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Culture, Reality

Hope Street

by Xandi Orford, images by Nix Davies / 28.07.2010

For the last year and a half two creative Zimbabweans, Juma and Willard, have hustled their way from the robots on Roeland Street to a studio in Woodstock, Cape Town, crafting everything from bags made out of old t-shirts to recycled crate-chairs for corporate clients like Redbull. Not content to just be small time capitalists, from Mondays to Fridays they run art and craft workshops for 100 kids in Khayelitsha and on Saturday mornings they teach conversational English with a group called Chatterbox (made up of primary school kids). This is their story.

Juma, when did you leave Zimbabwe and move to South Africa?

Juma: In 2006 I moved to Khayelitsha, on the outskirts of Cape Town, and worked as a bricklayer until December 2007. I then returned to Zimbabwe to set up my own business. This proved to be impossible due to the country’s economic situation and so I went back to Khayelitsha in March 2008, to set up a craft venture.

Were you successful?

Juma: Before the business could start growing I lost everything in the xenophobic attacks of May 2008.

What happened?

Juma: There had been talk for a few weeks that these attacks were going to happen. Eventually, foreigners were told to leave Khayelitsha on the coming Saturday. Unfortunately however, on the Friday, some high school kids started the attacks, while everyone was away at work. I was in Bellville at the time.

Did you go back to Khayelitsha when you heard this?

Juma: The taxi driver warned me about the danger of going back, but I had to see if I could save any of my things. I saw streets burning as he drove me to the Khayelitsha police station. Inside it was chaos. There were so many of us foreigners. Some with bags, many with nothing. I tried to get a police officer to come with me to my house to collect my possessions. None were willing, because of the danger. That is when I realised that I had nothing in the world. Not even five cents in my pocket.

What happened next?

Juma: Later on in the evening we, the foreigners, were driven in police vehicles to Desmond Tutu Hall camp. There were people from all over Africa. It was so full that people had to make use of any space available. Even the corridors and bathrooms were crowded. I kept on closing my eyes to see if I was dreaming. Three days later people from local government came around and appointed Willard and myself to be the group leaders. Willard was the head and I was the secretary. This is how we met.

Willard, what was your story up until this point?

Willard: I was devastated by what had happened. This was not the first time in my life that I had lost everything I owned. I even contemplated suicide because I could not understand how so much misfortune could have befallen me.

Tell us about the previous times?

Willard: When I finished school there was no money to study further at college. So, in 2000, I started buying new and second hand clothing in Mozambique and Zambia to sell at flea markets in Harare. In 2004, under the guise of taxation laws, the Zimbabwean government closed the flea markets and destroyed many homes, including my own, which they claimed were not up to specification. All the property and market areas were given to Chinese businesses. I lost every thing and had to sleep on the streets for three months.

Eventually I managed to restart the business. However, when crossing the boarder to Zambia, to buy clothing for a client, I was detained for 5 days, had my passport taken away for three months and all my money was confiscated (the equivalent of R8000). I was informed that I was not allowed to take so much money out of the country and was threatened because I refused to join the ruling ZANU PF. On my release, I had to borrow money from my sister to pay back the client.

On another buying trip, this time to Mozambique, I was deported back to Zimbabwe, even though all my paperwork was legitimate. The Mozambican police claimed that they would send all my confiscated goods and money back to Zimbabwe. It never arrived. I was so upset by this, that I lead a protest, with others to whom this had happened, in front of the Mozambican embassy in Harare. I never got to the bottom of why I was deported, but believe that it was because the Zimbabwean government wanted everyone to be back in the country for the land grabs.

How did you manage to get through the xenophobic attacks in South Africa?

Willard: Well, both Juma and I started to lead the group of people in Desmond Tutu Camp because it was the only way to cope with the stress. We needed something to do to take our minds off things. The best way to do this is to help others and so we started making a list of everyone in the camp and what their immediate needs were.

Juma: There were people from Tanzania, Malawi, Ghana, Angola, Cameroon, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia. For the next 4 months we helped deliver babies, women who miscarried, buried the dead and aided the sick. We also started connecting with NGO’s and repatriating people.

Willard: We were lucky to have the help of Ikamva, especially Joy Olivier. The organisation managed to raise R76648.95, which was used to feed people and reintegrate them into communities such as Khayelitsha. We were the last to leave Desmond Tutu Hall. You can read about our time there on a blog that was created.

Juma: We both moved back to Khayelitsha and were given R1352.18 from the fund to set up an arts and crafts business. JDI http://www.jdi.org a group of philanthropic professionals in Cape Town also donated tools to us. That was the beginning of the business we have today.

Willard: Joy Olivier also managed to get us on to a one week Lucca Leadership programme. This proved to be fruitful in many ways. We met Ricky Lee Gordon from A Word of Art and he has been instrumental in getting our studio space in the Woodstock Industrial Centre.

Why and when did you set up your art and craft workshops for the kids in Khayelitsha?

Juma: After we left the Desmond Tutu Hall camp and attended the Lucca leadership programme we realised that the only way to break down barriers was through interaction. Willard and I also realised that though we may have had our possessions taken away, we still had our dignity. We started having HIV prevention talks and discussions about the xenophobic attacks, with some of the kids that may have instigated these. We then founded a group called Ubuntu Youth and started teaching art and craft. There were seven children in the first week; the numbers rose to forty by the following week and now there are one hundred. What Willard and I had learnt to craft as children has become a means of breaking down barriers and building a business.

You guys are inspirational.

Juma: I still fell as though we have only just begun and there is much to do.

Willard: It may be inspirational to hear our story, but I do not like looking back at my past. It is filled with too much pain. I prefer to be in the present and look towards the future.

What do you want to do with your future?

Willard: We would like to employ more staff, build a good life for ourselves and hold more workshops to teach kids skills. We believe that the only way we can help people is to make them self-sufficient.

Do you ever miss Zimbabwe?

Juma: One day we may move back. We have not forgotten about our country. During the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe we held a one-week hunger strike to raise awareness of the problem. We also held a Gig for Jik. The entry fee was a bottle of Jik and we collected donations. We managed to deliver Jik, baby food and baby wipes to Zimbabweans and hopefully managed to save some lives.

*Authors note: Though Willard and Juma chose to move back to Khayelitsha to help mend things in the community, because of the threat of more xenophobic violence after the World Cup, they have moved back to Woodstock.

All images © Nix Davies.

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