Ubuntu in Khayelitsha


This is a tale of a township – well-known and feared – straight from the mouth of someone who lived there. The township I’m talking about is Khayelitsha. Many people have the popular misconception that Khayelitsha is a dangerous place to live in or even enter, and don't get me wrong, it's not the safest place on earth. But then again, a place like that doesn't exist. However, Khayelitsha is more than just what people think it to be. It’s a place of love, friendship, generosity, and community. Here is my story growing up in the township of Khayelitsha.

I wasn’t born into Khayelitsha, but rather lived a comfortable life in the safety of the suburbs until my dad’s work closed shop, and that’s when everything changed. Uprooted from our home in the suburbs, fear took hold as we entered the unknown. I don’t know what was worse, leaving our comfort zone to a place we normally saw on TV as ‘a dangerous place’ or the fact that everything was going to change.

However, I was so wrong! Khayelitsha, meaning ‘new home’ in isiXhosa was truly a new beginning for my family! I expected to be miserable there, but 21 years later and I am still so in love with Khayelitsha, the place I still consider home. Suddenly visiting the suburbs seems so dull in comparison to the vibrant atmosphere of the township.

Everyone in Khayelitsha was so warm and welcoming, I was shocked – pleasantly shocked! I have never experienced ubuntu (meaning humanity). Despite not having much, the people were always genuinely happy – content even. No one was lacking anything as the community was always there for each other, always helping each other out. From ‘borrowing’ a cup of sugar from your neighbour to chopping vegetables at a wedding, the community was involved. So involved that some elderly would even get involved in raising another’s children! There would always be odd uncles (every male adult was your uncle) pouring their hearts into narrating old war stories and people willing to share their last loaf of bread. This is a place where domestic workers work hard to produce graduates from their children. Khayelitsha is more than the shacks on the side of the road and dirty children playing soccer in a sandy field. This is a place where the people living in the shacks take pride in covering the interior with brand new newspapers and vinyl tiles to showcase their houses.

As one of the largest townships in South Africa, it has become a very popular tourist attraction as many people want to experience the rich culture and entrepreneurial projects within the township. One has the option of a real drive through: experiencing street vendors braaing meat (grilling meat over an open fire) or sitting down at local restaurants such as The Milk, Khayelitsha Pizza, KwaAce, and Department of Coffee.

Whether you want to enjoy the Lookout Hill (a tourist centre opened to promote tourism), a drink at KwaAce, chicken wings from a street vendor, taking a walk at the Monwabisi Beach, a mini bicycle tour or taking selfies inside a shack – Khayelitsha has it all.

This place taught me and is still teaching me, to value everything that I have. This is my home. This is Khayelitsha