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Imagine you have a kid about three years old, say, and he’s running about in the local park with a bunch of other little ones, laughing and shouting, when suddenly there are gunshots and they all fall down! Their youthful exuberance is snuffed out like a light and a cloud of fear hangs over the park. Has your kid been hit?
This is life in Manenberg, a suburb on the Cape flats that’s home to many of the most notorious gangs in the country. It’s rumoured that living in Manenberg makes you three times more likely to be murdered than anywhere else in South Africa. And in the heart of this gangland is where The Salvation Army, in divine faith, has a crèche and church (Corps).
Major Lorna Fillies is our Officer and Administrator at Manenberg. “My heart goes out to people living here, especially the children” she declares. “Sometimes the shooting is so bad, we teach the kids to lie down the moment they hear a shot, even if they’re playing outside.”
At the crèche there are 92 children aged from two to six years, under The Salvation Army’s care and protection. The classes are age-related – 2 and 3 years, 4 and 5 years, and 6 years. It is open Mondays to Fridays and follows a pre-school programme with each child enjoying a much-needed breakfast and lunch every day. Many of ‘our’ kids have very young, single parents who receive a child grant. Most live in shacks or are back-yard tenants.
In this poverty-stricken community domestic violence is also rife − and exacerbated by drug and alcohol abuse. Poor and hungry people are a daily sight, which is why every Tuesday the Manenberg Corps tries to feed about 200 ravenous people, at least half of whom are children − probably their only meal for the day, possibly for longer. “No-one is turned away. Even those who come to the gate get some food − and a blanket when we have. It’s most encouraging to see how many of the community kids are now coming to Sunday School.” comments Major Fillies.
The delicious aroma of cooking wafts down the passage, drawing visiting Major Carin Holmes to chat to Mavis Boonzaaier* (45) who’s stirring a huge pot of savoury mince to serve with rice for lunch. Mavis, who’s been a volunteer at the crèche for three months, was born and grew up in Manenberg. This single mum has four children (she lives off child grants) and an eight-year-old granddaughter of whom she is very proud. All live with her. She is separated from her husband, a drug addict, who gives her no support at all. Like so many in this community, Mavis dreams of having a permanent job. This kind and caring soul is so poor a food parcel means the world to her. She, herself, is known as the ‘neighbourly helping hand’ – many of the local kids come to her for food when there’s none in their home. Mavis believes ‘Give and you will receive’.
When Mavis was nine months pregnant with her youngest daughter she was shot in the leg by a gangster. As she says in Afrikaans: ‘n mens moet opstaan en aan gaan, kannie bly lê nie. Translated this means: ‘a person has to get up and go’. “I love playing Netball in the park but when the shooting starts I fall to the ground.” she says. Her big wish to find a permanent job is accompanied by “and to coach young girls in netball”.
Mavis attends Sunday church service and weekly events like Bible Study and Home League. She has great admiration for Major Fillies and claims to have learnt a lot in the short time she’s been at the crèche. She also enjoys the counselling and prayer time spent with the Major, whom she thinks is ‘a very good lady. We are blessed to have her,” she says, smiling broadly.
*Name changed to protect identity