2 June 2014

Umlazi

I have written about my little trip to South Africa before. Go here. It was almost eleven years ago. It's funny how most weeks that we live in are completely forgotten and other weeks, other moments are seared in our minds forever. I didn't want to get on the plane to come back home. Just being in South Africa was thrilling and visiting Ogwini Technical School in the middle of the vast Umlazi township on the edge of Durban was inspirational and uplifting.I would have liked to join the teaching staff and contribute to helping young township dwellers out of poverty through education. But of course I had to come home.

I remember walking on to the Ogwini campus for the first time. A minibus dropped me near the gate and I was led round to the back of the school where there was a mound overlooking the sports field. The teachers were gathered on that mound and the children - around 2,000 of them were clustered in front of us like a football crowd. Then the singing started. I looked at the sea of faces in front of me and every mouth was singing out the words without a hint of self-consciousness - all contributing to the communal sound. The volume was large and the harmonious coalition of voices was both natural and beautiful. They were singing "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" (God Bless Africa) and I shivered in the heat with two big fat tears rolling down my cheeks though I couldn't quite understand why.

Here's me with some of the schoolboys. I am looking over their heads like Dr Livingstone I presume. They all lived in ramshackle huts made of corrugated iron, chipboard and advertising signs. And they got their water from communal pumps. The township was rife with HIV, AIDs, drugs, gangsters, alcoholism, rape and above all its grinding poverty. So it was quite amazing that the teenage students all turned up for school in clean uniforms with schoolbags and pens.
And this lovely, bright Zulu girl gave me the awful news that her English teacher - the only white teacher in the school - had been raped and murdered at home just a few weeks earlier. I wonder what that girl is doing now. She'll be in her mid to late twenties if she is still alive. I hope she climbed out of the poverty trap and used education as a springboard to a better life in Mandela's Rainbow Nation - for that is the dream of all Umlazi families - their version of winning the National Lottery:-
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11 comments:

  1. I have been to Cape Town several times when I worked. They are great people. I'm glad you visited a Township or slum. These are folk who really make an effort to drag themselves into a better world.
    When I was last there we had the Mark Thatchers trying to keep them where they are.
    I used to employ cleaning gangs. The poor mites were terrified of me. I had a load of electricians on a boat tramping muck everywhere. I noticed the cleaners were wiping up after them. I got hold of the boss lady and told her to wait till the sparkies had finished work. They thought it was a trick. I took them for a beer and had a wonderful couple of hours persuading them that it wasn't a Honky/Snowflake trick. They then got pissed and started singing. Beautiful it was.
    If you are normal with people folk will be okay with you. This post proves it.

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    1. PS. Our friend Michaela now lives in SA. Happen it's worth another visit.

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    2. Maybe we could sign up for a hunting safari - to bag a Michaela. Then first stop the taxidermists.

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  2. I really love to see the bright, sunshiny faces of kids this age. Too bad most of the kids here have their faces stuck in their phones all the time.

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    1. Were you thinking about the white guy on the back row? He's never sent a text message, never tweeted and has never possessed a cell phone (mobile phone) - so there!

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  3. Innocent faces... Tough lives

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  4. I sometimes feel that in many ways I have led a sheltered life. Then I recall the poverty I saw in Liverpool as a young man. Those were the 'never had it so good' days. The irony is that in a way they were.

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    1. They say that what you have never had you will never miss. There's a book on the shelves of our study - about early European "exploration" of the South Pacific. It's called "Where The Poor Are Happy".

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    2. That was before television and education and tourists gaping at you (in the early days of exploration I suspect far off lands were beyond the comprehension of the Pacific Islanders). Not missing and wanting are, I would submit, not necessarily incompatible. If I lived amongst violence and poverty I might not miss a calm life but I might still want one.

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    3. Point taken GB. The saying I quoted is somewhat facile.

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