The future is bleak for children in Cape Town’s townships, but with good examples and education, they can have hope. You can give township children hope for the future.
CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Flocks of chatting, laughing children in navy and baby-blue uniforms are still swarming onto school grounds at 8:15. Class is supposed to start at 8 — made all too clear by the school bell’s continuous blaring.
But Mzamomhle Primary School in Philippi is like many schools in Cape Town’s townships — understaffed, underfunded, and under-resourced — so class doesn’t always start on time, and teachers don’t usually take roll. That is, if the teachers have a lesson planned or even show up at all.
Education is vital to these young lives. Without it these children have little hope of escaping the township lifestyle. “Education is important because it’s part of my right,” said Olwethu, a 12-year-old girl in the seventh grade at Mzamomhle. “Because when I grow up, I want to be something, and you cannot be something in life if you didn’t study.”
Olwethu really believes that. In true middle-school fashion, she has “education is my right” written on the side of her backpack in whiteout. She lives in a tin shack in Philippi with her mom and younger sister, but she dreams of one day living in a big house away from the township.
South African townships like Philippi are poor neighborhoods populated by black (in Cape Town, mainly Xhosas), “colored” (a nonoffensive South African term for mixed-race peoples) and Asian people, and are one of the remnants of South Africa’s former apartheid policy of racial segregation.
Townships consist of government-built concrete houses or squatter camps of makeshift tin and wood homes. These communities are typically riddled with socioeconomic and cultural issues such as unemployment, lack of education, crime, abuse, rape, HIV/AIDS, children without one or both parents, alcoholism and drugs.
“I want to live somewhere where I will have peace and know that I will have a better life,” Olwethu said. “There are so many crimes here — some people kill people, and they do so many bad things like raping children and stealing children.”
Olwethu’s 35-year-old mother, Lindiwe, fears for her daughters’ safety. She worries about their lives in Philippi, where tsotsi (robbers), violence, alcoholism and rape are rampant. She’s especially worried about the communal restrooms just behind her house, where people dispose of waste and dirty water into a large drain. She fears her daughters will contract diseases like tuberculosis. She also has to keep an eye on her children when they go outside to play, because the long rows of tin shacks have no yards and are located right beside a main road.
Lindiwe hopes that, with a good education, her daughters will have a chance for a better life than she has. She never finished school, and without matriculating — graduating high school — you can’t get a good job, she said. “I don’t want to see Olwethu struggling like me; I don’t want to see Olwethu working as a domestic worker like me,” Lindiwe said. “That’s why I want Olwethu to go to school.”
Working only two days a week, Lindiwe can’t adequately support her two children, so she receives a child-support grant from the government. That way, Lindiwe is able to provide for her daughters and send them to school. But not all parents are able to work to provide for their children. Kholeka, 43, can no longer work because of a crippling train accident where one foot was cut off, her other foot maimed and both arms broken so badly they are now reinforced with metal rods, drastically limiting her mobility.
Since her children’s father is in prison for murder, her 14-year-old son, also named Olwethu (a popular name for South African children), must do most of the work around the house. He has had to step up and take responsibility in his family and has learned much about responsibility and a Christian lifestyle from a Christian after-school boys club he participated in while at Mzamomhle. Kholeka said Olwethu and the boys have learned how to behave as young men and that “the future is there for them, and they can be confident that they will reach that.”
As a mother, Kholeka saw a difference in her son after he participated in the boys club. He was interested in the Bible verses he was learning, he wanted to go to church and he stepped up and helped his family and others more. “Olwethu was not the same Owlethu he was before,” she said. Lindiwe’s daughter, Olwethu, also participates in a Christian after-school girls club at Mzamomhle and recently accepted Christ. “My daughter always talks about Jesus, and she always talks and tells her friend about it,” Lindiwe said. “I am very, very proud of Olwethu.”
Olwethu attributes who she is today to her after-school club teachers. “They gave me so many courages to just carry on with life and love Jesus, as He forgave me of my sins,” she said. “So that’s how I live.”
Laura Fielding is a writer for the International Mission Board. To find out how one life can make a difference in one school like Mzamomhle or one child’s life, visit onelifematters.org.