By Francesca Cooke
Three months in Africa, five weeks of which were spent in Cape Town. Time flew by, and already I’m back home in the bustling city of London, surrounded by family and friends whom I love, wanting to know all about my experiences. Where do I begin… the list of my adventures and the things I learnt is endless. Cape Town is such an incredible place, a place with a huge amount of history, beauty and endless stories to be heard. Working with SA-YES I had the privilege to hear them. I got to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon with two young men who have been a part of their programme. Xolani*, a young Xhosa man from a township called Philippi is a first year student reading Law at the University of the Western Cape, he has a great mentor from White and Case, a law firm in Jo’burg, and Marlin*, a young Cape Coloured man, living in a home called Beth Uriel in Salt River, who last year was mentored by Michelle.
As we stepped off the taxi at Cape Town station, Marlin and I met with Xolani and we wondered around the city centre up and down the deserted streets looking into fancy shops. Marlin showed me where he used to live, a street corner in the city centre. He told me stories of his days there and how streetwise he became, stories of making a hole inside his trousers to hide is money and avoiding the people trying to ‘clean the streets and clean people off the streets’. Living on the street Marlin learnt to speak Xhosa fluently (one of the eleven official languages in South Africa) and English, in addition to his first language of Afrikaans, a rarity among young people in Cape Town. Xolani then took us to a friend of his who was printing his CV so he can find a holiday job to earn some money in-between studying.
Throughout the day I had joked about us three being a diverse tour group, with me being the white photo-taking tourist, Xolani, the intellectual local tourist and Marlin the streetwise tour guide. Three young white women even came to ask me if I was okay, thinking I was in some sort of danger because I was with these two guys. How caring of them was my first thought, no one in London would do that.. Oh wait… then it hit me that racism from apartheid is still etched in people’s brains. Judging a book by its cover here is still very common, Marlin’s huge tattoos and swagger in his walk instantly made these girls worry. The three musqueteers however laughed it off and carried on up Long street.
These two young men amaze me, and I learnt so much that afternoon my head felt frazzled and fulfilled at the same time.
I was fortunate enough to spend some more time with Xolani when we went job hunting for him at the Waterfront (a large shopping centre in Cape Town). We first took a trip out to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent time as a prisoner, a first for both of us and the first time Xolani had ever been on a boat! It was freezing but one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had, and I felt honoured to share it with him. After that, job hunting began. It reminded me of last summer when I trudged around London’s Westfield shopping centre and the Kings Mall in Hammersmith handing out CV’s for a summer job. It was horrible! So Xolani and I walked around the Waterfront handing out his CV’s which I think for anyone is a daunting experience. Based on my experience last year I suggested he approach the shops with confidence, which I know isn’t easy, so the next shop he waltzed in and asked for the manager, they took him to her and he got details of where to send his CV a huge smile beamed across my face.
When the rain came pouring down Xolani and I said our goodbyes as I got the train back to Muizenberg and he got on the train back to Philippe. Xolani is an incredible young man with the drive to succeed in life.
As an eighteen year old hanging out with the young people similar to my age and in the same stage of life (starting university, job hunting, leaving school) but in such different livelihoods, I have learnt so much and I now will appreciate every bit of support I get, just as they appreciate the kindness, strength and support of their mentors. I have no doubt in my mind that SA-YES will go on to do amazing things. It is only in it’s second year but it has already touched the lives of some wonderful young people in Cape Town, and it will do so with many more in the future.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about the organisation, how it’s run, what it’s doing and most importantly giving me the chance to meet these people and see a completely different side to life and the importance of support and the people around you. A famous Xhosa phrase I have learnt, one now imbedded in my mind, is SA-YES’s philosophy, umuntu ngumuntu nga Bantu- a person is a person only through other people.
* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.