BPD Update Online, Winter 2004
Into Africa: Highlights of BPD's 2nd International Conference (cont)
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Archives: 2003 - 2004
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by David V. Henton

Texas State University, San Marcos

With our colleagues Huggenot College,
University of Capetown, University of Stellenbosch, and His Worship, the Mayor

Feeding the Hungry

The nearby sprawling, informal settlement of Crossroads is essentially a 'squatter camp' with hundreds of thousands of people living in shacks made of cardboard, corrugated tin, and bits of wood and plastic. Unemployment is almost 70%. Another legacy of apartheid is that when democracy finally allowed freedom of movement for the majority population, people surged to the cities in a desperate search for jobs and opportunity. Communities like Crossroads sprung up throughout South Africa.

A highlight of our trip to the townships and informal settlements was a visit to Rosie's feeding program. Rosie is a resident of Khayelitsha, unemployed herself and a survivor of a "shack fire", one of the most common and most harrowing threats to life in the teeming townships and informal settlements where open fires are used for cooking. Concerned about child malnutrition, Rosie began feeding neighborhood children about twelve years ago. Today, she feeds about 300 people a day seven days a week, both children and adults. Her program is now funded informally through donations and through support from Catholic Relief Services' WARMTH program (WAR against Malnutrition, Tuberculosis and Hunger). Technically still unemployed, she lives next door to the corrugated shipping container she has converted into a kitchen to cook for her neighbors. As was our experience throughout our visits to townships and informal settlements, we were greeted warmly, hospitably and with an enthusiasm that was humbling to its recipients! The children, though poor, appeared well-nourished, bright-eyed and energetic. Rosie’s program epitomizes the African concept of ubuntu, or community self-help and mutual interdependence and responsibility.

The Robben Island Prison

Esther and Ari at Robben Island

The afternoon of July 16th we visited Robben Island, where former President Nelson Mandela spent so much of his adult life in prison, often under solitary confinement. Today a National Park, Robben Island is a powerful destination, simultaneously preserving the memory of the brutality of pre-democratic South Africa, and also serving as a testament to the miracle of today's democratic Republic. For it was at Robben Island and in other political prisons that much of the future groundwork for a democratic South African was developed by President Mandela and the leaders of the African National Congress. Like President Mandela, many of the prisoners at Robben Island were well-educated professionals. Others, like current Deputy President Jacob Zuma, arrived at Robben Island unable to read and write, but through the ANC-initiated prison-based education (much of it surreptitious and illegal), left prison with the equivalent of college educations. Based on the slogan, "each one teach one", the future architects of democratic South Africa turned even their bitterest and most inhumane experiences into opportunities to prepare themselves and their comrades for the day in which they would be called upon to build the new democracy. Despite the stark horror of Robben Island's brutality, it is also paradoxically one of the birthplaces of contemporary South African democracy.


From Capetown, we flew to Johannesburg, where the BPD contingent joined with Americans from the National Conference of Black Public Managers and their African colleagues in pre-conference activities for the 4th International Conference on Public Management, Policy and Development to be held later in the trip in Maputo, Mozambique. In addition to attending pre-conference sessions, BPD members toured Soweto, visiting the Nelson Mandela Museum, the Hector Peterson Museum, and other sights of this sprawling, dynamic township. We also had the opportunity to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu's sister during a visit to her neighborhood in another community on the outskirts of Johannesburg. After a visit to the caves of Sterkfontein, where plesianthropus transvaalenis, one of our eldest common ancestors was found, several of us enjoyed shopping at the huge outdoor pan-African Bruma Market.

This article on Africa continues on the next page...

Spiral, Horizontal Line Spinning

BPD Update Online, Volume 26, No. 1, Winter 2004

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