So, a brief overview of my two months in South Africa.
In my first week here we took some Happy’s (a disabled kids school that the Christadelphians have been working at for a couple of years) kids to uShaka, which is a pretty decent aquarium. We were given a group of five each to look after. I had an older group, one of which introduced himself as Mr T. They had a cool thing going on where they used one who was in a wheelchair, with one who couldn’t walk so well balanced on the back whilst being pushed by a fully-able, über-cool albino and they got quite a speed on. I would look around to check on my group and they would zoom off swerving between the other kids and other visitors to the aquarium. Brilliant.
I’ve also been able to visit sister Nozipho many times. She graduated from Happy’s and has been baptised since I was here last. She came out of hospital in May into assisted accomodation near where we are staying. She had been in hospital since January because they are trying to reverse the effects but her bones are so weak that her joints won’t reset, so all they’ve been able to do is change her knees so they are bending normally instead of being straight. She’s been through a lot but is so chirpy through it all, she really is an inspiration.
By far the most hectic and potentially random events have been the township Jumble Sales where we take a bunch of donated clothes to either Clermont, Lamontville or Mariannhill, sort them roughly into piles of ‘Mens’, ‘Womens’ and ‘Kids’ and then allow chaos to ensue. At Lamontville the ladies are literally pressing themselves against the windows to get a good sneaky peeky at the potential bargains before the doors are opened and they run to the middle of the room and then spin around a couple of times before making a decision as to which table to go for. The Sunday School kids at Lamontville are really cool and were helping us out in exchange for first dibs on clothes at even more discounted prices and a couple were helping me with making up the prices and taking the money. It tended to be a bit haphazard as our pricing structure largely depended on sugar highs and lows from a secret stash of Fizzers. We weren’t that hard to barter with, because as soon as any kind of disgruntled look came from the customer we would usually end up in reducing the price much to the interest to all the beady-eyed ladies next in line who then demanded the previous discounted price as there starting price. However, even this didn’t stop some of them throwing clothes out of the window to waiting accomplices outside. We sent the Sunday School security to investigate and the guilty individuals are recovering well and should be discharged from hospital in the next few days. Clermont Jumble Sale wonderfully emerged from the chaos as a kids dress up party.
I had the pleasure of being an honoured visitor on the Mariannhill and the volunteers girls outing to a sweet place called Inanda Dam. So, 2 Yanks, 7 Zulus & 1 Brit went trekking off into the forest to find wild Zebras and we succeeded! Very cool. The other guys also succeeded in finding a Monkey Orange and convincing me that they had all tried one and it was gorgeous, obviously it was disgusting. I had an inkling as I suspiciously eyed their cheeky faces so I only licked it which was enough to make me shudder and contort my face. They hooted at that! Then on our return to the car we had a great dance session in the car park and returned home.
My biggest challenge towards the end of my trip was orchestrating getting the students from Happy’s to church on Sundays. It is the school holidays and most had gone home but 9 stayed on as they needed to revise for their exams next term. Sometimes, I tend to get a bit embarrassed when taking Zulus to the ‘white’ Christadelphian churches because I think the singing must sound dire in comparison. One Sunday I was feeling this way and then the kid next to me called Nathi whispers “this church is so wonderful” which was very cool because it made me realise that these kids are probably just glad to get out for the day and have never experienced ‘church’ unless they come here and they actually love it. So, it was all good. Nathi also told me how he was happy that he had chosen God today and that he needs to come every week!
As well as the 9 kids at Happy’s there are some who live in the area around the school in Umlazi and I went to pick up one girl who had introduced herself to me as Blondie a couple of weeks before, but she never responded to it when I called her name so I think it was her name for that week, her real name is Zinhle with the ‘hl’ said as a bit of a click. When we got to her house we parked up and immediately two drunk black guys came up to us and asked me through the window whether I was scared and that they were not robbers althought I couldn’t understand the word robbers at the time, it was only afterwards when the others in the car told me what they were saying. Anyway, I played it cool and opened the door and said I wasn’t scared and whether they knew where the girl with crutches lived, they did and then asked me whether I knew SA’s national anthem to which I replied no but I knew mine because I don’t live here but I live in England, which they found funny and they walked off and gave us the thumbs up as we left and when we returned later as well. Situation disolved. Afterwards Nozipho and Bongumusi (the other two in the car) told me they were scared and asked me if I was and I said I was but I was playing it cool and they said I did very well : ) Nozipho also told me that in Townships the blacks actually really like the whites coming in and she was telling me that Thandeka’s sisters purposefully walked with me back to the car when we dropped them off so everyone could see they knew the white guy! It’s a shame that white skin is such a rare occurance in these people’s lives that it becomes a big deal but you do feel a bit of a celebrity when you walk through a township and you can hear people calling to each other “Ibo! Umlungu!” which pretty much means “Wow! A white guy!” The next time I went I replied with “Ibo! Umuntu!” which is “Wow! Black guy!” which made them laugh, thankfully.
Anyway, we asked Zinhle whether there were really any robbers in her area and she said there wasn’t because her community had killed them all! Flip. Apparently, it’s called Kangeroo Court. If anyone is caught stealing they get beaten until the Police come, which could be never. I imagine this certainly stops crime rate in the townships, however it doesn’t make it safe for white people because if you’re poor, you’re more likely to take the opportunity. And Kangeroo Court relies on you recognising the person who committed the crime, which is pretty easy in a township where everyone knows each other but not so easy as a visitor.
Before I left we had to deal with it, albeit somewhat indirectly. Bongumusi was given 150R (about £15) to pass on to his uncle by another guy in his neighbourhood in Umlazi, which Bongumusi then promptly lost. From what we could work out from his phone call, the guy who gave him the money tried to stab him but the local people managed to stop him from doing any damage. Bongumusi, understandably, ran away to another part of Umlazi to stay with his Auntie. We decided that this really needed to be sorted out and a ‘white’ presence might defuse the situation. We came up with a document explaining the situation as we understood it and that by signing it we all considered Bongumusi innocent and advising that money should never be given to him again, due to him having learning difficulties. It wasn’t a proper affidavit but should fool the guy into thinking we actually knew what we were doing!
Anyway, we give the guy the money and we all sign the paper and then the guy says he would like to see Bongumusi, so Jude goes to get him from the car and the poor kid was terrified. He was actually shaking, I felt so sorry for him. I didn’t see this but apparently the guys outside the pub weren’t happy to see him and looked pretty aggressive when they saw him. So, we all shook hands with the guy and walked round the corner and gave Bongumusi a hug. When we got back in the car Bongumusi, in his unique way, said “Simon, before you start the car I think we should pray”. I asked him if he wanted to say it and he did. I didn’t understand it as it was in Zulu but I heard the word ‘siyabonga’ a lot which means ‘thank you’.
We then took Bongumusi back to his Auntie’s house who was refreshingly lovely. She thanked us for sorting the problem out and said she wasn’t really Bongumusi’s auntie but his “auntie in Christ”. It was so good to here they are Christian. She said she had grown up with her mother looking after lots of kids who weren’t her own, so they were more than happy to look after Bongumusi as he had no family of his own and they and we were his family now.
The other thing to mention about Bongumusi is that one week he walked 2 hours to get picked up for church, what a legend. Needless to say, I dropped him home afterwards.
I also managed to squeeze a trip to Margate before I left. Ben & Caz Parsons are down there so it was cool to hang out with them and escape Durban for a couple of days and be involved with something new. They were running a Kid’s Club so I helped with that one morning and then they do computer clubs. It’s amazing how much we know about computers, it strikes home when the people you’re working with think they have to delete a whole paragraph to amend a mistake at the start and start to panic when they accidently click Minimise. Ben asked me to close the session by talking about my favourite Bible passage which is Isaiah 11: 1-4 and I managed to link it to computers! Using Undo and Delete and trying hard to get it right but still making mistakes. It was nice because they all appreciated it as opposed to it being the Bible bit they had to get through to get their free computer skills.
Well, thanks for reading this. I hope I have been able to give you a bit of the flavour I have experienced but I imagine it’s a bit like reading the blurb of a great book and not actually opening it up, or like watching the trailer to a great film and not actually watching the whole thing. I have merely given the blurb or trailer, to truly experience missionary work you need to go and do it yourself. To maybe help persuade you, here’s a movie I made – Better Than A Holiday. Go and change some lives and have yours changed while you’re at it.
Simon Peel (UK)