Kliptown, Soweto – the Lost Generation

The structures you can see in the left of the picture above are not outhouses or sheds, these are the houses of Kliptown, tiny shacks constructed of corrugated iron and bits of fibreboard and any other materials they can get their hands on. There is no (legal) power, and a communal water supply tap in the street is shared by a few hundred households. They fill up buckets to carry back to their houses, or bring their washing down to the tap and wash it there in the middle of the street.

When I say ‘street’, I mean ‘dirt track’. But it doesn’t matter as no one can afford a car around here. The government has recently provided modern portaloos, which the council come and empty out weekly, but the locals are not sure if this is an improvement, as they used to have a daily service to empty their previous outhouses. The houses provide no protection from the heat in summer or the cold in winter.

Kliptown is a Soweto township community without most of the basic needs such as schools, health clinics, electricity, or proper sanitation.  And thats just the infrastructure issues. There are apparently all sorts of complex reasons why these issues are so concentrated here. Then there are the people issues. There are approximately forty four thousand people living here.

This is not a new community full of recent immigrants, Kliptown has been here for decades and some families have been here for generations. Unemployment runs as high as 70%; teenage pregnancy about 60%; HIV/AIDS infection at 25%. The current young adults in Kliptown are often referred to (sometimes to their faces) by the government and the media as the ‘lost generation”, as their circumstances have not improved in the 19 years since the end of apartheid, and they will describe themselves as being without hope.

In spite of this, Kliptown is not without historical influence –  it was here in 1955 that an unprecedented Congress of the People was held, and the Freedom Charter was created, which set out the aims and aspirations of the opponents of apartheid. So it helped end apartheid, but is there any way to help Kliptown?

Against this bleak outlook, I was humbled to be able to visit KYP. The Kliptown Youth Program (KYP) is run by 16 volunteers from the local community, many of whom could be holding down “corporate jobs” elsewhere in the city but choose to stay and help their neighbourhood. Have a look at their website, they can explain what they do so much better than I can. But basically their mission is to give hope to the children of the area, focus on the next generation, and try to break the pattern of hopelessness.

KYP feeds 350 children daily, for many it will be their only meal of the day. The program is not a school, the participants are all expected go to their normal schools (but there are no schools in Kliptown so they have to walk a considerable distance to get to school, if their parents can afford the cost to send them anyway). KYP supplements school with remedial training, and with extra pre-exam swotting, particularly for the older students getting ready to matriculate. They give extensive sports coaching, and dance training, along with classes on ethics and leadership. KYP have also been a recipient of the One Laptop Per Child program. For the last three years, 100% of their senior students have passed their matriculation exam, an amazing result in any environment.

For me, travel is usually all about fun and excitement and all things interesting, immersing myself into an exploration of culture and scenery and food and markets, relaxation and adventure. Occasionally it throws up something very different to that, and this is one of them. A small amount of money goes a long way here – there’s no charity bureaucracy, no highly paid foreigners driving brand new jeeps and filing project reports and expense accounts. All funds donated to KYP are used very directly and practically on their programs, so if you feel like doing something good for a tiny corner of the world this week, go have a look at their website and donate if you can.  Thank you.