Monday, October 26, 2015

Day 5 (Friday) - Back on the Road Soweto

The road trip gang (Moses, Themba, Babalwa and Bestos) is back together again...this time for a trip to the largest township in South Africa, i.e. Soweto. For those who are unfamiliar with Soweto, it is known for many things but most prominently:

1. it was the site of a mass uprising in 1976 due to the then-government's policy that school would be taught in Afrikaans instead of English although that was more of a tipping point given all of the other oppressive policies. The police opted to shoot at the protesters which included many high school students resulting in the deaths of 23 people; and

2. it was the home of Nelson Mandela and his family for many years.

Our first stop was the Emdeni Skills Development Center. And once again I was impressed by the creativity employed by the organizations trying to help develop community member's skills in order to address the unemployment problem. The SDC offers a myriad of programs to give people practical skills so they can find employment. In addition to the Siyafunda based IT skills and training, it has counselling by trained social workers, a drop in center so teens can be fed and get help with their homework, assistant chef classes including practical training in a small kitchen, small business skills training, and contractor/renovation training. And for some programs, there are even placements to give the students experience for example, internships at a food preparation company.

The poor students had to put up with having their classes crashed by the "visitor from Canada" but they were all quite gracious about the interruption. With all of the good things that CDC is making available to students, they are still struggling with space constraints as each class was overflowing with students.

My favorite class at the Emdeni SDC was the agricultural class. The property at the back of the building is filled with small greenhouses so that the students can learn to grow vegetables on their own. Several of the students have even started small businesses selling the produce they have independently grown. One student was kind enough to give me a tour of her greenhouse and it was the healthiest looking spinach I ever saw. She wanted me to take some with me to Canada but I had to explain that importation of vegetables from Africa may not make me popular at Customs.

Our next stop would be a small residential home for people with physical disabilities. So that we wouldn't get lost (and remember Soweto is the largest township with narrow and winding streets), one of the CKC trainers based in Soweto rode with us from Emdeni to the next stop. We piled into the car like a VW commercial. Who knew six could fit in a Corolla?

It was about this time that had my first sighting of Western Union when a mini bus taxi drove by fully branded in black and yellow. I tried to get a shot but those taxis drive pretty past and we couldn't keep up.

Isaac at the residential center gave us a quick tour of the premises. The center has six full time residents and operates a center in the home for people to use the computers and obtain skills training. I had a long chat with the two managers of the center and they gave me a fairly good picture of the challenges they face particularly in the face of little funding and a shortage for services for community members with physical challenges.

It was about this time that we heard that the government had agreed to freeze university tuition and to retract the tuition hikes. Amazing what the students were able to accomplish by banding together. There are of course still a component of students who would like the government to offer free tertiary education as was promised in the past so it is possible that protests will continue.

Given that it's now Friday afternoon and it's been a long week, we decided to call it an early day at about 3 and do some sightseeing and grab a bite. We contemplated going bungee jumping which I have never done but I didn't want to risk not being able to finish my project with Siyafunda due to an early expiry. So instead we chose a more meaningful option and we went to Mandela House where Nelson Mandela lived until 1962 when he was imprisoned. He eventually returned there when he was released from prison. You can see the bullet holes and fire bomb scorch marks on the exterior of the building. The original building had a brick wall inside in the center so that the family would not get shot when bullets came in through the window facing the tree however the wall is no longer there. The story of the Mandelas is a familiar one to most and it is hard to comprehend how much he accomplished in his lifetime at great personal cost. It is also impossible not to wonder what he would think about the current state of politics in South AFrica given the rates of unemployment and the fact that in many ways the effects of apartheid are still evident on every corner.

After our tour, we wrapped up our day with a bite to eat at a restaurant in Soweto and off we all went to start our weekends.

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