Tuesday, April 26, 2011
This is Rosie. She is a goddess. She lives in a township,called Khayalitsha in Cape Town, South Africa. Khayalitsha is a legacy of the Group Areas Act passed by the white SA government in 1950. Khayalitsha itself was not established until after the abolition of the pass laws that required blacks to have permission to travel within the country. During that terrible time male laborers came to Johannesburg and Cape Town for work, and the townships were established to house them. Soweto, in Johannesburg, with 1.3 million residents is probably the most infamous of these slums. Khayalitscha is the largest one in Cape Town and home to roughly 500,000. With the end of the pass laws and apartheid women started coming to the townships and families grew up in them.
About 5 years ago Rosie decided to do something for the poorest of the poor kids in her township. She enlisted the help of friends and neighbors who brought her things like cereal and potatoes and she started a kitchen to help feed the kids. She's famous now. Everybody knows Rosie and the tiny room she calls Rosie's Diner. Every day she feeds 185 kids breakfast before they go to school and dinner when they come home. It's simple fare - porridge for breakfast and beans, potatoes or rice for dinner, but these kids who are AIDS orphans, abandoned or from poverty get the nutrition they need to carry on.
I met Rosie through Alan Petersen, a local guide who helps support Rosie's operation. Alan had us take a big sacks of potatoes and onions when we stopped by to see her. Alan has organized a group of independent guides to help Rosie keep things going. Rosie's reputation has spread and a couple of years ago Habitat for Humanity came and built a house for her. She, like many, is a single Mom and the house is really her dining room. Her old house burned down a few years ago and she is badly scarred from the fire, but she never stopped smiling and saying thank you the whole time we were with her.
She and her helpers cook in a tiny 6'x 6' kitchen off to the side of the house. It smelled great when we were there - onion and potatoes cooking in huge stainless pots. CNN has a project called CNN Heroes to celebrate selfless individuals who are making a difference in their communities. I'm going to do what I can to nominate Rosie in the next round of CNN Heroes. She truly deserves the title.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
South Africa is beautiful, ugly, friendly, dangerous, sophisticated, primitive, and very, very complicated. Yesterday we visited two black townships, the District Six Museum, the penguins on Boulders Beach and the Cape Point lighthouse at the southernmost point on the African continent.
We have met people who had to leave the country because of their activities under apartheid and people who think things were better then. We have met blacks, coloreds, and whites - distinctions that would be racist in the US but are convenient and acceptable labels here. We visited astonishingly beautiful wineries set in the fairytale landscapes of Stellenbosch and Franzhoek, and spent time with a former miner who makes gorgeous flowers out of discarded Coke cans. We have seen beautiful blonds carrying their yoga mats into an upscale yoga studio and looked down on the shacks of Khayalitsha where 50,000 blacks live in squalid galvanized tin huts (above). We ate in one of the world's best restaurants and took a bag of potatoes and onions to Rosie, a woman who feeds breakfast and dinner to 185 orphaned township children before and after school. We've seen lion and cheetah eating their kudu and young giraffe kills, and we've noticed that almost every middle class dwelling in Cape Town is like a fortress with locks and bars on all the doors and windows. Wherever we have gone - on the street, in the townships, at the wineries, or in the open markets - we have been greeted by friendly, welcoming, generous, and seemingly happy people. What is the real South Africa?
At this point I would say all these people, situations and conditions are the real South Africa. It's a fascinating place but dense and complicated. It's impossible to decode the mystery in two short weeks. With all that is happening in Africa today it wouldn't be surprising to see the country reach a tipping point in the not too distant future. Mandela is in his 90s, Tutu is 80. The current President has 5 wives and no one we've met thinks he represents the best of South Africa. It is a country tucked away as far from America as any in the world. It's been a privilege to spend time here. I wish it were easier and cheaper to get here. We would definitely do it again.