Watching the BBC World News I was informed of the violence against foreigners in Joburg; the brain clearly affected by high altitude and stupidity took about 20 seconds to realise, oops, that's in South Africa. Currently I'm so close to the border in a place called Venda; it's a region rich with art, culture and tradition. When I was sick they offered to take me to the Sangoma (traditional healer) but I declined, citing immobility.. not fear as my excuse! Here there are a lot of Zimbabweans that have come on foot, walking over the mountains. They come with nothing, and stop in villages asking for 'piece jobs,' earn some money and move on. Crime here is not an issue like the city and people seem to coexist quite peacefully.
In this community it is more advanced than the others, and most of our work has been directed through a Foundation called Muthzendi Youth Learning and Resource Foundation. Set up by a 26 year old from the area he has seen the biggest problem to these youth is access to information. Information on bursaries for universities, job schemes, knowing how to apply for identity documents. He took over a building built for community purposes in 2000 but had been vandalised and left, as no one knew what to do with it. I realised that he was the person we should focus on, and so we ran a 3 day Active Youth workshop for youth he had identified. The thing you learn about facilitation is never underestimate your group.. Part of the workshop involved the participants doing a 3 minutes presentation on anything of their choice in English. One of them grabbed me at the start and said 'listen carefully to mine B, it's for you,' and so it went 'THE CRISIS IN ZIM.' He went on to say Mugabe was a freedom fighter and the West should butt out, then I got a wink, he bowed and that was that. We heard about HIV, pregnancy and many other issues. One of the participants requested my hand in marriage; I set the barrier quite high at 80 cattle (5-10 is average) unfortunately he was part of royal family so that, he felt, could just be arranged. In my absence however, my dear friend Marte negotiated me down to 1 goat and a couple of chickens; a bargain!
Two of the participants were young boys from Zim, they had walked together on foot and been taken in by an orphanage, they have no papers or know nothing of their families. So when you sit here and read and see the carnage taking place in the townships and settlements around Joberg (coincidently including the one I sat eating goat leg merely 6 weeks ago) I feel a real sense of despair. Buying a newspaper the cashier looked at my paper and I said 'terrible isn't is?' Yes she said, but they Zimbabweans come, they steal, rape, murder and take jobs (employment is at around 40%), something had to be done. So I asked, is brutal murder, chasing families from their homes and burning people in tires (reminiscent of how traitors were treated in Apartheid times) the right way? This country has only been free since 1994 and before then, these people were supporters of anti-Apartheid and in 14 years look where we are at? She said she hadn't thought of it like that.
I do not have any answers, it needs Government intervention and it means the volunteers around the Gauteng area (particularly the Indian, Asian and Chinese) to be even more careful. I'm in a safe haven up here, but it is something that needs to be kept an eye on; it's a bloody war.
We leave this community on Saturday, I'm watching the boys play rugby (they lost last week, I was sick couldn't make it but received the following sms from the best english speaker:) OH.B.BIG.STRING.BOYS.SO.HARD.THE.BEAT.US.GOOD.LUCKY.IS.BROKE.
In short, they got hammered and my star player damaged his wrist- it does not bode well. I'm also now driving the SCORE combi, a frightful thought for my father and you may fear even more after the following story.. We were invited to a camp in the mountains for one night after the workshop to unwind. Excited at the prospect of braai (BBQ) and a couple of cold ones I agreed I would take the volunteers. Caught up in the moment I forgot the fact that African's in general have absolutely no concept of time or distance and believed it really was a 45minute drive; no problem! Nothing is ever easy with this group and first I had to pick a volunteer who had taken a lift to a soccer game, then realised his driver had had 8 beers. We made the dirt path, good I thought, we'll be there in 20 minutes. 1.30 hours of driving on petrifying paths, clinging to cliffs with huge pot holes; I have never driven anywhere like it, we arrived at the camp. The tension in my shoulders and stress in my face was not helped by the fact that my petrol had dropped from half full to just before RED. There was no phone reception, electricity and the prospect of the 2 hour drive home in the morning- cross mountain range. I did the only responsible thing I could; drink some beers, eat some food and try and not think about it until the morning. Morning came, the volunteers were late and we started on our 'journey.' Things started ok, I put my IPOD on, didn't mention the petrol crisis and went for it. Flying around the mountain, coasting down hills (although there were not many) I tried to save the petrol. The 'light' went on and we were still, according to our African guide, 10k away from the tar road.. 10k would have been ok, 30k, not so. At one point we conked out up a hill, covered in mist, I made them push. We coasted the last 10k down to the tar road and drove to a gas station. The gas station did not have any unleaded. Suffice to say if you were travelling through Rabali, Limpopo on the 18th May you would have seen the unusual sight of 5 white Europeans pushing a VW Van 2kilometres up a busy road towards a gas station. Sitting in the driving seat was a blonde, English girl 'steering.' We filled up, I breathed and thanked God we did not break down atop a mountain. I also decided I would never listen to an African distance measurement ever again; there is a reason I hate driving! It's a shame because the camp was phenomenal with a natural waterfall creating slides and pools, we really were as remote as you could be with the animals. I would love to take my visiting guests there, but not until they make a road.
The fun does not end there. Marte and I went to buy sports equipment for the Foundation (we decided to do an informal sports day there and leave equipment that can be used by the community.) We arranged with TK to pick us up from the town, he agreed. As such, we enjoyed a meal and some wine and waited for him. He called to say he was outside, but he was not. It was now dusk. Again, some English-African communication barriers were breached and he was not in town, but in the local complex. So, Marte and I find ourselves in the taxi rank at night carrying quite a lot of brand new sports equipment. Not ideal ahead of a 40 minute drive, not ideal being in a taxi rank, or indeed a taxi at night; not safe. So we tried to amuse ourselves on the journey; plotting various escape routes and being pretty pissed we got ourselves into this situation. Just as we made it near our house, we called 'short left' the sign to stop. The driver said no. 5 seconds of panic was replaced by a wave of relief when he said 'you're staying with Magoma aren't you, we will take you to the nearest point, send him my regards.' If only the taxi driver had thought to make us aware of this fact at the beginning of the journey it would have saved a lot of panic and adrenaline. You see, you hear so many terrible things, you forget it is only a small percent of the people. I guess it is a good thing my senses stay heightened but I really miss feeling safe! It gets dark and you just do not go out unaccompanied, if at all. Next time you walk back from the pub or whatever, really enjoy that freedom. As is shown by recent events, this country has a long, long way to go before freedom in that sense is experienced.