Early next year I will start my own podcast series. It will include stories from my travels and my work. In November I’ve held a Design Thinking Workshop in Imizamo Yethu, a townhip south of Capetown – and it was right there, during an evening walk that I decided to do this. Here is the first text which will soon become a podcast:

Please understand this as work in progress.

It’s early Sunday evening.
I am with two friends at Philipp’s, a roof terrace bar.
It has a wonderful view.
Overlooking the Valley.
Where the white, rich people live.

The bar is packed.
All black people.
Mainly men, only a few women.

The music is inviting.
Dance music.
Some people are dancing.
Every move is matching the rhythm.

Almost every one is drunk.
Some are on drugs.

We are the only white people.
Wonga, a local skateboarder, brought us here.
He is living in Imizamo Yethu.
A township rapidly expanding up hills in Hout Bay.
Close to Cape Town.

——————— recurring intro start ——————————

I am Ulrike Reinhard, a digital nomad.
Homeless by choice.
I travel the world.
Exploring. Observing. Seeing.
Sometimes understanding.
Every journey adds to my ever changing picture of the world – the world how I see it.
A puzzle with infinite pieces.
Each piece telling a story.
Stories full of joy and beauty.
But some of them have their dark moments.
Just like life.

I want to share my stories with you.
I’ve called this series Contentious South Africa
And this is episode one: Imizamo Yethu

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At the bar I felt the three of us were the center of attraction.
I could feel their eyeballs on me.
For no obvious reason they thought one of my friends was my son.
I don’t know why.
One chubby guy was babbling to my other friend.
He was hard to understand.
The music was droning.
I could sense his discomfort with my friend being there.
He repeated saying: “These two are fine, but you …. “
He gave no reason. He just kept saying: “These two are fine, but you …. “
It was this kind of atmosphere in which a single spark could start an uncontrollable fire.
Intense.
Uneasy.
Distressful.

We decided to leave.
Squeezing our way through the crowd down the steep wooden stairs.
Our beers were still half full.
Wonga was navigating us back to the car.
He knows the alleys of the township by heart.
Kids were playing in the streets.
Men and women chatting at every corner.
Vibrant streetlife!

On our way out we bought pork belly.
At one of the typical stalls of the township.
A small business which keeps the township economy going.

The fat of the pork belly was dropping into the fire – kept it burning.
What a smell. Yummy.
Yet – I didn’t taste it.
Pork is not my thing.
But I could hear my friend feasting.

We left.

That was my first take on Imizamo Yethu

Imizamo Yethu is a Xhosa word. It means collective struggle. Or some people say collective effort.

Wonga said, that it is exactly this collective effort,
which is needed to calm down this area.
Just last night two people were shot down.
Brutally executed. Murdered.
And a few days earlier a young woman was raped by three guys.
People say because she is a Lesbian.

Crime. Drugs. Violence.
You name it – it’s there.
And the young kids are involved.
At the bottom end of the hierarchy they do the shitty work for the big guys.
Unfortunately there is hardly any escape.

Imizamo Yethu is a part of Hout Bay.
A suburb of Cape Town in the southern Cape.
People say it’s a microcosm of South Africa.
Black, coloured and white people living a stone’s throw away from each other.
Completely detached – in their respectively own worlds.
And believe me, these worlds could NOT be more different.

Tjarla Norton lives down in the Valley.
Where the white people have their homes.

Tjarla runs an NGO.
She goes daily into the township.
And has gained trust from some people in the community.
She was born when Apartheid had just ended.
Yet she is somehow baffled how to bridge the gap between these worlds.
The only way out for her is to create a common understanding and to build trust towards each other.
Why is this not happening more often, I asked her?
Why is the entire Hout Bay community not coming together to make ALL LIVES better?

With a rather helpless smile she answered: People prefer NOT to see. If they would see thay would need to change something in their very own lives. And this is not happening.

Wonga goes even one step further and talks about the mad rush some “white” NGOs are practising to get the best picture with the black, poor kid.
Yet he is not blaming the NGOS alone.
Wonga is fully aware that many things go wrong in the community itself.
Because of the living circumstances.
The lack of knowledge.
And what he calls the generation pressure:

The subliminal complain of the youth towards their parents. Where were you when I was playing in the streets, left alone all by myself? Most likely these parents were standing in teh kitchens and farms of the white people, struggling to make enough money to feed their kids at home.

Wonga grew up in the township.
He was raised by a single parent – a mum and his 6 siblings.
He said he lived a privileged life …
Privileged through hard work.
Until his family lost everything.
That was when his struggle intensified.

From an international school in the village, where he was the “cool” township kid he had to go to the school in the township – no cafeteria, no food, and lots of kids competing for the little which is available.

Unlike many others Wonga finished school.

He is determined to create this collective effort in Imizamu Yethu. Among the community itself. Not with the help of NGOs.
He is providing guided tours through IY.
He is a photographer.
A videographer.
And for sure he is a leader for the younger kids.
Trying to support them.
Trying to make their lives better.
He stands out in the community.
Because he knows both sides.
His knowledge is crucial for this next generation.

——————— recurring outro start ————————————

Thanks for listening.
My name is Ulrike Reinhard.
And I’ve called this series Contentious South Africa
This was episode one: Imizamo Yethu

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