This has been a crazy and unprecedented time for everyone the world over and we are no exception here in South Africa. We are still experiencing lockdown levels which prohibit many of the small things in life we all take for granted and a nightly curfew remains in place. I think that when we last blogged we expected that three months later things would be back to near normality. But instead, many of the rules and restrictions remain which has helped to keep the number of Covid related deaths relatively low.
The pandemic has caused so much hardship here in a country with only a very few meagre systems in place to help the needy and vulnerable. Poverty remains a huge problem here, with lack of education and opportunity on an enormous scale. The ANC government had allocated millions of Rand at the start of the Covid lock-down to help public hospitals to access essential PPE equipment and extra beds, to support communities to feed local people who now had no employment and to help small businesses with relief packages. However, 6 months in, it seems that most of the money has been lost due to corruption with Covid-related tender and procurement contracts going to close contacts of the government at hugely inflated prices. A commission has recently been set up to investigate the claims but, as ever, too late to help those in need.
Meanwhile, NewDay United has continued to serve the people in Manenberg and Gugulethu with weekly food parcels. This has been able to continue for 22 weeks due to the generous donations of so many supporters. Don has diligently been involved in every week of the deliveries, with Lorna helping in the last couple of months once the lockdown levels were reduced and permission to travel was no longer required. These have now come to an end as many people are returning to work, but as a team we decided that we needed to look at alternative methods of supporting our beneficiaries while our programmes are beginning to start up again and help families to become more self-sufficient.
Consequently, the idea of providing vegetable growing boxes to allow people to grow their own food has been developed and enthusiastically received. Lorna has been organising the building of the wooden boxes, the soil delivery, the growing of the seedlings and deliveries to individual families, which may not seem a huge challenge, but this is Africa, and everything is complicated.
Jimmy, Don’s ageing pick-up truck has been put to very good use during this period with food parcel and vegetable growing box deliveries. We made the difficult decision back in March to stay here during the international travel ban as we felt God had work for us to do. And despite the tight restrictions we have been in a privileged position to be able to serve many of the most impoverished people over these last 6 months. Thank you to those of you who encouraged us to stay. It has definitely been the right decision, though hard for us.
At the start of the pandemic, the health department were looking for volunteers to help with the high numbers of cases. Lorna, with the full support of her NewDay colleagues applied to help. It took several frustrating months for all the paperwork and volunteer contract to be finalised and Lorna has been able to carry out telephone consultations with nursing homes in the Western Cape, recording the number of positive cases, Covid-19 testing of both staff and residents and ensuring that they have appropriate PPE.
Currently, and as restrictions start to ease a little more, NewDay United are starting back some of the programmes including the Computer Learning Centre and Hluma After School Club, all be it, with tight Covid-19 restrictions. There will be many challenges ahead for the team as we encourage many of the children who have not been at school for 6 months, with no access to online learning, to see the value of education.
The big news for UBU is that they have finally moved into their new base! This was first offered rent-free by a generous landlord back in early November 19, but it looked like it might never happen, even before Covid-19 made an appearance. However, in June, the building, which was the shell of an old car body-shop, was suddenly available…and it instantly became apparent that there was far more work to do than had been imagined before it could become operative as the new ‘UBU Home’. There was no electricity, plumbing; the roof leaked in a dozen places; there was no insulation; no windows, doors or internal walls. Given that list it doesn’t really sound that it had that much going for it, but it was a larger area than anticipated and in a great and relatively safe location in Philippi close to where many of the UBU team live.
However, thanks to the willing generosity of a couple very dear to us who just wanted to make a difference, and three months of extremely hard work later, the base has become UBU’s manufacturing, meeting, training and engagement hub, just in time to commence the latest build: a two-storey Early Childhood Development centre in Khayelitsha, funded by ProjectYesAfrica. Words cannot really describe the difference this new base has made after a nomadic year following UBU’s departure from Sweet Home Farm due to gang violence. There is a new and tangible sense of hope that, with follow-on work looking like a realistic possibility, a sustainable Social Enterprise can result in the long term.
Since the base was completed 17,000 sandbags have been manufactured for the Khayelitsha project, and as this is written, half a kilometre of timber eco-beams are being sized and batched. Already ground has been broken on site and foundation trenches are being excavated. UBU’s recently refreshed mission statement is ‘Activating and equipping humans (a word deliberately chosen to dignify those seemingly forgotten) to self-build places of belonging’. So it is not lost on the UBU team that, for Nokwanda, the owner of the Early Childhood Development centre, who has taught many generations of young children from nothing better than a tin shack, this will be a wonderful new and safe place of belonging for generations to come.
During the last few months there has been a world-wide movement of “Black Lives Matter” seeking more recognition that there is racism and injustice in our societies. We were interested and a bit apprehensive about how this would be addressed in South Africa given the likelihood of violent protest. We were amazed and sad that the issue had very little coverage on the media and also in social justice circles. It seems from our outside viewpoint that it is too difficult a topic to tackle as it has so many implications for many here. The legacy of apartheid can be seen all around and the barriers to so many living a life we would consider ‘normal’ remain for too many South Africans.
For us it has been a long, incredibly busy- and sometimes frustrating- time since we turned down the early chance to fly home in March and beat the South African lock-down, never knowing when a trip home, with the birth of our third grandchild approaching, would ever become possible again., But now we are tired and longing to be home with our family.
As we write, the international travel ban is finally being lifted from the 1st October and we have been able to book flights in mid-October. Currently South Africa is in the amber travel zone, but the numbers here are very low and some commentators are reporting that SA could be in the green travel corridor soon. It will be ironic that we may officially not have to quarantine having left South Africa but will arrive in a strict UK lockdown anyway due to the second wave there. We can’t deny that, despite the call we feel to South Africa, we are desperately keen to see our family again and just be parents and grandparents for a time. Hopefully, subject to the obvious continuing restrictions, we will be able to catch up with many others too.
‘Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end.’
Because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Saviour.’
Isaiah 43 2-3a (The Message)