Multiply Justice

Hope for children in a Cape Town township

Laura Fielding writes for AfricaStories:

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.

Olwethu, a 12-year-old girl in the seventh grade at Mzamomhle, 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.

Read more about an after-school club making a difference for Olwethu and other children in Philippi.

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