South Africa Calling

Wednesday, June 7th. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here a week. Time is flying by here, and I’ve already packed so much in. I set out this morning in an Uber to see Hillary again. This time, she’s taking me into the Manenberg township where friends of hers have been working in the community to address drug addiction. They’ve also started a small cafe to provide job training and income for the guys they are helping. It sounded like a great program, and I was eager to check it out.

We arrived for a prayer service. After some quick introductions, there was scripture reading, singing, and praying. The service ended with an annointing in preparation for a prayer walk through the township.

Manenberg is fairly different than the other township I’ve been to. Langa is primarily a Xhosa township, where as Manenberg was a colored township. Noticeably, most residents speak Afrikaans here. It’s also noticeable that there aren’t the same kind of shacks built from pallets or tin here. Housing isn’t as much of an issue. Here, the struggle is with drugs and gangs. I heard it mentioned that the government actually introduced drugs into the community as a way to undermine and control it before the the end of apartheid. I’ve made a mental note to research that more when I get home.

Our walk is lovely, and it’s rather a quiet day. Three months ago, a young man named Jaryd tells me, the violence was so bad he couldn’t even go outside his house. That’s when he picked up a guitar and started writing. Now, the violence had calmed down, but it’s still problematic.

I feel for the residents caught in the middle of the gang violence, especially the kids. These townships were built to be dependent on the city. There’s no business or opportunity. Kids have nothing to do so they end up on drugs or in gangs or both. Jaryd confirms this. For him, this group of people has given him an outlet for his music. The cafe is hosting open mic nights now where Jaryd plays. I tracked down the video, and the kid is good…untrained, needing some polish and education, but the passion is there.
When we get back to the cafe, I get the chance to talk with Patrick. He’s one of the organizers behind this group, and in charge of the open mics. I ask him what he needs, and he mentions it would be great to have a simple sound system so they don’t have to borrow it. Right now, whoever provides the gear is able to say who gets to use it which creates some issues of access. A basic PA, a guitar amp, some microphones. I’m making notes in my head, and adding up the cost.

I told Patrick to send me a wish list, that I couldn’t make promises, but I’d see what I could do to get them set up. But I see a greater opportunity as well. A few months ago, the South African Broadcast Corporation, South Africa’s version of NPR, began mandating that it’s stations play 90% South African generated content. There’s a demand for more good music by local artists. For those in the townships, the issue is education and access. Recording studios are expensive and all located in the main city, there’s nothing in the townships.

I’m interested in talking with them more, trying to get some of them training as studio engineers (on a basic level) enough to record and master their own songs. I’ve met some other contacts with recording studios that might make that possible. Once the education is there, I’m thinking of putting together backing for a recording studio in the township to enable young artists to build careers. It’s the kind of thing that has the potential to be life-changing, for those in Manenberg and for myself. I know that I have a lot of research to do, and a lot more work building partnerships here.

Go check out the Fusion organization for yourself.

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