How Aphiwe Qhama Menziwa creates space with kindness
Happyplaces Stories (video)
Ayanda Cuba took me to his friend Aphiwe’s place in the TR section of Khayelitsha in South Africa. We drove through the busy streets, took a left, then a right, drove into a street, reversed the car, drove back a little bit, and arrived. On one of the walls across the street, written in playful typography, it read ‘Tembisa Ratanga’.
Tembisa Ratanga is a non-profit organisation in the informal settlements of TR-section, Khayelitsha. Aphiwe Qhama Menziwa and his wife Bongeka Hlela Qhanga transformed a dumping site into a safe space in a not-so-safe place’. Through education, art and sport, community development and self-empowerment tools, they provide something highly scarce in an informal settlement: a place where people can go to play, develop and unwind.
Growing up in this community made Aphiwe see a need for a safe space and accessible opportunities. Tembisa Ratanga offers the community a platform where they can showcase their talents, receive help with schoolwork, do yoga or engage in other sports and arts activities like performances, festivals, live music to poetry sessions. In addition, the organisation supports the community with basic needs like a soup kitchen, clothing and sanitary drive.
When I arrived, Aphiwe took me to a place behind his shack. Ayanda told me a little about what Aphiwe was doing, which made me curious about where all that was taking place. I expected to find something there, but there was nothing. And exactly that is what makes it unique because every square meter of the site is used to the maximum for buildings with more small metal houses. So in that open space of nothing, anything could take place.
He explained that they faced different challenges that had made the location unsafe for the public. The weather had damaged the indoor education and gathering space, and the fence that protected children from the water was damaged beyond repair. Because of that, they could not provide the safe space that the community had come to love and trust. So, they started fundraising to rebuild an indoor space (with shipping containers) and fix the fence. Additionally, to provide the community with more resources (books, art supplies, computers, chairs and tables). All this is to make the dream of having a safe and secure place that inspires and empowers the local community a reality.
This transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Space for others
I create space for myself by being mindful. I also create space by understanding my boundaries as a person and making sure that other people understand who I am. That’s how we can share space as human beings. I should also not forget what we call Ubuntu. Principles of that philosophy are something that is of service to my space. The kindness towards myself and others creates the space I have for myself and others.
I am one of the founders of Tembisa Ratanga, situated in Khayelitsha, in the informal settlements. Here we create a safe space in a not-so-safe place. Khayelitsha is known to be one of the most gangster-driven communities, where there is a lot of crime, disadvantages and challenges. With Tembisa Ratanga, we inspire the uninspired in our community. Through the work that we do, we change the status quo and challenge the day-to-day challenges that we have.
It all starts in your mind. If you have the vision and are wide open, you can make anything happen.
We understand that you don’t need to have a lot of land for that, but you need to have creativity in your mind. It all starts in your mind. If you have the vision and are wide open, you can make anything happen. With Tembisa Ratanga, we have created a space for the community to gather. For the young, as well as the old. It is an environment with space for people to be themselves. We are the answer to that need. Kids come here to play because it is a safe place. A safe playing area doesn’t exist in our community. Kids need a place where they can be themselves and feel safe. The kids understand that we truly care about them because we create this space for them. But also because of how we communicate with them, which is different to what they are used to. Most people, like older people and other people in society, tend to shy away from strangers and other people. That cuts the possibility for connection and, with that, the conditions to have a safe space. Tembisa Katanga is an initiative of people who are open to others, where we try and ensure they feel safe.
You must first be a safe space for yourself and understand your strengths and weaknesses.
In the programmes we organise, we incorporate mindfulness and activities like yoga. That, too, contributes to making this a safe place. Yoga is not only about the flexibility of your body. It is also not linked to race — any human being must find balance, breathe better, and let out the things we take in. There is a lot of negativity in the world, so how do we deal with issues like depression? That’s why we incorporate mindfulness into our programs in one-on-one sessions and bring it into classroom settings with kids. It helps them to feel that they can be themselves. We make sure that they learn and understand that it is far more interesting that every human is unique as an individual; instead of being copies of someone else. You must first be a safe space for yourself and understand your strengths and weaknesses. And your weaknesses don’t make you inferior to other children.
Place of hope
We try to bring this mindset to them and hope it can cause a movement. What we are creating here is directly or indirectly inspiring people around us. When tourists come here and see what we have created, they leave inspired because they see us challenging the status quo in the informal settlements next to a swamp. We have transformed this site into a place of hope. We didn’t do what most people do, complaining to the government that we don’t have safe houses and streets. It starts with us.
We try to stop complaining and start doing. That is how we create a safe space in our community.
The constitution in South Africa says ‘we are the government’, the people are the government. But most people don’t understand that it starts with us. Our president can not clean your toilet. He can not clean the street for you. He can not pick up paper from the street. Those small things are what we end up complaining about. We tend to shy away. We love this blame game. Here, at Tembisa Ratanga, we try to stop complaining and start doing. That is how we create a safe space in our community.