Thursday, 10 January 2008

Year 2, day 10 - guguletu township, western cape, south africa

This is the first of many blogs which I will write as I travel this year, visiting the places in which my charity, Cycle 4, will be active.

Today I visited Guguletu, a township of around 250,000 people 10km from Cape Town.

The cold reality of the past 10 years for South Africa is that real poverty has almost doubled. Promises have been kept, such as clean water and electricity for all, but at the expense of other rather important national attributes... stuff which we all in the west would deem absolutes.

I left the leafy suburb of Somerset West where I am staying in a shiny Toyota hatchback I have on loan, a real feeling of adventure coursing through my veins. I was off to visit a real live township, and even more than this, I was bringing help - potentially the answer to many problems.

As I drove past the airport on the immaculate motorway, I saw the sign for Guguletu, framed by the majestic Table Mountain in Cape Town, home to a gazillion dollar-rich tourists at this time of year, and turned off, full of hope at what my meeting may bring.

I soon had a very cold reality check, as I realised that life 100 yards from the freeway was of a very different nature to what is visible in the tourist busses between airport and city centre.

Not too dissimilar to how I imagine Compton circa 1980 to have been, the street corners were inhabited by loitering gangs, the playing fields by drunks and homeless: the general atmosphere was one of zero opportunity... not to mention danger.

I struggled to see a positive side, or a positive hope - sadly role models were not too evident on a hot afternoon in January. I strained to see a real life version of the famous boyz'n'the'hood scene where Lawrence Fishburne, playing the male father figure Furious Styles, maps out his own view of how young men can take control of what the future holds for the black population in modern america. But instead of this fanciful, idealistic fantasy, the visible impact of hip hop culture was everywhere.

I realised quickly that I had better close the sunroof and windows, and concentrate very, very hard on my directions.

I was meeting a prominent local Dr and Reverend who leads the fight for equality, the struggle against poverty, and for awareness around HIV in these parts.

What inspirational people Dr Xaphile and his colleagues turned out to be.

They showed me first hand what could be done by the actions of human beings. The JL Zwane centre in Guguletu is a beacon of hope, a venture born solely from the hearts of good people, and it shines like a tower of integrity in a sea of confusion and upset.

The people that run this centre are highly educated, highly intelligent agents of change - people that could have chosen their careers in any city, in any country in the world.

And they chose this.

This oasis in a desert of harsh, cold, windswept misery and destitution is what they have chosen to do with their lives.

I realised that they chose something worth living for, and I feel so proud to have met them.

There was something totally different about these people. There was no air of resignation. No tiredness - despite the mid afternoon heat reaching 40 degrees. No suspicion of the outsider.

They were vital. The glowed with purpose and assuredness.

I am proud to say this - but it was just so obvious that everyone was there for the same reason. To make change happen. The integrity was immense.

And I cannot wait to show my new friends what is possible.

In South Africa, billions of dollars are currently being spent developing a dozen national stadiums in which to house the 2010 world cup, while politicians idly dismiss the socio-economic problems of the country as a systematic result of 100's of years of oppression. A situation that will simply take generations to correct.

I can see clearly that true wealth and freedom cannot exist with this abject breakdown in our back yard. It's always there for us - the knowledge that these places exist, and that this level of existence can be tolerated in a world of such immense wealth.

Soccer stadiums, for god's sake, are being built that can seat 100,000 people, within 5 miles of Guguletu. They may take 3 years to build and rob thousands of people of the most needed of futures, but whose to say we can't match this disgraceful expenditure with the same numbers in terms of real change?

The internet brings the capability to do this.

I made a promise to myself, as I sped out of Guguletu. Having had a meeting the likes of which I used to dream of - a meeting where I was emotional within my business life - a meeting in which i gave a professional presentation which actually moved me and those around me - I made the promise that I would cause exactly that, with the team of people that I am building around me.

A team of people that are prepared to do one thing that I have always sought after - to look someone in the eye, shake their hand, and know that the work would be done.

No comments: