There may be no better way to understand how well –or how ineffectively – our South African government performs than walking through an underequipped community and speaking with those living in it.

The community of Overcome Heights in Cape Town has a great history, a history that frames the quality of regulation within socioeconomics, service delivery and the relationship between our government and the people.

I had the opportunity to join Food For Life (FFL), a non-sectarian movement that cooks large pots of food at the International Society of Krishna Consciousness Temple (ISKON) before taking them into various communities and dishing food out to children and adults.

While seeing all the children and adults quickly lining up with their empty bowls to receive the generous helping of food from the FFL team, I was joined by the community’s social worker Mymoena Scholtz and community leader, William Lewis.

From my time and conversation with them, I quickly learned how the community of Overcome Heights, and communities just like it, are facing the systems that lie beneath South Africa’s crises.  

According to William, government leadership is missing from taking care of its people, especially in this shanty town of Overcome Heights. Seeing the sandy roads, stray dogs, overall structure of the homes, and most importantly, the faces of the people, who was I to even consider his words untrue?

It was clear that the wealth distribution in South Africa is greatly unequal and that our economy is often led by interest of personal gain.  

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This town lacks the most basic resources.

“There are up to 4 000 hokkies in this in community and almost 40 000 people,” says William, “that could easily be up to 10 people per household.”

The setting up of basic amenities, such as water and toilets, were some of the community’s main concerns. “We are getting flushing toilets, little bit by little bit,” William says, but you’ll see we’re still using the chamber toilet. Only some people have flushing toilets in their yard, but not all of us.

“It took a lot to be where we are now,” he continues, “I feel the pain of the people.”

Community social worker Mymoena Scholtz regularly visits the community and works with them through workshops. She mainly established a training and development foundation, Where Rainbows Meet.

“The community is suffering and there are too many social problems,” says Mymoena.

Her workshops in the community include teaching parents to communicate better and lead their children.

“It’s important for parents to take back the communities because it is their children who fall through the loop holes. Parents need the most support in leading the community because they are also leading their children.”

Image: Community social worker, Mymoena Scholtz and community leader, William Lewis

It’s not okay to pick up that liquor bottle

Mymoena then notices a child coming to fetch cool drink from FFL with a wine bottle. She points this out to me.

“This is a simple example. He doesn’t have a cool drink bottle, but he’s got a liquor bottle. Where did he get the bottle from? What message comes out of that bottle?

“Because that bottle is going to be your [his] future, it becomes the norm and, eventually something else will go into that bottle.

“Children adopt their parents’ behaviour, urges Mymoena, “so building the community plays a big role in shaping a child.”

Parents have been battling to get their children into school

There are often not enough places for kids in classrooms and children often have to complete a grade for a second time simply because there is no space in the higher grade.

“There is just no place for my child, he says exasperated. “Now I have to take him back to creche where he spends another year in the same grade, when he is meant to be in Grade 1. And it’s not only my child.”

Mymoena agrees and sympathises with Williams. She says to me, “education really needs to become a priority in this country.”

This is only one community out of thousands of informal settlements that face the difficulties of insufficient schooling, poor housing, lack of resources and jobs.

While some become richer, others have less and less food to put on the table.

But there are those, like Food for Life, who do what they can to provide remedy to the widening gap of the breadline.

community, government

Naynesh Deva, a leading volunteer from FFL shared that in 1970, two kids were seen fighting over food outside an ISKON temple. A Krishna devotee saw them and in that moment vowed that no one should ever go hungry within a 10 miles radius of any ISKON temple around the world.

Today, this vow still holds strong as the sharing of FFL continues to serve communities.

If you'd like to get involved with Food For Life, contact them on Facebook or their website.

Article images: Reuben Kieswetter

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