Kayamandi is a township located near Stellenbosch, the second oldest city in South Africa after Cape Town. Stellenbosch is a small town famous for its university and because it is surrounded by many vineyards, all over the hills and mountains, due to its very fertile soil. Everyone in this country seems to think that Kayamandi is a very dangerous place, but I must say that, although I have been here only a week and have heard some stories, it is not a bad place.

← overall view of Kayamandi

People are very nice and, I dare say, happy.  I am still trying to discover, understand and assimilate the circumstances and conditions in which people live, It’s not an easy task as I don’t know the language, Xhosa, yet and I am not supposed to wander around on my own, especially at night. So far, all I have done is walk around on my way to the projects I’m volunteering in and then back home before it gets dark.

mountains surrounding the township →

Kayamandi was founded in the 1930’s when black men came from all over the region to work in the vineyards that surround the area.  At that time there were just a few houses where they could stay, but as the years passed by and the country changed, even apartheid came and went, this small settlement kept growing and evolving to become what it is today: an overcrowded township, with a population of more than 60.000, where you can see brick houses and shacks side by side, all on no more than a square kilometre of land. In some areas, there are paved roads where the houses have running water, but the majority of the municipality is made up of small and narrow muddy alleys that go through the myriads of shacks made out of either metal panels, usually rusty and with sharp edges, very thin wooden planks or a combination of both.

← shacks

At least these sheds, of no more than a few square meters, seem to have the very bare necessities, like electricity, beds, some furniture, fridges, cookers and, of course, TVs and satellite dishes! There are common areas scattered around the community with toilets and washing cubicles as there doesn’t seem to be any water supply for the shacks. Rubbish is piled in some corners as there are not enough skips. The skips are emptied on a regular basis, but they are still overflowing. Unfortunately, there is also waste and dirt all over the place. However, it doesn’t seem to be too bad considering the facilities and installations available.

alleyways →

↑ common areas

I am aware that I have been here only a week, but, in spite of what most South Africans seem to think about this township, I believe that this is a place full of very honest and proud people who work hard doing anything they can to make a living and, more importantly, to better their own conditions, and the conditions of those close to them and those of the upcoming generation. Every morning & evening, I can see adults  heading to and from town, to their jobs in the shops and restaurants or on the farms. There are a few “tuck shops,” called after the small shops in the boarding schools in England, I was told. There are a plethora of hair salons, street vendors selling vegetables, a few seamstresses and small shops selling bracelets, necklaces and the like. Not to mention the liquor shops that seem to be the most popular stores by far, especially among men and young people! There are also people cooking meat, on barbecues, which they call “braai,” in front of their own houses. Chicken legs and pork and sheep heads being the most popular types of meat.

This is a lively place where you can see many women doing the laundry in the morning and children running around and playing all day long in the streets as it is their winter holidays from school! There are a couple of primary and secondary schools, a clinic, a library and many crèches scattered all over the township. There’s also a really nice soccer pitch and stadium at the bottom of the hill, near the main road, which was built when South Africa hosted the World Cup seven years ago.

windows →

I really hope to get the chance to learn more about this place and its wonderful people in the next few weeks! I will make the most of my stay to try and understand them and get to know their own ideas, feelings and perspective about life in a permanent township like this in 21st century South Africa, more than 20 years after the abolition of apartheid. In the meantime I will keep working and playing, why deny it, with the children at the winter camp and the toddlers in the crèche, as much as I can. I am really looking forward to the next few weeks here in the wonderful yet mysterious township of Kayamandi!

← other buildings

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