30 September 2013: This has to count as one of my favourite books of all time, which also left an indelible mark in my childhood memories. My older sister and I loved the book. I enjoyed reading this book enormously and watching the movie afterwards completed the story for me. The saying goes “ Won’t believe it, till I see it”. It’s a must read novel in my books – if you haven’t read it yet – do! I am reminded of it yet again in my reflections about time spent at the Soweto Kliptown Youth center or SKY. Which I am immensely grateful for the experience – a place to sleep and a world full of books. Thokoza!.
I admire Steinbeck’s writing and his willingness and effort to “understand people” as he cites in his journal:
“In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.— John Steinbeck in his 1938 journal entry[
Of Mice and Men is a novella written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. Published in 1937, it tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression in California, USA.
Based on Steinbeck’s own experiences as a bindle stiff in the 1920s (before the arrival of the Okies he would vividly describe in The Grapes of Wrath), the title is taken from Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”, which read: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.” (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)
Required reading in many schools, Of Mice and Men has been a frequent target of censors for vulgarity and what some consider offensive and racist language; consequently, it appears on the American Library Association’s list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century
This book comes to mind as I write this series of “curious-incidents” in Kliptown and the story or base theme of , Of Mice and Men is at the core of this series – especially with regard to how I got there in the first place ( in search of my brother) and our subsequent combined search for a “home” and the relationship(s) we have developed since then. All done in an effort to “understand” him, myself , and the world in which I found myself in. It’s the news story which could not let got of me somehow! I am waking up to the “connections”that have led me here ( both personally and professionally) and it all began with a search for a home just like George Milton and Lennie Small the main characters in the book “Of Mice and Men”. Over the years there have been many protests in Kliptown demanding service delivery and housing by the Kliptown Concerned Residence (KRC) , a detailed account of all their demands and troubles is listed in the Anti-Privatization Forum’s Website. As this account from 2008 suggests – their protests and demands have fallen on deaf ears in all these years. Because as I mentioned in a “A TWISTED HERITAGE” Kliptown was sold as an “open air museum / ecomusee” the first of its kind in South Africa. Following very closely on the failed model of development through Privatization (Restructuring). an economic policy strongly pushed during Former President Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki’s tenures. Which has meant that Kliptown ( and most privatization cases) has relied heavily on (FDI) from foreign tourists for sustenance over the year. Kliptown Concerned Residents have been systematically silenced over the years by the police. No one is protesting Anymore. At least not recently. I have chosen this entry because it’s the most recent and was published on my birthday:
Arrested for demanding housing – the trial of Kliptown protesters continues
4TH APRIL 2008
Friday 4 April 2008 by Ahmed
On the 03rd September 2007 more than twenty comrades were arrested in community protests organized by the Anti Privatisation Forum against the slow or non-delivery of services in Soweto (Kliptown and Protea South). Fourteen comrades were arrested in Protea South though only four of those charged were taken to the Protea Magistrate’s court on the 4th of September 2007 and the others were released after being held captive for more than 24 hours without any charges being laid. In Kliptown, twelve comrades were arrested for public violence including five juveniles (underage, school-going children) and have been appearing in court since September 2007. Their next appearance is scheduled for 16 April 2008.
Criminalization of protest
Public violence ranks as a criminal charge which allows the state to demand higher bail amounts. The Kliptown defendants were all released on R500 bail each. The reason given by the magistrate for his heavy hand was that communities have to be discouraged from taking to the street to demand service delivery while there are other options to ensure their voices are heard. Since he’s been granting the police ever-extra time to ’investigate’, the trial has not got underway and he doesn’t yet know the lengths to which the Kliptown community has gone to raise their grievances with the municipality and the Department of Housing. On the 14th of August 2007 – less than a month before their arrest – the Kliptown community handed over a petition together with a memorandum to the Eldorado Municipal Offices, demanding the recall of the useless ward councilor and further demanding that the Department of Housing address their housing needs. No response to the memorandum was received from either the municipality or the Housing Department.
The police have been delaying the submission of their evidence to a court of law because it is going to be difficult to hide the facts of their brutality. The school children – who’ve missed more than five days of schooling since September – were arrested while they were crossing the railway line running away from police who were shooting randomly at anyone on the streets of Kliptown (people going to work or children going to school). Fight for your constitutional right to access basic services as a member of a poor community and you are more likely to get a bullet in you back than a roof over your head. If you have something to say, put it in a memorandum to your local ward councilor and pray if that helps you but forget about hearing a response. Ward-councilors don’t call consultative community meetings and they can’t be recalled for non-delivery of services until their term is up in five years.
In the recent People’s Inspection in Kliptown on the 6th of February this year, all relevant stakeholders were called in to come and witness the living conditions of the working class in Kliptown but there was no response from certain organisations including the mayor’s office. This further illustrates that there are issues our government officials find more pressing than addressing community concerns.
Problems with Legal Aid/Assistance
Criminalising protestors makes it more difficult to find free legal representation. In the past, there has been distrust from the community to the use of Legal Aid Board lawyers given experiences where defendants have been effectively forced to submit guilty pleas so that they could get suspended sentences. However, in recent months, through engagements between poor communities organised by the APF and the Legal Aid Board, the relationship with the Legal Aid Board has taken a more positive turn. Nonetheless, securing committed and affordable legal assistance/aid for community members arrested for legitimate social and political protest, remains a huge challenge for organisations of the poor. In this regard, the APF renews its call for progressive lawyers to step up and be counted in the struggle of the poor for their basic rights..
National housing crisis
It is our view that there is a huge backlog in the delivery of houses nationally and this can be witnessed in Durban and in Cape Town where the community of Delft has been evicted to the streets and they are left stranded with the police refusing access to anyone who wants to come and assist (with medical aid or food relief). The APF strongly condemns the police violence against the poor community of Delft, as well as the violence perpetrated by the eThekwini Municipality against the community of Abahlali base Kennedy Road in Durban whose shacks were burned down on the 16th of February 2008. More than fifteen shacks were destroyed by a fire caused by a paraffin stove after the municipality disconnected their electricity supply. A war is being waged against the poor while our country continues to have a budget surplus and poor working class communities get no relief or a better life.
There is no answer to community grievances to be found in the speeches made by ministers, mayors or premiers who are divorced from the realities of people living in Kliptown, Delft and Kennedy Road. These communities demand that police and municipal violence be investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted so that justice can prevail for our people to be set free. While fighting for their constitutional rights, they didn’t violate any other citizens’ rights. The only crimes committed have been by those in authority shooting down the rights of poor people in pursuit of basic services.
Of course the reader should be reminded that in the case of Kliptown, there has been social engineering, all of it as been constructed – designed as part of the grand plan by the JDA and Blue IQ. The PLAN.
I thought it was my little bit of a sick joke, journalists are famous for those. And for that reason I sometimes think I could be a comedian, people always laugh when I tell the truth. I must have verbalized my thoughts out loud in an unguarded moment. Because I lie awake at night sometimes, trying to make sense of it, to find out what is really going on in Kliptown, because something did not sit well with me Though truth be told, lately I must admit that I find it is the mosquitoes and various other as yet indefinable bugs and rattling rats that keep me up and night waiting for the soothing rays for the morning sun. Until this one day, while on volunteer duty cleaning-out the learning center at the Kliptown Soweto Youth Center (SKY) that I found my first piece of evidence to add to a very large jigsaw puzzle. A copy of a newspaper article, written to my calculated estimation in 2001/2, as there was no date on the page. In its “development” Kliptown was always meant to be a tourist attraction. It’s a place “designed” for the tourist market. In other words, the current seemingly dysfunctional state of Kliptown was “planned” to be that way. When developers, Blue IQ and JDA (Johannesburg Development Agency) were planning the development of Kliptown, their aim was to show case the past, present and future of the historic town, and keeping old Kliptown as it was when the freedom charter was signed in 1955, was part of the plan. Why? Tourists would not really have an interest in Kliptown because had old Kliptown been developed in the style of the RDP’s houses we see today there would be nothing extraordinary to see other than the Walter siSulu Square of Dedication, with a flame long-gone out, which was meant to burn 24-7 – 365 days a year. Other than that Kliptown would look much like the rest of communities in the greater South West Township (SOWETO) region, more especially the famed A – list tourist attraction Vilakazi Street in Phefeni, Orlando West. That is where the first black democratic president, Nelson Mandela bought his first property which he shared with his first wife Evelyn and later after a divorce, with his second wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela and their children, before being shipped to Robben Island for nearly three decades. Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world in which two noble peace prize laureates, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela once lived. No one is as famous worldwide as these two men in South Africa. So Kliptown had to offer something different – but within a controlled environment to attract tourist/ visitors called “The Open Air Museum/Ecomuseums” . Ergo. I have retyped the article below, verbatim.
“Kliptown has made a start in becoming a major tourist destination in the city. Already in time for the World Summit (World Summit on Sustainable development 2002), a visitor’s center has been established to showcase the past, present and future of this historical Soweto area. There is a hive of activity with artists and crafters on the premises showcasing their talents. A video and CD are available showing the future developments of the area. A model of the new Freedom Square of Dedication which will be erected in Kliptown to commemorate the launch adoption of the freedom charter is also on show. The formerly neglected area of Kliptown and its surrounds will soon become a mixed-use area of residential, commercial and retail with a new freedom square as the centerpiece. The area is expected to be revitalized with 6 900 new housing units, shopping, tourism and markets. The redevelopment of Kliptown and the development of Freedom – the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Soweto were recently added as a Blue IQ project. The area is of historical importance because it was where the freedom Charter was signed. Thousands of people have been living in squatter camps in surrounding areas, says Kliptown project manager, Aubrey Manganye. “ We have planned a holistic approach which entails several different aspects.” He says. One is the environmental development of the area. A major part of this is the clean-up of the Klipspruit River which is severely polluted. An environmental consultant was brought in to investigate the problems of river, and its environment. “The river will form an important part of the development and we plan campaigns to educate the public on keeping the river in a pristine condition. “ He says. The Economic aspect of the project is also vitally important. “We have to find ways to create employment for residents and we are looking at the establishment of markets for this. The Metropolitan Trading Company is assisting us in this regard.” He says. A consultant is currently doing an economic impact assessment in the area to establish the economic needs status quo and growth potential. Infrastructural services designed for the housing component and the upgrading of existing services have started. The first phase will see the construction of 1200 units. A community Development Forum has been established to represent community needs on the entire project. “Ultimately the project belongs to the people of Kliptown and we will aspire to improve the lives of the people of Kliptown and therefore it is essential that their needs are taken into account guided by their wishes” he says.”
The Future is now
We know what the future is – we can see it over the railway tracks. The Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication (WSSD) with its Monument greets you in the morning with its grey walls. A tourist trip to the Soweto Hotel , revealed how architects designed building , – and the hotels boardroom so that – the small Kliptown valley servers as a beautiful (living painting it has nice panoramic views of Kliptown. The hotel offers three to four star living for travellers, with interior township designs –romanticizing the ghetto, poverty. On the other side of the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication are new housing units, flying the new flags of present day South Africa; White DStv Satellite Dishes, whose window frames are painted with soft pastel colours speaks of the future, which those who were signing the Freedom Charter could have never imagined possible at the time.
The Real Truman Show.
But Old Kliptown, remains unchanged. No new roads, no electricity, communal portable toilets, on the other side of the future of Kliptown, meaning the past. I’ve gone to tourist attraction spots, all around the country, of course I have not visited all of them but it’s always been clear that what was happening in the tourism compounds was part of a show. Not how South Africans live today. But in Kliptown it’s another story. It is real. This thought I’ dismissed at first and quickly chided myself for getting lost in the images of The Truman Show: a movie which when I first saw it was close to a psychological thriller though it was sold as a comedy, staring Hollywood’s funny man, Jim Carey. I’m grateful that there is a movie I can use as a form of reference – because it will help you see what I see and help me feel less crazy because – someone has already thought about this and done it.
The Truman Show is a 1998 American satirical social science fiction film directed by Peter Weir and written by Andrew Niccol. The cast includes Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, as well as Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Ed Harris and Natascha McElhone. The film chronicles the life of a man who is initially unaware that he is living in a constructed reality television show, broadcast around the clock to billions of people across the globe. Truman becomes suspicious of his perceived reality and embarks on a quest to discover the truth about his life.
In the movie – Truman – the main character is living in a live 24 hour 365 days reality show or commercial. Everybody but Truman is “playing a role” or acting. They go “Home” outside the walls of the studio which Truman is oblivious of. Everyone including his parents, his best friend, his wife , work colleagues are all following the script, Truman is the only one being real, as in being himself, everyone else clocks in and out of duty and goes back home afterwards. His home, his house is all a commercial, with advertisers placing their brands for breakfast in the kitchen, everything he uses touches is part of a prop in the “show” of his life. Think Big Brother. Watching that film made me feel a little claustrophobic, and looking back to this article I feel even more claustrophobic because I’m in some kind of a show – a tourist attraction, while I was blissfully unaware, thinking I was doing my “bit” for the community, making a ‘difference”. This article confirms my suspicions – at least in some small way – along with other documents which I found – it’s all very “legitimate’ everyone knows what to say, there are tour guides for Kliptown, well-spoken young men who can recite the history of Kliptown in their sleep. They are always here, ready to receive tourists. Which was another thing I couldn’t understand why Kliptown? Foreign visitors would arrive, and there would always be someone to escort them along the Kliptown trail. The speech goes on about the communal taps, communal toilets, lack of water, electricity, the polluted Klipspruit River (which for WSSD see above) was meant to be kept in pristine conditions. About the history and famous politicians who lived here including Ellen Khuzwayo – whose book – Call me a woman is still on my list of to finish reading books. They come back to the center, which feeds little children, who live in these substandard conditions, who despite their poverty, rise above it and put on a splendid performance. How does one pose the question, how does one frame it, in the face of real struggle, unpretentious a struggle. Who does one ask, the question – if the poverty in Kliptown, the lack of development, is orchestrated, an organic design which runs itself without much interference from anyone. In one of the documents I found addressed to the Kliptown Market Community on the 7th of May 2003 the Johannesburg Development Agency states three agreements:
A list of potential beneficiaries obtained from the housing project manager (Aubrey Manganye) within the Kliptown Market Community will be screened.
And those who qualify for the housing subsidy as per the Gauteng Department of Housing Criteria will be allocated with housing within phase one of housing development per the housing program of action.
Those who do not qualify will be allocated with alternative accommodation if they occupy a land for more than six months as per the policy on illegal occupation of land.
The letter concludes with a promise by the JDA to fulfill its legal obligations by ensuring that the Kliptown Market community has access to basic services. Of which Kliptown has, only the basics: water and portable toilets. In a twisted way, Kliptown has upheld at least one principle of the Freedom Charter – All the land shall belong to those who work in it.
And people in Kliptown, especially the women labour much, doing domestic work which involves an endless cycle of back-breaking hard labour: cooking, washing clothes, cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, cleaning and more cooking and washing clothes. Labour which is made even harder by the lack of electricity (a day of cooking may resemble a scene in traditional rural homes of old were fetching wood and water to do at these domestic chores was part of the daily routine of life) It is almost astounding that in 2013 authorities could not find a way to provide electricity to Kliptown “ They say they can’t put electricity because of the wetland area” Aletta my tour guide at the Soweto Hotel told me when I asked why she thought there was still no electricity to this day in Kliptown. These are the conditions under which many people have to live. But without access to enough money to buy water, electricity and proper homes, this is the only way that people can live. Nobody knows why there has not been any improvement in the living conditions for the people of Kliptown. Maybe some original members know…. But the TRUTH is it was DESIGNED to be this way.
The French Connection: ” Open Air Museum”
Eventually I found more concrete evidence – A business plan which explains the idea of an open museum /ecomuseum for Kliptown:
“An Open Air Museum is a particular kind of community museum, which sees itself as a tool for community development as well as a means of promoting cultural conservation. Initially developed in France in the 1970s under the name ‘Eco-Musee’, Open Air Museums traditionally originate from the need of a community to search for its ‘roots’, and establish or re-assess its own identity, making the Open Air Museum first and foremost a bond between a community and place and the development thereof. One definition of an Open Air Museum is “an expression of a community which is rooted in a sense of place that is ‘unique’; the link between the land, livelihoods, industry, customs and identity’ is inseparable.”3. This type of museum’s primary concern is ‘preserving’ people and ‘culture’ rather than artefacts. Open Air Museums differ from living-history museums in that they do not attempt a ‘re-creation’ of the past for visitors, but rather use cultural preservation as a tool for the further development of the community and community structures. Open Air Museums offer an ‘in situ’ experience that tends to spread over more than one space. Thus, the museum is not necessarily confined to 4 walls and a door. Rather, an entire area its environment, people, culture, customs all comprise the Open Air Museum.”
“In terms of cultural tourism, Kliptown is seen as having a heritage resource that is of significance nationally and internationally i.e. the spaces and buildings that commemorate the Congress of the People and the historic signing of the Freedom Charter in June 1955. Arguably, Kliptown can also be seen as having particularly unique ‘cultural resources’ that lie in a combination of tangible and intangible cultural heritage assets that mark Kliptown as an important site of public memory. These resources, which characterize Kliptown as having “a character and ambiance that distinguishes it from other places and makes it special and unique”6, are also a potentially strong tourist and visitor attraction, in the ways in which they present Kliptown as a microcosm of a township as it develops throughout the 20th century. Unlike in many other locations, whose similar resources have been eradicated through a process of apartheid urban planning, and the forces of contemporary development, Kliptown retains much of its historical character from the 50s.”
“IPI-INTOMBI EFFECT “– EXHIBIT ONE – 12
The reader will note that none of these “nodes” withing the KLIPTOWN OPEN AIR MUSEUM, are in existence today with the exception of the Squarer ( Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication). So the plan can be deemed a failure, but which on the other has deepened poverty and the decline of the Kliptown Community for which this project was meant to empower uplift. These sights one is only “told” about during the “tours” but they don’t exists as envisaged in this plan:
Exhibitions will play a central role in the interpretation and development of the stories of Kliptown, marking those spaces within Kliptown that ‘belong’ to the Open Air Museum. As a dominant visual experience, exhibitions will provide an important opportunity to interpret both the core values of the Open Air Museum and the heritage values of Kliptown. Exhibitions, as a mode of interpretation, will help create a clear and defined visitor experience, without eliminating the choices and chance encounters that are part of everyday urban experience.
In order to account for the inherent tension between community and visitor needs in the Open Air Museum, the role and function of specific exhibitions in Kliptown needs to be clearly orientated in terms of these two target groups. Thus the first distinction in the exhibition strategy is between community exhibitions and visitor exhibitions. Different combinations of exhibitions will occur at the various nodes in the Kliptown Open Air Museum. And while an exhibition might be produced with the ‘community’ in mind, it does not preclude a tourist visiting this exhibition, and vice versa.
The success of exhibitions in environments such Kliptown depend on active community consultation and participation in the exhibition making process. Creating a culture of inclusiveness will ensure a community-driven exhibition programme that not only expresses the different voices of the people of Kliptown but also captures the critical and contested debates around history, contemporary life and its representation. It is critically important to establish an Exhibitions Advisory Group as part of the Programming Advisory Group. This Group should not only reflect the different nuances of the Kliptown ‘community’, but also include a fair and adequate representation of people involved in heritage, education and tourism in Kliptown. The Group will become the link between Open Air Museum and the ‘community’.
The exhibition programme is presented in terms of the five different nodes in the Kliptown Open Air Museum (see Fig. 2- Spatial Map). Each node includes at least one exhibition that ‘anchors’ the Open Air Museum experience.
The Exhibitions are as follows:
KLIPTOWN OPEN AIR MUSEUM BUSINESS PLAN 22
• Behind-the-Scenes Exhibition (Dairy Farm): The Kliptown ‘Open Air Museum’ is a revolutionary approach to memory and heritage that facilitates community control of its own cultural resources. This exhibit invites both community and visitors ‘behind-the-scenes’ to see how it all works, as well as participate in exhibition making. The Behind-the-scenes exhibition is at the old Dairy Farm- one of the oldest buildings in Kliptown, and one that conjures images of a communal working space
• Freedom Exhibition (The Square): A dynamic multimedia exhibition that explores the history of the Freedom Charter as a nationwide call for Freedom and Democracy in the footprints of the historic Congress of the People on the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication. This exhibit also explores contemporary experiences of ‘freedom’, explores icons of freedom- such as Walter Sisulu, and makes links to today’s Constitution. Jada’s- a historical building whose owners were actively involved in the organisation of the Congress of the People, and which played a significant role in the history of Kliptown, is used as the main indoor space for this exhibition.
• The People’s Monument (The Square): This monument marks the gathering of people at the Congress of the People in 1955. It is envisaged that visitors can participate in the building of the monument, through placing engraved Xs (as a symbol of ‘voting’) onto its structure, allowing it to evolve incrementally over time. The monument of the Freedom Charter echoes the ‘We The People’ wall at Constitution Hill, extending the idea that ordinary people, through their participation began by ‘building‘ the Freedom Charter, which, in turn, led to the building of the Constitution of South Africa. The monument allows for visitors to re-dedicate themselves to the building of democracy and freedom. Spin-offs of this process include the development of an icon for Kliptown in the shape of a X that can then be developed into unique merchandise (jewellery, bags etc.) and art works projects.
• Visitor Centre Exhibition (The Square): This is a basic ‘teaser’ exhibition that gives visitors an orientation to the Kliptown ‘product offerings’. It aims to entice visitors to experience all the Kliptown has to offer.
• Railway Exhibition (Hoarding Exhibit along the railway): This exhibition celebrates the excitement of arrival, the defiance, the danger, and the journeys of all the people who came together for the Congress of the People. Looks at the critical role that train transport has played in the history of SA: migration, mobility, displacement and exile. The Exhibition is built as hoarding alongside the railroad, so that it is visible both by train passengers, and those walking along the railway track.
• Temporary Exhibitions (The Square) : Temporary Exhibitions are accommodated in the Multi-Purpose Centre. These Exhibitions could include community initiated exhibitions, travelling exhibitions (e.g. Jurgen Schadeburg and students’ photographic exhibition of Kliptown; exhibitions from other museums etc.). These exhibitions are not funded as part of the Museum.
KLIPTOWN OPEN AIR MUSEUM BUSINESS PLAN 23
• Greater Kliptown Orientation Exhibition (Community Node): This exhibition builds on the existing Kliptown Our Town exhibition and provides community with an opportunity to tell the ordinary and extraordinary stories of Kliptown. Includes a ‘for children, by children’ exhibit.
• Women’s Exhibition (Charlotte Maxeke House): In keeping with the spirit of Charlotte Maxeke, a teacher, social worker, politician and the first African woman from South Africa to receive a baccalaureate degree, this venue will be used for a community exhibition and resource focusing on the needs of women and youth. The Women’s Exhibition will complement programming in this space.
• Environmental Exhibition (Environmental centre): Kliptown is an ideal space in which to look at diverse environmental features of Kliptown- from flora and fauna (including those in the Klipspruit river), to the wetlands, to the open public green spaces etc. The Environmental Exhibition will seek to promote taking care of the environment in an interactive and interesting way.
• Gerard Sekoto Museum and Art School: Gerard Sekoto is recognised internationally as the father of modern South African art. He is known through painting showing everyday life in townships in the 1940s. This gallery showcases 5-10 of his important work, providing context with relevant archival material and a short documentary about his life and work. The gallery in Kliptown enriches an appreciation of Sekoto’s work by placing his paintings within an environment that still retains its appearance of the past (i.e. Kliptown). Similar to the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town. Linked to an art school that is operated by qualified external body. Located at his old house.
• Park Art: In the tradition of the “People’s Parks” of the 80s, Park Art involves the community in developing art for display that communicates their thoughts and experiences. Examples of such art could include murals, sculpture, etc. Park Art would happen at 2 parks in Kliptown (see map)
• Signs and Billboards : A form of “writing the city”, of visually integrating the different Open Air Museum spaces within Kliptown. It is also an opportunity to integrate the voices and experiences of local residents. They might inhabit the walls of Union Street, resident-orientated exhibition billboards, heritage landmarks such as Charlotte Maxeke’s house, the AME churches, etc., and that are clearly distinct from other forms of more formal signage such as street signs and SAHRA plaque.
THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE
I went to Sky and Kliptown with rose-tinted eyes, completely sympathising with with community and the conditions underwich they were forced to live. I was also grateful that they were able to afford my younger brother shelter at a time when I felt I had failed him. So I believed them when they told me their story, and acknowledge that there may be some members of the community who are honest about what is going in Kliptwon and More specifically at Sky.
These are the corrections:
1. The Soweto Kliptown Youth Center – though it may “look” after “vulnerabe children” almost all of them are not orphaned, they have home and living parents, contrary to what I have been told or inversely “chose to believe”.
2. SKY functions as a “Youth Club” for children and young people interested in the “ARTS” – what they do is rehearse, gumboot dance, and zulu-dances which they perform for tourists who visit the center. Some have traveled to France, America and many other spaces through the youth club.
3. The children who are fed at SKY, are not orphans either. Though a number of Europeans looking for children to adopt have visited the center, I cannot confirm if they have adopted any children from SKY/Kliptown.
4. SKY used to function as a community clinic under the late Eva Makoka whom I met at interviews in 2004. It has since changed though under the leadership of Bra Bob Nameng – into a Youth Center. Eva Makoka’s House – where SKY is located is identified as one of the Key nodes in the “Kliptown Open Air Museum Business Plan.
5. I am in no way asserting that people are not suffering in Kliptown or that poverty is not real, after having spent two weeks living at SKY, I know that it is not as simple as that. The community (SKY/KYP) especially do depend on “Foreign” Donations to survive, however what I am saying is it was all part of a the plan, which went horribly wrong. Which has mean that Kliptown remains a relic of the past, which explains why there has been no improvement inthe lives of the people, why there will never be change. The incredible poverty today is a construct of the new democracy, in ways which surpass some of the apartheid segregation laws. YOU ARE FREE!
6. Many of the plans for “Open Air Museum”did not happen, because of corruption or lack of management – whatever the reason, the truth is Kliptown today is a cheaper ( and in some ways – better perverted) version of the original plan.
Heaven for me is: A world full of books, and I’ve been buried under mounds of them here at the Kliptown Youth Center (SKY). What I’m doing here is volunteering, assisting the volunteer staff to take stock of how many books there are in the learning center, with a view to eventually creating a data-base for a functioning Library. My job is to clean up. I’m in the library every day and it takes all of my willpower to focus on the task at hand which is: packing books, cleaning shelves, rearranging the furniture and shelves, cleaning, moving rubbish, shooing children who’ve so far used it as a playground, which would be great if they actually read the books in the learning center instead of destroying them. It takes all of my willpower to look over interesting and inviting books and titles and I just couldn’t resist reading….
Suddenly I am lying on the black leather sofa and travelling to 1960 Ethiopia, with author Ted Allbeury, a former British M16 operative – or more officially, a former Lieutenant-Colonel in the Army Intelligence Corps during the Second World War. Allbeury worked in Sales , advertising and radio ( at the BBC), after the war before writing his first novel. He has written an estimated 20 novels under different names since then.
I was drawn to the book because Ethiopia has been on my lately for a number of reasons, I’ve never been to that land. And it was for me a great escape from Simone de Beauvoirs’ Second Sex , I felt rebuked, chastised from all sides by the author. I could also run away from the rows and rows of books which seemed to be calling me to read them … though in actual fact they just needed a place to stay. Besides the book was so thin I could be done in a few hours.
In a sentence the story is about an ex-MI6 operative now working as a photographer, who returns to Ethiopia, where he finds both romance and danger waiting for him.
The book is set shortly after the Ethiopian war. Which began on 12 September 1974 when the MarxistDerg staged a coup d’état against Emperor Haile Selassie, whom the main character in the book was an advisor to, before his cover was blown. The civil war lasted until 1991 when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front(EPRDF)—a coalition of rebel groups led by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)—overthrew the Derg government and installed a transitional government in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa The Derg government had been weakened by their loss of support due to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. The book is about how this guy was used a pawn in an intricate chess game between, Russia, Britain, and to some lesser extent the US and Italy. he was tasked to find and blow up military arms bases from Cuba and Russia stored on the border between Ethiopia and Somalia. Russia’s’ plan according to the Somali revolutionary army, was to destabilize Somalia, and take over the rest of East Africa including Kenya. The British seemingly had no real stake in the matter but were interested to know what their enemies in this case Russia and Cuba were up to. They eventually blew up the military arms base (triggering war between Somalia and Ethiopia ) under the guise of helping the Somali revolutionaries, as a way of stopping russia from its planned takeover of the indian ocean, and East Africa. The Russians were using the Derg in Ethiopia and using the country as a base to occupy all of East Africa – which would mean control of the Indian Ocean etc. The photographer and his love affair got off lightly from the ensuing espionage, but it was an invaluable read ( and snap-shot ) back in history especially in light of the recent terrorist attack by the Islamist Somali Group Al-shabaab , who have killed at least 60 people at Nairobi’s West Gate mall, in an effort to force Kenyan troops out of Somalia.
When I put the book back on the shelf,I felt like a naughty child who has just opened his present a day before christmas, or stolen a cookie from the cookie jar. it was a lovely trip. I am learning again and again, that we can learn from everything, and every situation and any book – Simone De Beauvoir says in her Seminal Book The Second Sex “Mystery is never more than a mirage that vanishes as we draw nearer to look at it”. I laugh at myself and think I do like punishing myself, why choose a book-worm to re-organize the library?
But the learning center – Library has been in disarray for some time now, and I feel even just a little order, a bit of cleanliness can restore some respect from those who use it. Working in the Library, or learning center took me back to my college days when I would often go to the library on campus after lectures to read and watch documentaries then take a taxi to Pinetown where I lived and would spend the rest of the afternoon at the library reading books – mostly autobiographies, some romantic novels, and then hire out more BBC dramas which brought to life – such books as Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two city’s etc. It would be a game of trying to figure out, if the characters on television would be the same as the characters you imagined while reading the book. As a family, my siblings and I loved the BBC dramas because they were long and we could stay in at home for an entire weekends without venturing outside, as long as we had enough movies to watch, our parents didn’t encourage regular television. We had little access to TV1,2 and 3. Movies on the other hand were encouraged, because my parents could select what we watched, and we used to look forward to holidays because my father would bring loads of them for us to watch. I enjoyed the comfort of a library and it was the main reason I volunteered to work in the learning center, because it looked so lonely and without love, in the hope that I could somehow re-create that same atmosphere at the center, which soothed me so as a teenager and young adult. I would love for them to enter into a quiet, safe space and find joy in travelling to other lands, spaces, places and experience a different life from the daily every day of their physical environment. That is what books did for me and movies.
Paradise for me is….
So here at SKY there are books on almost every subject under the skies and in different languages too. The children’s books are the best kind. There was one with a title “Chicken or Egg ?” which caught my attention and I started reading it mid-packing. The book described different types of chicken, what they are called etc and ended with this statement that got me chuckling -“ So if someone asks you which came first the chicken or the egg? you can say the egg, because we eat eggs in the morning and chicken for dinner” Now that’s an answer I never considered. But yes to answer the question of Paradise: Paradise for me would be – a time when we all can use this knowledge in decaying and neglected dusty book shelves to solve our problems, now – today. To create sustainable livelihoods, to bring up positive, creative and loving people – to create a world where we can combine our experience, our talents and passions with knowledge to break the chains of poverty, disease and lack. The knowledge is there, but how do we apply it in our lives so that it brings about meaningful change? locally and globally? This question haunts me a little because I fear books are fast becoming so unfashionable, life happens online – a new way of travelling, seeing the world and meeting people, books are heavy, wordy, with few pictures, you have to use your imagination. Social Networking means people don’t have enough focus to read large heavy texts and fully spelled out words. I don’t object to technology at all, I am a fan. Information is King, but what use is all this information or knowledge if it can’t be used to alleviate poverty, to create a better people, better homes, better relationships, working environments. What’s the use of having a lot of information about things which cannot help you to get out of a sticky situation, improve your own life. If I were able to do that – then I would not only be in heaven, my world will be paradise, because my heaven (books) would help me create Paradise on earth.
I first heard this song in my early 20s pouring out from the sultry lips and hauntingly raspy voice of American Jazz/Blues legend and concert pianist Nina Simone. I loved the song the first time I heard it because I’ve always felt like a constant foreigner but it’s become poignantly relevant more now that I’m in my early 30’s. It’s as if she took the words right out of my mind and soul, the words I failed to say when it was important to say them. The whole song is great and best describes why I love Nina Simone so much, she was always so unbearably real.
“Baby you understand me now, if sometimes you see that I’m mad. Don’t you know no one alive can always be an angel, when everything goes wrong you see some bad. But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, oh lord please don’t let me be misunderstood.
“You know sometimes, baby I’m so care –free, with a joy that’s hard to hide. Then sometimes again it seems that all I have is worry, and then you’re bound you see the other side. … If I seem edgy, I want you know, I never mean to take it out on you. Life has its problems and I get more than my share, but that’s one thing I never mean to do because I love you. Ooh baby I’m just human, don’t you know I have faults like anyone? Sometimes I find myself alone regretting some little foolish thing, some simple thing that I’ve done. But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, oh lord please don’t let me be misunderstood. “
This song comes to mind now as I sit to write a series of curious incidents from Kliptown and the Kliptown Soweto Youth center or SKY: after having spent a little over two weeks there, living and volunteering . The stories I will post are all full of very good intentions from all parties involved, including me.
Setting the Scene: Life On the Other side of the Tracks
SKY receives a number of foreign visitors on an almost daily basis. The reasons for the visits vary from tourism, research, journalism, workshops etc. Whatever reason brings them here, it all ends up in a tour – a view of life on the other side of the tracks, shanty town ghetto living which old Kliptown demonstrates with a flourish. There is everything here – dirty snotty children, wearing equally dirty clothes as if they were lavishly bathed in mud. Young men and women chill at street corners smoking, drinking, some causing trouble, tweeting, bbming, mixing it, playing cards by candlelight, chatting round outdoor fires at night. The early morning scenes are modern versions of maidens by the river; women draped in towels, with babies wrapped tightly on their backs with blankets, bend over like awkward swans around communal taps, laundering never-ending hills of clothes and blankets from which pour out streams of mud and grime which flow like pungent rivers on pathways infested with rats so large and loud they sound like cats or tiny humans. Music blares softly from tin roofed mansions, which spew out drunken men, women, and some homeless walk as if without a direction towards their next carton of Special Leopard; the beer with a punch. Dogs scratch their backs ferociously on rough sand and walk as if in imitation of street gangs high on a popular and cheap drug called Nyaope ( a concoction of drugs including , heroin, rat-tax, ARV’s and marijuana – no one really knows what’s in it) in super slow motion. Chickens crowing in the middle of the day while cocks try to squeeze through the gates. Then there’s the regular mama, now more often a brother on the side streets under a tree or cardboard shelter selling an assortment of snacks and increasingly fake cigarettes, nik’s naks, peanuts, biscuits, from as little as 50c a packet to 2rands, the most you will pay for anything at the “snack-bar”. It’s a hive of organized chaotic activity which seems to move in slow motion even as the days seem to pass quicker than I can say blink. A place which, ironically makes for hauntingly beautiful photos, depicting what my friend and former colleague Zukiswa Zimela aptly described as “poverty porn ‘. If not everything, most of what can go wrong in society can be found in this tiny valley which once held up the highest hopes for a new South Africa.
So it was….
A typical Saturday afternoon when a group of about ten young Germans and an elderly matron arrived at SKY, announcing that they would like to cook for the children, volunteering some small relief for Chef Gloria who cooks supper for children and adults from the surrounding community for six days a week, a duty she calls a labour of love. She is a volunteer from Mozambique, who found herself in Kliptown while trying to free herself from the demons of her past – but – well to do life.
The German volunteers brought with them their own ingredients for the meal and began the task of chopping carrots, broccoli, and chicken breasts, lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes and more. While the chopping was going on in the Kitchen, Gogo Busi Hlatshwayo, a 74-year-old pensioner who served as a cook at SKY for some 8 years, lamented at how small the food was and how though she saw some ingredients which were a cause for concern, the volunteers should be allowed to freely do what they intended to do in the kitchen, they had printed out recipes. “The rice is not enough, it’s just one kg, she said in a beautiful maturing and cracking voice. “And there are more than a hundred mouths to feed” She said pointing at the yard. Chef Gloria also later pulled me into the kitchen “Sister, look two cans of jam” She said “I think they are going to put it in chicken stew” She shook her head in dismay. We walked out of the kitchen to hushed murmurs outside about the quantity of the food and the curious ingredients being used. The volunteers were cheerfully “unaware” of the growing discontent outside, stepping out every now and again with smiling faces asking where this or that is or if this and that works or if it’s enough. They also periodically took walks around the neighbourhood – the tour – to see the way things are, while the meal was cooking on the stove. Moments of pause which gave the resident cooks a chance to peer into the pots, only to come up with faces scrunched up in frowns and necks wagging from side to side. Stomachs were growling. The volunteers soon returned from their tour of the ghetto and took some time to play with the children who buzzed around on top of them like moths to a fire. The camera and the girls’ long flowing hair being the main attractions for the little girls, while the boys enjoyed a leisurely game of football on the open space. Cameras clicked, to smiling, posing faces of children laughing and playing in the glow of the white ladies, sentimental moments which were to the observing eye innocent and sweet.
Lunch Is Served
The troop of German ladies and gentlemen lined up sweetly on the silver serving tables, in front of large dishes of green salad, a pot of rice, and the chicken vegetable stew which all looked surprisingly more than enough to feed everyone. They beamed and I almost broke into a shrill soprano singing a tune from the musical The sound of Music. Edelweiss seemed appropriate for the scene.
The colorful healthy looking meal failed to fill the stomachs of children who took less than a spoon before discarding the food saying it was too sweet. But their displeasure was well hidden behind smiling faces complementing the volunteers on their exceptional cooking skills, “It’s very nice” they said. It was a moment of extreme paradoxes for me. An incident which was headline news at SKY well into the still of the night when a meeting was called by the hungry residents whose heads bend over the pots, perplexed and in deep discussions about what to do with half-cooked rice and sweet chicken and vegetables. Though I didn’t ask them, and so I cannot be absolutely certain about my assertions, the German volunteers looked quite gratified with their selfless service and a job well done, efficiently. They successfully prepared a healthy balanced meal for the “hungry” children, and on top of that despite all the uhming and ahhing, the food was enough for everyone. More over everyone was happy with the meal including the cooks. Meanwhile back at the ranch everyone was crying of hunger, they could not eat the food which meant they would have to forgo the only decent meal they have a day. Gloria looked at me and said while dishing out the food on her plate, “It’s not bad, I’m going to eat it….” she continued spooning the food in her mouth ‘Maybe I can go to Germany one day, who knows, only God knows”. Later in the evening, everyone gave vivid accounts of the ways in which they couldn’t eat the food, the most quoted reason being the sweetness of the dish. The food ended in the belly of the green and black pick-it up rubbish bins outside the kitchen. Not even the resident dogs who are always hungry ventured near it. It is always such a shame when food is wasted. If they were conducting some form of research; statistics would show a positive trend. It is possible to feed more than a hundred children a full and healthy meal on a budget.
The Winner Takes All
The Residents at Sky in this case would be losers if this whole thing was a chess game. Because instead of saying that the chicken was too sweet, the rice half raw they smiled and said it was great. Even though they said the food would not be enough, it proved to be more than enough for everyone there including the adults. Everyone had a plate to eat. If the Germans were in actual fact researchers or potential funders, this cooking expedition could be used as a template for future feeding schemes and recommended as best practice (model) for similar organizations seeking funding for similar projects. The Soweto Kliptown Youth foundation would not have a claim against the quantitative research they conducted. They would know exactly how much it cost to produce a meal for a hundred children. There would be no disputing the empirical evidence. Which when looked at from another perspective is far from being “true”.
Perhaps this incident opens up a small window into the interesting relationships between researchers, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Community Based Organizations (CBOs), and Non-Profit Organization (NPO’s) and their Funders, Donors or Benefactors. A world which in my eyes is as complex and risky as hedge fund investments on Wall Street or as Mysterious as Art Auctions at Tiffany’s New York.
On the other hand, the incident can offer a new model to build new and fresh relationships between funders and NGOs who often seem to fundamentally misunderstand each other. Perhaps instead of reading it on paper, or parachuting in and out of projects, or spying, it might make better sense for potential donors and NGOs to spend some time and experience working in the projects they wish to fund. This might open up a more honest conversation, from both sides, about how the aid or funds are being used and why they are allocated in certain ways.
This will ensure that both parties speak from real (lived) experience of that same environment – a shared experience which will facilitate a more than frank conversation about the challenging environment of social development, as both parties will be able to talk about what they know, have seen, done, heard and experienced in order to find tailor-made, project specific solutions for sustainable growth and change. I am learning more and more, that throwing money only into programs does not guarantee their success, in fact it may do the exact opposite. If funders or potential donors are serious about affecting change, and NGO’s are serious too about the work they do, this experience would come highly recommended before contract(s) can be signed and money changes hands. I am almost certain that this in the long run will save time and money, commodities which are seemingly in constant short supply.