A piece on what is occurring in Rietvaly – a community of people struck by poverty, yet not stuck in their ways.
Duration: 10 minutes
Breathe in. Count three exhales. With each exhale think of what makes you grateful.
Kagiso, Jackson, Kedifentse and myself were asked, “What challenges are faced by the community of Rietvaly?” Collectively we came up with about ten we can think of, on the spot without putting pressure. During this discussion, being the scribe, I had an interesting visual of everyone. Looks of reflection filled the room. We all thought long and hard.
Although not from Rietvaly, I’m also encouraged to contribute. Everyone in the room is still trying to conjure up what challenges they’ve encountered or witnessed. It was in that instance that I realized; when I go into a new space, my first instinct isn’t to look out for these things. I imagined the feeling I got when thinking back to all the firsts I had each time I entered Rietvaly. My first experience seeing a toddler steer a mule. The grandpa was chilling in the passenger seat.
To me, the entire picture looked so beautiful it was unnatural. I took my camera out, and through the lens I could see their looks of shock or confusion. Why would I need to capture such a mundane task? The look of suspicion or confusion is an occupational hazard I’ve become accustomed to. I used to take it personally and didn’t like to be the reason why people got uncomfortable.
Then I started capturing people without them seeing me. Seeing what I saw gave me the confidence to stand the awkward look, and do something I’d never thought of before. Smile. Folks, I tell you, there is nothing more contagious than a smile. A genuine smile that displays on my face the beauty I see through the lens.
Most of us don’t see the beauty we have. It comes so natural that when appreciated we tend to down-play how gorgeous we are, and embracing what other people see. It’s easy to forget your beauty when you don’t remind yourself of how beautiful you really are. After reading this blog; look at that gorgeous face in the mirror, and tell yourself three things you are grateful for.
It can be as simple as soap, or as complicated as embracing the human experience for what it is. Totally up to you. Along with forgetting our good qualities, we forget what we have endured. What we have gone through to be at this precise moment. That is one more thing I realised while playing the scribe. When asked what challenges the community faces, I had to pause, think of what I was down-playing so that I can provide an honest answer. One thing came to mind – children. Another one of my firsts was seeing children play in the street.
Watching Children Play
So many children in the street, I wouldn’t be surprised if they make up a third of the population on their own. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying children shouldn’t play in the streets. I’m not the Grinch here to take Christmas from the unsuspecting youngsters of Rietvaly, no. All I’m saying is, kids need more infrastructure to positively engage their minds.
As a child, everything’s an adventure and the mind is curious about every aspect of the world it resides in. Imagine being able to engage the children of Rietvaly in such a way that something as simple as playing a game develops their arithmetic and strategy formation, playing a game such as chess. Chess is no coincidence. It was a night or two after we watched ‘Queen of Katwe’ – chess is the focal point that brings it all together. If you’ve seen the movie, you cried at some point. For those who haven’t watched it, you have something to look forward to. It’s awesome!
While enticing children on that level, they can be inspired to become more than their circumstance. They can be able to find their own way in life by practising through learning.
After coming up with the challenges, we had to pick the ones that can be solved, and don’t require much infrastructure. We picked three from the whole list, and broke them down to; ‘who, when, where, how, and with what?’
What I saw was amazing. A group of individuals younger than forty willing to dedicate their time, efforts, emotional vulnerability, and youth to their community. To see a brighter future than they have been given. I say ‘given’ because it is very accurate. The dehumanising of black people leaves development stationery and stagnant for future generations. Black people are not kept in poverty because it’s popular, black people are kept in poverty simply because we are viewed as less than human. Which means we don’t deserve class, because we are perceived to not understand it by those who are not in poverty.
Someone told Masi Makhalemele that, ‘Children in poverty don’t deserve proper schools or infrastructure because all they know is alcohol and having more kids before finishing school.’ That was their assumption about Rietvaly. It certainly isn’t the truth. Boy, were we shocked when we actually got to know the people.
Masi is one of the reasons that people in South Africa have access to medication for HIV, legal repercussions for discrimination against people with HIV in the workplace, and the reason why mother-to-child transmission has lowered drastically. She is an activist that believes in getting the work done. She’s the one who asked us to identify challenges in the community.
The community of Rietvaly has its challenges just like any other community. And like every other community, it has layers. Layers that are not obvious at first. And layers that won’t be seen if one enters with the assumption that this is just another community of poor, black people that are complacent, illiterate or useless.
This is a community of people who take charge of their reality. A community that has young members on their council, proving that they want change. A community that is tired of being taken for a ride. People who not only see what is wrong, but are willing to do something about it. Each individual I have met from Rietvaly has skills. They don’t require teachings, because they are a library full of knowledge. They have gardens designed on permaculture principles; the kind that displays an intimate knowledge of the soil. Just like their soil, said to be barren, they are mistaken by other people. However, they are rich in nutrients that grow food for thought. Just look at Oupa Johannes’s garden!
In Rietvaly, young adults take responsibility for their families having left their maternal homes. Take KG and his partner, for instance. He is a 24 year-old father who already runs his own household with Kagiso and their two year-old child. The sacrifices he makes for his family put a lot of older men to shame. He understands the value of money, and the importance of being a father. No one sat him down, and gave him lessons on how to be an amazing father, and an overall stellar human being. It all comes naturally, because he is so dedicated to his cause with not much financial remuneration. Well not much that serves his personal needs.
Moreover, he has the physical ability of a gymnast that has been practicing for three years, and is now competing at a national level. It is in the way he walks. The way he picks up luggage or a stone. He has the groove of enthusiasm that each of his movements prompts the anticipation of a spontaneous cartwheel.
It is very easy to be consumed by circumstance because we forget our capabilities. With that being said, the community of Rietvaly is ready and waiting for the opportunity to change their lives. All they need is to be given a chance. A chance that was taken from them, simply because of the colour of their skin. Maybe you see poverty, I see possibility. I see a group of people that have written the following words on my soul:
‘Never give up. The dream given to you is yours for a reason. Only you can make it come true.’
I look forward to sharing more of myself, and Rietvaly sharing more insight and more gratitude.
I repeat; what are three things you are grateful for today?