I visited Khayelitsha for the first time in about 15 years yesterday, to attend the opening and launch of the Indlovu Project, a community development project aimed at addressing the high unemployment, large numbers of teenage pregnancies, lack of sanitation, and prevalence of TB and HIV, in Monwabisi Park in the township.  The invitation came for SAfm presenter Nancy Richards, and I am delighted to have made the time to attend the opening of this fantastic project.

I had not heard of the project prior to the invitation, so went to the ceremony with an open mind.  I had no fear of driving through Khayelitsha, and felt that little had changed.  When I first moved to Cape Town twenty years ago I ran a Market Research and PR company called Relationship Marketing, and we were the first company to take clients into the townships, to show them the fantastic entrepreneurial spirit of the township residents, and the diversity of retailing in these suburbs.   I drove past Coca Cola branded spaza shops (miniature supermarkets), shebeens, braaiers of meat for “take aways”, sellers of sanitaryware, beds and building materials, all displayed along Mew Way, the main road through Khayelitsha.  I wondered where these items are stored in case of rain and flooding. 

The Indlovu Project is a collective Youth Centre, guest house, daycare centre, clinic, soup kitchen, and creche, which was established in 2008.  Earlier this year the entire project burnt down in a shack fire.  Bishop’s School came to the assistance immediately, helping to clear the site, and monies were raised to rebuild all the facilities, but on a larger scale and following eco-friendly principles, given the donations received from actor Sir Ian McLellan (who is currently in Cape Town, acting in Samuel Becket’s ‘Waiting for Godot’), The Rotary Club of Claremont, actor Ralph Brown (who is busy filming “Dark Tide” with Halle Berry and brought her to the Project a week ago), the 476 Trust, Enzyme, and Investec Bank.   It is planned to market the Indlovu Project as a Tourism Centre, by offering traditional African meals in the community hall, so that the work of the project may be seen and supported.

But what impressed me the most was the work by and dedication of the Bishop’s Grade 10 boys, who worked in two teams of two on a World Bank project called Evoke – over a ten-week period the boys researched the needs at Indlovu, found solutions, and wrote a blog about their work.   Of the 19 000 scholars that signed up around the world for the World Bank’s Global Giving on-line project, the four Bishop’s scholars came first, and were given $1000 in seed money to grow their projects.   The Ecovillage project of Reid Falconer and Martin Dyer investigated self-sustainability in terms of fruit and vegetable supply, and analysed the soil type in the township, to choose the most suitable type of vegetables and fruit to grow.  The other Bishop’s pair, Emile Nauta and Kishan Chagan, tackled the township problem of shack fires, and developed a fire-resistant paint that costs less than one-tenth of the commercial cost of such paint, by simply adding two ingredients obtainable at pharmacies to the paint.   The boys will be flown to Washington to receive their prize, and are pushing themselves to raise funds to continue their work – one goal being to raise money to paint 1000 shacks by 2012.  The project was demonstrated, by lighting a newspaper painted with their paint, but it did not burn.   What impressed me was that the Bishops children come from well-to-do backgrounds, but it was very obvious that they are very proud participants in this project. 

The Makaze guest house is colourful and homely.  There is no TV, but the kitchen is spacious.  The Bishops’ moms assisted with the interior decor, Lucia Brain being the decorator.  I loved the Lion Match papered wardrobe door, and the recycled items dotted around the guest house, as well as the lamp shades made from buckets in the lounge.  Two bedrooms have bunk beds in them, while the third is the “Presidential Suite”, with a king bed.   Dinner is served to guests, being traditional African food.   The monies made from the guest house operation is used to fund the community soup kitchen.  What makes the guest house fascinating is that it is “green”, in that it was built by the community from sandbags and eco-beams; it is powered by solar energy and gas; and it has earthworm sanitation.

I felt enriched in having spent two hours in Khayelitsha, in experiencing a project opening which was blessed by a sangoma, entertained by proud township dancers and musicians, performing traditional music, that I could see a part of Cape Town that we do not acknowledge being on our doorstep, and experiencing the friendliness of the locals towards us as visitors, with so much goodwill to each other.  I will contribute to the Bishops’ Ecovillage and Fire Retard projects.  I encourage you to do so too. 

Indlovu Project, off Mew Way, Monwabisi Park, Khayelitsha.  Tel (021) 657-1026. http://www.shaster.org.za/index.php/projects/6-indlovu-project/6-indlovu-project.html

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com