Every so often one comes across people with extraordinary depth and charisma, people who leave one with a profound feelings of respect and admiration.  A meeting with 24 year old Mziyanda Mphikwa of Masiphumelele together with Sindiswa Grace Klaas, Cynthia Butsheka and Khanyisa Ndinisa left me awed. 

I contacted Mzi after reading about the newly established Women’s Association in Masiphumelele. Under the chairmanship and guidance of Mzi, 78 women in Masi came together at the beginning of September to forge the Association with the intention of finding solutions for the great social ills under which many of their community are suffering. “Women are the mothers, the caretakers. They are often single parents and are always there to give support and guidance to the children. Putting women at the centre of any project or challenge is the best way to come up with solutions. Without women we can do nothing, “ says Mzi. 

Why, then, is a young man at the head of a Woman’s Association? Mzi comes with powerful credentials. He was one of the seven young founding members of the Homeless Project in Khayalitsha set up in 2004 with the aim of  helping homeless children and fighting unemployment, homelessness and poverty. Recognising the passion of these young people as well as their inexperience, the Dept of Social Development gave them a year-long internship at the college in Worcester where they learned about project management, life-skills, community development, entrepreneurship and cultural diversity. Empowered by the courses the group were able to take the Homeless project to new levels, organising outings for the children, intervening in families and fundraising. The project was registered as an NPO the same year in 2004. At the end of 2008 Mzi moved to Masiphumelele where he facilitates the local branch of the Homeless Project. 

The women have identified various projects for Masi. Their gardening project has begun with the planting of vegetables in their backyards as well as on a 1 hectare plot in Noordhoek, seeds and tools having been provided by the Dept of Agriculture. They are awaiting approval for gardening space at the Masi old Stadium – gone to seed in a different context- for further planting of spinach, cabbage, potatoes, onions and carrots. 

Their focus will be largely on the development of norms and values within the community, clarifying what are acceptable and what are unacceptable behaviours. Of great concern to them is the high rate of teenage pregnancy and the alarmingly high rate of drug abuse amongst the youth, both contributing to a despairingly high drop-out rate at school.”Our children need to be listened to and not judged. But we need programmes to help them reach their full potential.”  

”The children have talent – for drama, for singing and dancing and for sport. We want to give them the opportunity to showcase their talents and to foster their growth. To this end the Women’s Association is planning monthly community events with a small entrance fee to help maintain the activities.”  

Another issue of major concern is the population growth rate within poor communities. Through holding workshops at the Community Centre the women hope to educate the community, especially young people, on the necessity to plan their families. “Our forefathers were rich. They had cattle farms and fields of crops from which they could support their larger families. Now our culture is all mixed up and people are suffering. People must learn that it is better to have 2 children that they can raise effectively than to have a number of children that they cannot afford to feed or clothe. Population growth must be limited.” 

The Women’s Association along with Homeless Project runs a soup kitchen twice a week, sometimes feeding up to 50 people at a time. “Unfortunately, when the soup runs out and many of the hungry remain unfed. We do what we can with our limited means.” Homeless Project have also adopted the Peacock Crèche as a project. Owner of the Crèche, Noluntu Yose, cares for 48 children. “Many of the parents are unable to pay the monthly fees, some are unemployed and some young mothers  go and drop their children forever, but great-hearted Noluntu does not turn their children away.” The Homeless project provides food parcels, soups, porridge and clothes for the children.

Homeless Project works towards the reconstruction of families with no income where domestic violence and substance abuse persist, while Masiphumelele Women’s Association is a platform to consult and to provide information to all the women of Masi. It is indeed there to act as catalyst and to serve as a daily voice of the women taking up women’s issues and representing the women’s interest in the community forums.  

When asked how the people of the Scenic South – and our readers beyond- could assist them to achieve what they have so determinedly set out to do, the women had the following to say: 

“We are dedicated and committed, but we need to be capacitated in terms of skills. At the moment we can only speak from our own experiences …. (all 3 women are single parents who have struggled to provide for their children)”. 

We would like to have a container in which to set up office. Ukhanyo Primary School will provide the space for the container. We would like this space so that we can be available to the women and children of our community to give help and support when required at any time. 

We will need computers and stationery for our admin. We do not mind if the computers are old.” 

“We would love to have sewing machines so that we can teach the girls and women in our community to make clothes – for their families and as small business ventures.” 

“We would be grateful for ingredients for the soups and fruit and clothing for the children at the crèche.” 

Can you help Mzi and his intrepid and dedicated band of ladies to bring about the changes they desire for their community? 

Mzi may be contacted on  084 658 1939

Viv  & Mzi