It’s a man’s world

Lucinda entwines her arms around the fragile womans body, her strong frame pressing against the weeping other. Radiomusic is resonating from the outside — „easy like a sunday morning“ flutters through the cracks and chasms of the metal plates and plastic sheets covering the unsteady shack. The sound of shouting children is slowly clearing away, leaving nothing but radiotunes and the powerful wind whipping against the plastic. Lucinda is a strong woman with confidence that takes up a room. Today she is wearing a bold colorful dress and shoes with a slight heel that emphasize her temper even a bit more. Fading tatoos embellish her right ankle and firm upper arm and her short boisterous hair is styled into upright spikes. The bawling woman lifts her head and Lucinda takes her face into her motherly hands. They both look at each other, nobody speaks a word. *Bongani is crying out of grief. And relief. Her husband had passed away three days ago, once again cancer claims victory over a human life. She was at his side until the bitter end, as loving wife and strong, giving mother. A man, that had been abusing her for 25 years, that had taken a knife out of anger and jealousy and pierced through her body like slicing through dough, punctuating her lungs to the point of near death. A man, that made Bongani’s life a living hell, threatening and humiliating her, even though he was bound to a hospital bed for the last three years of his miserable time on this planet. Yet she is crying, because she loves him. And she needs him.

Life in the townships doesn’t distinguis itself a lot from what we are used to. Children play tag or hide and seek on the streets, women are hanging up their wash outisde to let the african sun dry the dampness away and men watch the rugby game on television. Still there is something, that takes away the ordinariness and ease in the cape flats: the constant fear. Not a fear that we know, such as speeding cars or biting dogs. No, it’s mothers being scared of the lustful stares of men — their husbands, sons and neighbor kids — standing in the corner waiting for opportunity yet to strike again. The fear of their daughters not coming home after using the public toilet or their sons getting hit by a bullett during a gangfight. It isn’t the poverty that makes these people unhappy. Not having a lot doesn’t equal not living life to the fullest. It’s the hopelesness and the dread of independency, especially concerning the women.

Lavender Hill is part of the cape flats, a densely populated area in the province of the western cape. Till the year 1950 the territory was nearly deserted. The Apartheid regime decided on building simple shacks fort he black and colored population, which regarding the group areas act weren’t allowed to live in the centre of town any longer. Hence the inhabitants of District six, simonstown and constantia were forcefully removed to the cape flats. The ongoing coercion had it’s consequences and deepened the gap between the south african population even more. The discontent with the government, poverty, unemployment and the occurence of gang violence shift the people into a constant abeyance of fear, of which it seems there is no escape.

Since 2009 Lucinda Evans, founder of the NGO Philisa Abafazi Bethu — engl. „heal our women“ — has been trying to better the life of the women and children in Lavender Hill. She herself doesn’t profit from her work at the organisation, although she works every single day, even on the weekends. Lucinda grew up in the same area, therefore she knows the inner struggle and the pain that the inhabitants of the townships go through. Their lack of motivation, emerging from unemployment, indigence and fear, leads to substance abuse and self-negligence. Philisa Abafazi Bethu is situated in Grassy Park, next to Lavender Hill, and provides a safe and judgement free space for women and children in need. There they have the opportunity to exchange their life experiences and talk about their problems and conflicts. Furthermore Lucinda offers the option of councelling, going to court or to the police with them and showing support to family members.

This week she once again visited the homes of the women treatment group. Lucinda was greeted like mother theresa by the women and girls in the narrow dirty alleys of Lavender Hill. Everybody knows her name — even the Gangsters. She embraces, listens and comforts. That is her strength, to absorb all the pain and give back nothing but love.

Again the wind lashes at the unstabile, brittle wall of the shack, flaring the plastic sheets. Bongani’s hands are shaking and Lucinda is trying to sooth her with words in Xhosa, her native language. The women nods her head and gives us a swift look. Her mouth is smiling but her spirit seems broken. The radio from outside changes from „easy like a sunday morning“ to heart throbbing rap music. We exit the shack and find ourselves back on the street. A small unkempt dog sneaks through our legs and scurries into Bongani’s hut. Meanwhile it is 5 o clock in the afternoon, the sun is slowly sinking and alerts us to head back home. Lavender Hill is not a place to be when darkness opens it’s wings and spreads out over the countless shacks and dusky streets.

Bongani is leaning in the dormframe, watching us making our way to the car. A couple of young men are standing in a corner, lighting firecrackers, scaring away young girls and boys that immediately bolt and hide. They are used to it by now, it has become their normality, their reality. Gun battles between Gangs are on the agenda of the townships. Unfortunately innocent, playing kids fall victim of ricochet shots on a regular basis. We climb in our car, Lucinda is in the drivers seat, her hands clinging to the steering wheel. Slowly the old VW starts to roll down the gravel, leaving tire tracks in a mixture of trash, toys and dirt. A few kids that aren’t in eyesight are throwing stones and pebbles at our windows, some of them even dare to hang themselves on the rear of our car. Bongani has returned to her shack and is no longer visible. We are drawing closer to one of the exits, take a sharp left and follow the main street on the highway to cape town city centre. Through the glass a change of scenery can be perceived — from corrugated iron shacks to blooming mansions — one district after another. The collapse of darkness underlines the damped atmosphere in the car and the air has severely cooled down outside. We can leave Lavender Hill behind us, with only a ten minute drive. But Bongani can’t. And so can’t the kids that will wonder and roam around the gloomy streets of the townships alone tonight.

*names may have been changed