I’m spending the week at the Warehouse charity/NGO in Wetton, Cape Town (see partnerships page).
Last week there was a fire in the Langa informal settlement and over 300 shacks burnt down and over 1000 people were made homeless in a day.
Just a few weeks before there was an initial meeting between various churches and local leaders about working towards a united response to disasters in Cape Town. I don’t think the timing was coincidence. It meant that when this disaster happened, a network of churches and communities were able to step together into action, responding together in a cohesive and coordinated manner. The Warehouse is acting as a hub for that response this week.
The Warehouse is in fact two large warehouse buildings in the industrial area of Wetton. There are offices, a kitchen and comfy chairs for meetings and coffee but most of the space is full of clothes racks, lots of high heavy duty shelving and a van. Today I had the privilege of working alongside others in that space which is currently more full than usual – bags of clothes, household items and food that people from all over Cape Town have donated to support those imacted by the fire. There were 282 clothes packs for individuals by the end of the day. It was wonderful to be part of the community response.
One of the loving and hard working ladies at the Warehouse today travelled all the way from Mitchells Plain. Much of that area is also informal settlements. Her family were removed from District 6 a generation ago and she still commutes to a church in District 6 every Sunday, because that’s where her family have been baptised, christened and married for generations. I hugely enjoyed chatting to her over a cup of tea, and as a few of us prayed for her and her daughter who has back pain, you could see her face beeming. She has been at the Warehouse helping and sorting yesterday and today even though neither day she had the full fare for the transport to get there at the start of the day. Both days she received the fare without asking for it, from different means. She left at the end of today saying she trusts she will be with us again tomorrow. Her heart to serve and her faith really encouraged and challenged me.
People speak a lot about racial divides in South Africa and it is shocking how deep the divides still run, but today I saw a beautiful unity, respect and community as people served together.
I spoke to one man who brought a van load of stuff donated by his church. He has just turned down a marketing manager role he had just started (with a company car and all the perks) because he feels so passionately about the voluntary work he is doing in the community. He and others from his community have spent the last 5 days rebuilding shacks in Langa and he reported that all of them have now been rebuilt. That amazed me, all the homes rebuilt within a week. I hear from friends here, that is pretty normal, the whole community mobilizes and the shacks are usually rebuilt very fast.
To me that is incredible news, such hope building and encouraging news. In addition to the way different churches, groups and communities are coming together to respond. And yet when I search for images and news items about the fire, and other fires in Cape Town informal settlements, all I find are stories and photos of the devastation of the fire, not stories related to the rebuilding, the community mobilisation and hope. I know people say ‘bad news sells’ but that makes me sad. I know there is a massive task ahead in rebuilding lives and dealing with the trauma but this isn’t a bad start. When there is good news we need to share it, tell our good news stories. Tell of where we see hope, where we see rebuilding, where we see unity. If the newspapers aren’t going to do it, we need to choose to do it ourselves.