Mixed responses to South Africa

From the archive.

style= Peter Frizelle (far right) on a CMS-sponsored short-term mission visit to South Africa
(Photo: © Judy Lloyd)

Cold and rain weren't the only shocks for Peter Frizelle when he visited a South African township on a short-term mission trip with CMS. Here he writes about his experience.

In the summer of 2006, I took part in what was called a cross-cultural experience in South Africa and spent three weeks living in Cape Town.

This trip came at the end of my gap year, during which I'd been volunteering for Youth For Christ (YFC).  YFC planned the entire visit with CMS, and I managed to raise the extra funds needed to participate.

On 21 July, the other team members, whom I'd gotten to know during training weekends, and I headed out on the 12-hour-plus flight from Heathrow.

On arrival, several of us, who'd been fairly naïve about what to expect weather wise, were surprised to encounter low temperatures and pouring rain.

However, what soon drew our attention was not the cold or the wet, but the township and shacks we drove past on the way to our accommodation.  The 'in-your-face' poverty was new to us.

We undertook a range of things.

Cape Town YFC, with which we hooked up, involved us in several aspects of the work that they run in the area – in schools, clubs and a hospital.

We had an awesome time and saw loads of stuff, but repeatedly we were reminded of the divide between rich and poor and, intertwined with that, between 'White' and 'Non-White', thanks to the legacy of apartheid.

The children's hospital we visited had only 'Non-White' kids, all of them longer-term patients for various reasons – broken arms or legs, amputated limbs or illness.

It was a tough experience for some of us; one little boy cried continually when on his own, wanting his mother, whom, we learnt, was only able to visit about once a week.  There were even a couple of toddlers, in cots, who were 'bed bound'.

Such encounters moved us all, but the joy that the kids got out of playing with us and with the toys we brought lifted all our hearts.

We also visited a couple of orphanages, where kids who have no parents or whose parents cannot look after them – the parents usually either have AIDS or have died from AIDS – live with 'house-mothers' until they're about 16 years old.  They get schooled there and live with other youngsters of varying ages.

Again, we spent time playing with a lot of the younger ones.

The house-mothers are amazing women, who willingly give up 10 years of their lives to stay there and help the kids, volunteering to forego relationships for the children's sake.

One youth group that we led was great fun: the young people were lively but also thoughtful and friendly.  During a bible study, one of the guys spoke into a team member's life, demonstrating a deep relationship with God that challenged us all.

We went into a few schools too while we were there.

Near the end of our visit, we visited a large, richer school on the other side of the city.  The school's pupils were mainly 'White', but it now has a lot more 'Black', 'Coloured' and 'Indian' pupils in it.

Although it's a school with fairly high fees, the headmaster and the School Board allow in a cross-section of students – ranging from some who could probably pay the fees several times over to a couple of township kids whom the school doesn't charge.

None of the students knows how much anyone pays and there was a real ethos of mutual acceptance – something for which South Africa generally is deliberately aiming, following the oppression practised during the last century.

At one point, the team was split up and we spent time with different families around the city. Another time, we were with various families in a rural community.

In both places we were well looked after and made to feel very welcome.

The rural group of families were all 'Coloured', while the city dwellers were nearly all 'White'.  Again we were made aware of the interlinked divides in wealth and ethnicity between people.

Nonetheless, more 'Non-White' people are in the richer areas than there were a few decades ago, so there is improvement in that sense.  Yet, despite the improvement in equality visible throughout South Africa, occasionally, a lingering resentment can still be found.

However, we found that the younger generation had a real grasp on equality, having grown up in a 'free' South Africa, which augurs well for the country's prospects.

As a team, we also spent time exploring the area – Table Mountain, Robben Island, the District 6 Museum.

All of these experiences were 'class', but I was caught between enjoying them and reflecting on the township, Khayelitsha, we'd recently visited.

Driving through it, we saw long rows of shacks.  We were told that its population is over one million people.  It was very strange that, within an hour's drive, we'd gone from being surrounded by mansions to seeing miles of shacks.

We went to see some of the work being done to help Khayelitsha's inhabitants.  We spent some time with an organisation called Learn to Earn there.  Its motto, A hand up, not a hand out, describes succinctly its work to enable locals through training to provide for their families.

Having returned home and had time to reflect and pray about what I saw, I've decided to do some fund-raising this year and send some money out to projects in Khayelitsha township.

I'm hoping to raise as much money as the sum I raised for my fare out to South Africa.


Published 2 August 2007

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