By Keith Bohannon
November 2010

Another side to the story…

When hearing the words ‘Masi’ or ‘Site 5’, people conjure up an image of a life of abstract poverty out of a ‘tin can town’ rife with crime and squaller.  For sure life is tough for people of the township of Masiphumelele*. Of Masi’s 38,000 residents, many are very poor, most live in shacks, and all are coping with the resultant economic and social deprivation and often difficult health problems. However, if you take the time to scratch beneath the surface what you encounter are a resilient, resourceful and respectful people, steeped in a rich African culture who are proudly South African.

Before I started volunteering at Masiphumelele, my only interaction with the residents of Masi was limited to awkwardly trying to avoid eye contact with people begging at the robots, or breaking hard to avoid a minibus taxi as it cut in front of me on the way back from the Longbeach Mall.

During the last two months I have seen another side to Masi: the people I have met there are friendly, proactive and positive people who simply want to be given a chance to help themselves, a ‘hand up’ rather than a ‘hand out’. In fact in the Xhosa language ‘Masiphumelele’ translates as “we will succeed”.

There is no escaping the fact that there are major issues in Masi that will not just disappear overnight – housing, unemployment, health issues and education being four major ones, however, together with many local individuals and organisations, the people of Masi are working hard to overcome these challenges. I hope that by highlighting the positive side of Masi in this article, maybe the attitudes and courage of this vibrant community will inspire you, as it has me, to see another side to the story…

*Note 1:

For a brief history of Masiphumelele from the first informal settlement of 500 people in the 80s, to it being officially adopted as part of Cape Town in 1992, to its growth to 38,000 people today, please visit

A Positive Slice of Masi Life…

I am volunteering as a project manager for five months with a NGO called MasiCorp**, a dynamic and exciting organisation that does some fantastic work in Masi. The three projects I am working on are… (1) tutoring young people (2) improving crèche facilities and (3) supporting business enterprise. Through this work I have been welcomed into Masi and met some inspiring people. Here are the stories of just three of them.


Kgotso, or Mu to his friends, is in Grade 10. He is a typical teenager, full of cheek with an answer for everything.  He’s into music, especially hip hop, and through an organisation called Ikamva Youth, he is currently completing a course in Sound Engineering in Muizenberg (at the Melting Pot). When not listening to, or talking about, music Mu likes to read and is interested in Quantum Physics. One day he would like to work as a researcher in this area. 


Winnie is in her 60s and runs a crèche in Masi. Her crèche has 40 kids and she employees five staff. At the moment Winnie’s crèche is not registered so she gets no subsidies from the Department of Social Development. After paying her staff Winnie has no money left to provide food for the kids – she used to get food vouchers but they were stopped and she does not know why. At the moment the parents have to bring their own food for the kids. Winnie hopes to get registered so she can get subsidies and have enough money to cook for the kids in the crèche again.


Ndileka is in her 40s and runs her own clothing business in Masi. She got pregnant when she was in Matric so had to drop out of school. She trained herself to sew to make a living to support her two children as her husband had no work. When her kids started school Ndileka went back to school and got her Matric. She then applied for and completed a course in Fashion Design at college and after graduating set up her own business designing, making and selling traditional African clothes. Her business is going well and she now employees three people and her workshop is based in an old garage in Masi. One day Ndileka would like to have a shop in Fish Hoek or Simon’s Town.

(The Scenic South earlier this year featured Ndileka as one of our achievers . See  Viv)

**Note 2:

Masiphumelele Corporation, or ‘MasiCorp’ as we are known locally, is a NGO with over 10 years experience helping the people of Masiphumelele to help themselves. It is our objective to provide the people of ‘Masi’ with opportunities to transform their lives; to help them lift themselves from poverty; to have a decent home in which to raise a family; to obtain a good education; to have a job and financial independence. If you would like to find out more about MasiCorp please visit our website…

Getting involved…

We are always looking for volunteers with new energy and enthusiasm and this includes people who could help with fundraising or organising events. If you are interested in volunteering at Masi please contact me at or on 079 2869697.

If you cannot help as a volunteer, then please think about joining our team as a donor -your contribution to our work will be be greatly appreciated – please contact Al at mailto://

See also