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Ask the teenagers of Glenmore about the history of their community and they’re decidedly vague. Ask them about their future and they’re equally unsure.
To the youth of Glenmore, their home is a place without a past or future, a forgotten promise. To the rest of South Africa it is an invisible reminder of the injustices enacted under the apartheid regime.
The informal settlement is located 47 kilometres outside Grahamstown and was established in 1979, intended as a “model township”.
The government proposed R26-million to build a community of 5 000 homes, schools, clinics, parks and community halls.
Conveniently classified under the homelands of the Ciskei, Glenmore was created to hold 100 000 unemployed and economically unproductive South Africans (whom the government regarded as “redundant”).
Its residents were forcibly removed from all over the Eastern Cape, one of which was Grahamstown. Today, it appears that the greatest crisis for Glenmore’s youth is that they don’t believe in the power of their own initiative.
“We believe that if you study your books, one day you can be something; but people here don’t do things with it, they don’t go anywhere,” says an articulate 18-year-old matric learner, Azisa Rwexu.
Nodding his head in agreement is Azisa’s friend and aspiring rapper, 22-year-old Sivenathi Mkhathali. As diligent learners, these young men are an exception to the rule in Glenmore.
Last year, nine out of 22 students passed Grade 10. The learners struggle to get motivated as there isn’t a library. The books they do have access to stay at school and are often shared between four to five pupils.
Teachers at the local Ohayiya High School also battle to inspire the learners. Inside his cramped but meticulously kept home, Xhosa teacher, Vusumzi Cagwe discusses the stress of having only seven teachers instructing 115 pupils.
Cagwe also speaks about the difficulty of implementing a new curriculum without adequate materials. Ben Mafani, who stands at a striking six feet tall, is seen as a hero and the town patriarch.
Mafani is well-known outside the community as Glenmore’s most outspoken advocate. On the wall of his home is a hand-written sign which reads: “I’m not making noise, I’m speaking: RDP housing, land reform, food parcels.” At present, Mafani is sowing his efforts into a boxing club for young men.
“A boxer is not a fighter,” Mafani instructs me. “You must be disciplined,” he adds, “it’s self defence, but it’s also technical,” he says, pointing to his forehead.
Even with scant resources, Mafani teaches boxing in the hope that Glenmore’s young men will develop a passion and pursue their goals with determination.
In a place that was once declared “truly depressed” and “virtually beyond rehabilitation” by a firm of agricultural consultants, a few basics are needed before anyone can stand on solid ground: a better irrigation scheme, a library, full electricity in the school and a proper graveyard.
Although the youth of Glenmore may not know their history, they see the consequences of its injustices in the desolate, glass-scattered school yards, the graveyard full of make-shift head stones and on the faces of elder residents like Dugi Gulati, whose deep-set eyes tell of a 30 year struggle.
In August, 1979, the ambitious blueprint for Glenmore was abandoned, just months after the first people were relocated there.
The Eastern Province Herald reported that the government had decided “not to resettle people in places where there were no job opportunities”.
But the damage was done. That same year, a tornado swept through Glenmore, killing 140 people and poisonous plants all but wiped out the cattle.
The distance between Grahamstown and Glenmore is vast. Just under an hour’s drive, it’s not so much a physical distance.
But what we can’t see, won’t attack our conscience. I wonder to myself: Will this place be filed away in a compartment of my mind, disposed of neatly, the way the government appears to have done?
This is easy to do. Out of sight, out of mind. But as I go, I recall the sincere plea of Ben Mafani just before I drove off, “Please, if you could somehow get some boxing gloves for us.”