While the charities have core objectives, it has become inevitable in
our concern for safer communities, that a variety of other community-building
initiatives are started. These are wide-ranging - from the squatter camp
library to outings for children and baseline health surveys. Outings are
organised as joint ventures with other groups like the Lions.
April 2003 saw the squatter camp
library tackling serious topics as the young children asked for an explanation
as to what the American invasion of Iraq was all about. They were aware of the
news on television (there are TVs in some of the shebeens and also some
squatter camp residents run small televisions from car batteries), and the news
A map from the Independent on Sunday newspaper was stuck on a shack wall
and the topic discussed, complete with a can of 3-in-1 oil so that the children
could tell the difference between that oil and "fish oil" that their mothers
use for cooking.
The children, from toddlers up to teenagers, were concerned at their
powerlessness. They looked at pictures of Iraqi children and said, unprompted,
"they are no different to us". A few of the children attend Islaamic schools.
Others asked about Moslems and headscarfs, and if they believed in God or
Jesus. A serious seven year old wanted to do something. He said he would like
to make a poster. But where would he put it? He had no idea.
They were told about embassies and high commissions but recognised
without money and transport, they had little chance at this stage of their
lives, for their voices being heard beyond their immediate community.
Often when topical issues are discussed, the adults want to join in as
well. There would be a place for news forums in such communities if only they
could be held without bias or politics.. and if only there were enough educated
energetic people who could be bothered to run them.
On Sunday January 12th 2003 Loreta Nhlapo aged 10 and her sisters Elsy
(8) and Thobeka (7) went to the Delta Park Environment Centre in Johannesburg
to learn about spiders and to share a birthday celebration with their weekend
library teacher Tristan De Ionno who was turning 12 years old the next day.
They were accompanied by Monica Coetzee (4), Georgina Moekwetsi (6),
Alfred Mkwambi (8) and his sister Susiphe (9), Phontso Mukunke (11),
Philadelphia Maaki (6), Bongani Zandile (7), Vhongani (13) and Khumbulani (16)
Ndwandzule, Thabo Maenetja (14), Thuso Boyesens (10), Cjampi Josephin (13),
Mothlaling Montwagae (12), Thagatso Maja (14) and his brother Khuhtana (9),
Andrew Sedume (10), Alex Lingktokilo (10), Thabiso Mathika (8), Thembeka (12)
and Lovedelia Maje (5), Mavel Luubenge (6), Bongi Mbaga (8), Maasi Sindikolo
(5), Thato Sehumula (7), Veronica Moswani (8), Wellile Mbanga (14), Boithumelo
Nstala (7), Themba Philip Motshwari (6) and his cousin Ashley Motshwari (8),
Nomphucuko Silwane (11), Phuleng Modies (14), Liezel Cloete (15), Nomvula (14)
and her brother Bafana Bayisi (11), Thapela and Obhakwe Philang (both aged 9)
and Nokulunga Mbanga (9).
Adult helpers included Lisa and Lance Hutchinson, Ian and Kate McLean,
Lorraine Doyle and Bronwen Jones.
The Environment Centre made a special arrangement to open on a Sunday
and taught the children about spiders, insects, curious facts, songs and
safety. The children made spiders from paper plates - a big circle as the body,
a paper circle as the head and more paper circles as the eyes. Strips of black
plastic bin bags were cut to make legs and they all coloured and glued them in
(and a couple of kids seemingly pocketed the glue to take home!). Children of
Fire paid the R9 a child to attend and Tristan hosted the refreshments with
additions from the other helpers.
Ian and Lance played cricket with mostly boys, the children had running
races and drawing competitions, and everyone had a soccer ball or toy to take
as well as some wonderfully realistic plastic spiders. At the next
Sunday's outdoor library session the theme was continued and the children
received plastic baboon spiders to play with as well as learning how to spell
useful words like "thorax"!
The following week the library session looked at the problems of
alcohol, what it does to the brain, heart, stomach and liver, the cost, the
social issues, the dangers - especially how it affects the mind if taken in
quantity. Sometimes the Sunday library just tells fun stories and gets the
children to draw pictures or to practice their writing.
Sometimes serious health, legal or moral issues are tackled in a
No child under the age of 13 years old seems able to tell the time in
Joe Slovo camp. They have very limited knowledge of animals, plants, birds, in
fact very little general knowledge at all.
Of the children who attend library, an increasing number exhibit signs
of malnutrition - from severely stunted growth to red-tinged hair; they also
have external and internal mouth infections - a significant number of which
seem to to be oral thrush associated with HIV-Aids; some have worms and many
have skin rashes that look like ringworm, molluscum contagiousum; some
demonstrate behaviour that hints at sexual abuse. Most are hungry and a few are
very dirty. It does not seem to be common practice to wash hands or to cut
fingernails or toenails.
Where it is feared that a child has suffered abuse, she is taken aside
gently and reminded of her rights, of people who can help, and of how difficult
it is to talk about certain subjects especially if someone has told one not to.
We cannot secure reliable backup from any social work agency in the area.
In December 2002 a group of Alexandra Township children were taken to a
concert including the Drakensberg Boys Choir and a symphony orchestra in
Sandton, supervised by the UMashesha volunteers.
The most enthusiastic library attendees also attended a Fireworks
Display at the Johannesburg Country Club in November 2002 (along with a
contingent of burned and impoverished children from Alexandra township), and
another group of the older children attended a Liberty Life Johannesburg
Philharmonic Orchestra symphony concert one evening in October 2002
getting their photograph on the "Society" pages of Johannesburg's "The Star"
The children at Joe Slovo squatter camp all received a present from
Father Christmas, accompanied by a TV soapie star (Parsons from Isidingo) and
two young elves (Tristan and Thobeka) on Christmas Day 2000. They rode in style
on a Brixton Firebrigade fire engine. The presents came from the community of
Wivenhoe in Essex, UK.
The present-giving was followed up on Valentines Day 2002 and again on
Christmas Day 2002 - Mike Downes of Wivenhoe, UK (see Wivenhoe section of the
website) was particularly helpful in ensuring that the toys for December 2002
would keep the children busy - from ball games to Monopoly, chess and more.
Mike also arranged for his small town community to collect knitting wool
and needles and this has been a springboard for a new Joe Slovo community
knitting initiative in 2003.
All the families at Joe Slovo squatter camp received a bucket of food
per family in December 2000; the bucket to be kept for fighting fires. This was
supported by the Cradle Group of Investec employees.
The baseline health survey showed that many of
the children are suffering from malnutrition, and two boys in particular have
marasmus - long term starvation - and stunted growth. A 12.5 year old and his
15 year old brother are both smaller than an average 10 year old on a balanced
diet. Other community health problems included a high number of cataracts, high
blood pressure and sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV-Aids.
A worrying number of children don't attend school
at all. From Monday July 16th 2001, we ensured that two boys: Vhongani and
Khumbulani, returned to school again after a three year absence (due largely to
their family's lack of money, partly to their father's absence and party to
their mother's alcholism). They were aged 15 and 12 years old but are smaller
in stature than an average 10 year old, from long-term starvation (marasmus).
They are now supported by a personal donation from Duncan Brisk, who is
slightly younger than Vhongani yet considerably taller. Duncan visited the boys
in mid 2002. We arranged for another child Ashley Motshwari to attend the same
school and in January 2003 a further 13 children were assisted with uniforms
and school stationery.
When we receive donations of items like second-hand
clothing, these are passed on to the poorest of the poor. This is most needed
on days like Sunday July 15th 2001, when about 45 shacks burned down at Joe
Slovo camp leaving some 140 men, women and children homeless and with no
possessions, in the middle of the highveld winter. This is now a key focus of
the UMashesha's work (see their own website section)
Left: Trustee Bronwen met with the chief executive of private hospital
group Netcare. While in the building she overheard that all the office carpets
were going to be changed. She asked for the old carpets to be donated to the
Joe Slovo squatter camp in Coronation, where people use carpet instead of
tarmacadam, to help them walk on the mud. Thank you Netcare.
We have also received Vodacom coffee mugs via SuperCall (mostly given to
the UMashesha), a mixture of donations from the Callie and Monique Trust, and
continual support from AMB Holdings, formerly the African Merchant Bank.