My sister and I exchanged texts via Instagram (@dancingonthewayhome) a few days ago. She said she was enjoying my posts from South Africa and commented: “joyous life.” I have to say: she’s spot on. We have been here just over three weeks and have had the most wonderous, enriching time.
South Africa has been in the news lately, as the ruling party, the ANC (the party of Nelson Mandela) recently received President Zuma’s resignation after what many people call a scandal-filled 9 years in office. The South African stock market has surged, and the rand has gained 5% against the dollar in the last three weeks in anticipation of Zuma’s departure and the installation of his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, who is reputed to have a much more business savvy outlook.
We are here in South Africa at a very exciting time.
We had been thinking and finally decided last November to make this trip to South Africa. I have a friend, Steven, whom I’ve known since college, who lives here six months of the year with his wife Cindy. They retired to Memel, in Free State (province), after 30 years in service as part of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). During their careers while posted in Pretoria, and they fell in love with the beauty and potential of the country and its people. They wanted to share their adventure with us.
Memel is a small, rural town that still shows the long-term effects of the apartheid era, which ended in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela. The residents of Memel are predominately white, and most are generally prosperous or at least receive pensions from the government. The municipality has established plumbing and sewer service, access to electricity, and the main road through town is paved. However, across a former golf course from Memel – to my mind established to create a wide border – is the township of Zamani. (town = white; township = black.) Most of the black residents of the area live there, some in Rural Development Project (RDP) homes (two room cinderblock houses built by the government), some in tin shacks with dirt floors and some modest traditional homes. Access to electricity and plumbing is mixed.
Cindy and Steven run an organization called Memel.Global, although it is more accurate to say they “live” the organization. Memel.Global is an umbrella for a range of social and economic development efforts, including:
- running an organic Farm that in addition to providing jobs, provides fresh fruit and vegetables to the town’s schools, orphanage and creches;
- overseeing an after-school girls program called SheWinS (a US 501c3 non-profit) that builds leadership, teamwork, and empowerment through sports;
- supporting the three primary schools to establish libraries for the kids;
- building rain catchment systems in the township, and helping establish home gardens; and,
- focusing on development through the many ways that decent housing, education and jobs can change the community and people in profound ways.
Their Farm, Memel Organics, sits on 8 lots at the edge of town, and it is a healing, energetic place. In addition to the fruit and vegetables, flower, rose beds and ponds weave between the buildings. Steven has built three rammed earth “guest rooms” on the property as models for housing units he hopes to build for elderly black South Africans with government support. We have been staying in a lovely guest unit during our stay here at the Farm.
The day we arrived, the 31 year-old coordinator of their SheWinS program, Shakes, took on a short tour of Zamani and the schools. As we chatted, he shared that he spoke four of the many official South African languages: English, Zulu, Xhosa, and Tswana. I asked if he spoke Afrikaans, and he roared with laughter. “I’m from Soweto! Of course I don’t speak Afrikaans!” I vaguely remembered that the beginning of the 20-year end of apartheid began in 1976 with the uprisings in Soweto, the black township outside of Johannesburg, that occurred when the government planned to require all schools to teach in Afrikaans.
We have become enamored of the country in our time here. We are considering – more to come in a future post – an investment that could be good for us and make a significant return for the economic development aspect of the Memel.Global vision. And not insignificantly, I have begun to draft a plan to host and lead – with my life coach hat on – two retreat/workshops based here at the Farm in early 2019. Steven is excited that I might use the Farm and its facilities in this way. Although he has hosted housing and economic development meetings here, he has yet to have a visitor say “I’d like to host a workshop at the Farm” and get on with the planning of it.
It has indeed been a joyous time in South Africa!