lack rights ranging from housing and electricity to running water, provide for a visual which would make the signatories of the charter tremble with anger.

The heat of an African summer afternoon continues to beat down relentlessly, blurring the tiny shacks that sprawl out into the distance. Packed as tightly as cans on a shelf, these make-shift homes yield only to narrow dirt streets

TRYING TIMES: The people of Kliptown live in impoverished conditions, despite the promise of rights such as education and sanitation being enshrined in the Freedom Charter.

DID YOU KNOW?

According to statics released by the South African Police Service in October 2017, the Kliptown area only had increases in the number of cases in two subcategories.

These subcategories, namely sexual offenses and aggravated robbery, increased by 12.7% and 34.3% respectively over the last year, whilst other categories saw a decline in cases.

“Kliptown is largely an informal settlement and in that type of scenario, the unemployment rate is very high,” explains Dave Shuba, the overall chairperson of the Greater Kliptown Community Policing Forum.

“I don’t know how many government officials came to this area, we’ve engaged with so many people. I don’t know how many presidents came here and we spoke to them, but nothing’s changed,” he continues with a look of sadness clouding his face.

Shuba works to educate the community and aid the Kliptown police in fighting crime. He explains that his organisation deals with youths, as young as 16, who become involved in crimes such as theft and substance abuse.

“It’s purely because the community is on a poverty bend. It’s a survival type of crime,” he shrugs.

Dhlodhlo, whose work revolves mostly around youths that are in conflict with the law, is often confronted with first-time offenders being provided a second chance by the courts.

She has seen the effects of the poverty in the area first-hand in her work with young adults, who speak of their beginnings in substance abuse from “very tender ages like 12 and 13. It’s disturbing because it’s like a norm, everybody has to either drink or drug,” she explains.

According to Dhlodhlo, community and youth centres in the area play an integral role in ensuring that youths are kept occupied and away from crime, because Kliptown contains very few recreational facilities like parks and playgrounds.

“Most of the things that they do, like if they do crime, it’s when they are bored. When they do drugs, it’s also boredom at most times. When they are busy, they don’t have time for that stuff, so it does help,” she explains.

Feeding hungry mouths and nurturing hungry minds

The afternoon begins to cool in Emva Kwe Sporo, as the clock approaches 2:30pm. Small clouds of dust rise from the dirt as the school-uniform-clad children take turns to jump, dodging the small rivers of dirty water that trickle down Station Road.

Their pace quickens as they approach the white-washed walls of the Kliptown Youth Programme (KYP), the smell of fresh pap and chicken wafting out of the centres’ kitchen and drawing them in.

The promise of an afternoon meal has drawn the now 460-strong membership of the KYP to the centre, since its establishment on May 27, 2007.

For many school-going youths the centre forms the axis of their lives by providing access to homework assistance, sports and cultural activities and daily meals.

“Food should not be a privilege, it should be a right. Unfortunately, not every family in our community have food for their children every time, so we had to introduce the programme,” explains KYP executive director, Thulani Madondo, who has won many humanitarian awards for his work at KYP, including the CNN Top 10 Heroes award in 2012.

Catering to any person who is still enrolled in school, regardless of age, the centre is often flooded with people by 3pm. This is a time characterised by the faint sounds of spoons scaping against plates, trying to capture that last grain of rice.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The Kliptown Youth Programme provides members with two meals a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

The quadrangle of the programme, filled with colours and laughing children, lies in stark contrast to the destitute surroundings of the centre. A faded mural at the entrance to the kitchen that perfectly epitomises the aim of the programme, even ten years after its initial creation, reads: “Inspiring positive change.”

According to Madondo, who was born and raised in the Emva Kwe Sporo region, “We started the programme because we wanted to be the generation that breaks the poverty cycle in our community. The main purpose of our organisation is to see young people become the architects of their own exit strategy from this type of environment.”

Seventeen-year-old Buntu Kalipa, who aspires to be a commercial pilot, has spent more than half of his life as a member of the programme and is also currently involved in the centre’s gumboot dancing team.

“Being at KYP for nine years, it is home for me. If something happens, my mom asks if I was at KYP and then she contacts them because she knows when I am here I am safe.

“KYP is like my guardian parents. If my parents aren’t here, they are like my parents and they look out for us. I have been in the experience where my ex-friends wanted me to join drugs and drinking every week. To get out of that space was hard, but KYP was there for me,” he explains with a tiny smile brightening his eyes.

The centre is funded by multiple organisations, such as the KFC Add Hope campaign, KitKat Cash & Carry and The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust. Madondo and his co-founder, Thanduxolo Bezana, plan to secure further private and corporate funding so that the centre can continue to develop and refine the available programmes.

Small bodies, big dreams

Nine hundred and fifty meters away from the KYP, in the Tamatievlei area of Kliptown, stands yet another testament to the community’s dedication to improving the prospects of the youth.

The Mighty Evolution Kids daycare centre, which was established on January 13, 2016, aims to cater to children who are not yet enrolled in school. The small corridor of three classrooms that make up the centre is characterised by the cheerful and ever-present day care principal, Candice Madondo.

Madondo, much like her namesake at KYP to whom she is not related, exhibits an unbridled passion for the children in her care.

“It’s not difficult for children to get involved in crime, because there’s so many things that they see happening around. There’s burglaries, there’s fights that they see happening outside, so we need to make sure that we block off all of that. An early childhood development centre is foundation phase. I believe if the foundation is set right here, the child goes to school and they get a positive mindset,” she says as she organises a mess of papers in preparation for the centre’s December graduation ceremony.

The daughter of a local pastor, Madondo, describes the centre as her form of ministering to the community and plans to expand the daycare to include after-school programmes and facilities, such as a toy library.

“We do have centres such as Khayalethu, PUSH [Persevere Until Something Happens] and the Kliptown Youth Programme, but for our children in this area it’s too far for them to go to those centres. I don’t want to open a centre like those and compete with anybody, but I’d like to have people who assist children with homework. It will also create employment for young girls who are at home struggling to get work,” she says.

The daycare has no full-time sponsor and continues to struggle financially, however, donations from private companies and individuals have ensured that Madondo is able to realise her dream of growing the centre. This is evident in the creation of a small soccer and recreational field, which is underway in an area directly outside the centre.

Madondo is also using this project as a means of assisting older youths in the broader Tamatievlei community, by providing former criminals and addicts with employment.

Twenty-seven-year-old Marco Harrington, a former drug addict and gang member who is assisting Madondo, believes that this work ensures these youths do not have to become reinvolved in crime, so as to support themselves and their families.

According to Harrington, the day care also “helps keeps them [children] out of trouble. They don’t see things that they not supposed to see, because if you grow up seeing things you aren’t supposed to see, you end up doing them. I’m talking from experience.”

Evangeline Fourie, a mother whose two-year-old son Shepard attends the Mighty Evolution Kids day care, agreed with Harrington’s positive outlook on the impact of the day care on the youths.

“I see big aspirations in a lot of children here. Children have dreams, but their dreams get crushed by things that they see on the outside. When I look at the children in their classrooms and I look in their eyes, I see presidents and doctors. There’s one boy who always says he wants to be a soldier and when I look at him, I really see a soldier in him,” she smiles.

MOTHERLY LOVE: Candice Madondo, the principal of Mighty Evolution Kids, believes that love and positive reinforcement can change a child’s life.

JUMP FOR JOY: Lamiah Moodley plays outside the Mighty Evolution Kids daycare centre where her father, Marco Harrington, works.

Left behind, but not forgotten

The impact of centres such as KYP and Mighty Evolution Kids, continues to touch the lives of countless youths in the Kliptown area. However, the flaws of these programmes are too often felt by youths who find themselves in need of medical facilities, such as drug rehabilitation centres.

Each day, as school children scamper their way across Walter Sisulu Square towards the various youth programmes, these young men and women return to places such as the Kliptown scrapyard. A place to exchange empty bottles for money that they can use to buy drugs and get their next fix.

John Williams*, a twenty-eight-year-old nyaope addict, began his descent into drug abuse in his first year of high school.

Despite attending programmes similar to the KYP, Williams was not dissuaded from using drugs as a means of escaping the hardships he faced being raise by a financially-struggling single mother.

“A programme for the youth? I’m still going to be here in the area, they just going to let me come there every day. There’s nothing there that will keep me away from drugs, so a rehab is a little bit better, because there’s no drugs and they going to give me medication that’s going to help me to detox. There’s no detoxification here in any of the youth programmes,” says Williams.

WASTED ON WHOONGA

The drug nyaope, which is commonly used by youths in Kliptown, is also known as whoonga.

Nyoape, which comprises various substances like heroin, rat poison and antiretrovirals, is mixed with dagga and occasionally tobacco before being smoked in a joint.

Drug withdrawals include severe joint and stomach aches, according to Williams.

The satellite office of the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in Eldorado Park, located 2km from Walter Sisiulu Square, is the closest centre that can assist these youths. However, “at the moment, I think, they are overwhelmed. It’s too much to carry and they do need help,” says Dhlodhlo.

Despite this downfall, the youth centres are “trying their level best,” explains Dhlodhlo.

Centres, such as KYP, continue to reach out to youths involved in crime and drug abuse through their various programmes.

The hordes of children that retreat from these centres into their homes each afternoon is a clearly indication of the importance of the centres to the community.

Their foundations providing a starting point for a better, brighter future for the young people who pass through their gates each day.

NYAOPE BOYS: The Kliptown scrapyard is frequented by youths, such as Fabian Ryan, who are addicted to substances like Nyaope and heroine. Mighty Evolution Kids provide jobs to the youngsters to try to keep them out of trouble.