Up until this point, my stay in Cape Town has sheltered. For a long time we would only go to the “nice” parts of town that one could describe as “tourist traps”. That is until this past weekend when I had my homestay in the Gugulethu Township. We began our weekend at Mama Noxie’s house where we were introduced to her brother known as Pastor Jack (although he isn’t actually a pastor). From there Pastor Jack took us on a tour of Gugulethu. We learned about the history of the area and how many of the residents were forced to move there after they were forcibly removed from District Six. After a short drive around the area, we visited memorials for Amy Biehl and The Gugulethu Seven, who were all tragic victims of racialized violence.
It’s no secret that Cape Town has a large disparity of wealth, but to actually witness it driving into the township was heartbreaking. When you first drive into the township you see a few smaller houses, similar to the government assisted housing that I would see in my neighborhood back home. But once we got further into the township we began to see shacks and tents. Even some of the better off homes had shacks built into them so there could be enough room for extended family members. Many of the shacks had no electricity or running water. There were children playing in the streets, some without shoes or wearing tattered clothes. After our tour, we went to a shelter for women and children escaping domestic abuse. Considering the political climate surrounding domestic abuse in South Africa, I did not want to imagine what the children and their mothers had to endure for them to end up at the shelter. We were told to bring things that they would need so I brought some maize meal along with toys and puzzles for the children. After presenting them with the gifts we played with them for a while, however I do wish that I could have gotten to know them a little better.
Before going on the homestay my RA Pumi advised us to stray away from the “savior complex”. I was very hesitant to take pictures during my stay because I didn’t want to come off as insensitive or make a spectacle out of their suffering. For example, I found myself reminding people that the shelter was not an orphanage because calling it that was very disrespectful to the children’s mothers. Although Gugulethu does face hardship, it has a very strong community. Mama Noxie and the other Mamas showed us great hospitality and words could not describe how grateful I am that they welcomed us into their homes with open arms.
Once we were done at the shelter we headed back to Mama Noxie’s and had lunch. The food was absolutely amazing and I was stuffed. After lunch we headed to the community garden where we helped clean up, and also planted a few apple trees. Then as we finished we were separated into groups for our homestay. My housemate Vanessa and I stayed with Mama Titi and her daughter Mamela. They were both very friendly and open to answer any questions we had about the area, they also had questions for us. We ended up spending the evening watching a movie with Mamela and relaxing after such an eventful day.
The next morning we said goodbye to Mama Titi as we attended service at a Xhosa speaking church. This was the only part of the weekend that made me uncomfortable. Being raised in a Muslim household I wasn’t too excited about having to attend. Although I am not personally religious, I still identify as Muslim so I was very hesitant to participate and even had to excuse myself at one point. But differences aside, I noticed that many people that I encountered in the township turned to their faith as a form of solace. When we were at the service I recognized a lot of the children from the shelter attending with their mothers. After the service we went to a locally famous braai spot called Mzoli’s. Spending time at Mzoli’s dancing to kwaito music and eating barbeque was a nice. However, I couldn’t help but feel guilty as I left Gugulethu, it reminded me to be fortunate for everything that I have, but it also taught me a lot as well.