Volunteers’ inspiring reflections on the realities of Khayelitsha
Extracts from this book have been reproduced with permission.
When I was leaving my office the other day I hear a soft voice whispering, “Hey! Madoda, what are you writing lately?”
“Nothing!” I replied, quickly rushing off for my afternoon nap. It was a young lady named Gabrielle, one of the volunteers from Canada who came through the Youth Leaders in Action exchange program. I waved goodbye and walked home fast. At a distance I could feel she was on my heels.
“Do you have a minute?” she asked.
I knew she was always mischievous and cheerful. I took a deep breath and waited impatiently with a broken smile.
“What’s up, Gabrielle?” I asked.
“Are you sure you can talk?” she asked, as if she was reading my mind.
“Yep!” I lied.
“Could you translate one of your books for me, man? I would like to read your stuff,”” she said, smiling.
“I only write in my heavenly language, but I will do that for you,” I replied, not thinking about what I was saying.
“Thanks, man,” she said, leaving me scratching my head.
I thought about Gabrielle’s request all the way home. I felt it was not accidental that Gabrielle began the dialogue with me. When thinking of her, I was happy. She was jubilant and friendly to everyone, a piece of the puzzle that was missing in our community. She was one of the few white people who came to live in Khayelitsha, our township outside of Cape Town. I then thought of the entire group of Canadians and South Africans who come together as a group to live here.
Their presence made me think and imagine God’s kingdom. I wondered what the dead are doing in their world. Are they living in compartments just like here in Cape Town? Are there the privileged and under-privileged communities? Is there racism and sexism? Or are women in power and children in freedom? Are there super powers? I wondered whether chickens and sheep are liberated. I was smiling, enjoying this imaginary world.
I was ashamed that the people from across the oceans were living freely with us yet our white neighbours here in South Africa are still locked in the past. I have long believed that the future of humanity is an interracial and interfaith future in which we need to find reverence and learn from each other’s faith traditions, including traditional beliefs.
I though deeply about Gabrielle’s suggestion of translating my book into English. I asked my friend if the idea was worth trying. We both though, yes, it would definitely be worthwhile. But why not take it a step further and write something new?
In the next morning I saw Gabrielle, busy jotting something in her diary. I thought a great deal about that. What is she writing? What are her experiences? Who will know that there were Canadians in this community if nobody writes something about their experiences?
I told her what I was thinking, that she should record her experiences in a book. She was excited and we decided to involve the entire group of YLA volunteers. When the supervisors of the programme were convinced, the writing project was alive. Time and place was the challenge, but the dream and passion was much alive.
Gabrielle turned out to be a dear friend that I cannot sleep without talking to. I have received more hugs and shared many more laughs with her, even through the stresses of our process making this book happen. This is a great example to my surprise, that I have much to be thankful for. More, I know that I have gained immeasurably through this journey I have travelled with the Canadian and South African volunteers.
It is still a sad story that South Africans are still living in a shameful past, I thought. Have we truly faced what slavery did to us, I began to wonder, thinking about the beauty of the vounteers’ exchange programme that brings communities together. Through listening and understanding the frustration that the visitors were having, I began to realise that some are beginning to see how communities in the Western Cape have experienced gratuitous violence without interruption, through the centuries. What would it mean for Khayelitsha to truly face that it is a township and a community filled with hope and pain?
Chief Luthuli once said that those who think of themselves as victims eventually become the victimisers of others… People give themselves permission to do terrible things to others because of what was done to them. This is true of individuals, communities and nations.
I thought deeply about what the stories of the volunteers will look like.
Nevertheless, there is another road open before us. It is the road of victim – survivor – victor. Of traveling beyond what was done to us as a nation, beyond being simply survivors to becoming participants in creating a different kind of society.