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Ntando Mbatha looks at the bunk bed where he spent his nights during his incarceration on Robben Island. He had the top bunk, but once slept on the floor when a hunger strike left him too weak to climb the ladder. (Photo by Sarah Kinney.)

By Sarah Kinney

CAPE TOWN--Noor Ebrahim watched as the government bulldozed his home in District Six where four generations of his family lived.

Shireen Habib and her husband left the Bo-Kaap to live in the Seychelles because of the Immorality Act, which prohibited multi-racial marriage. The couple eventually divorced because of it.

Ntando Mbatha spent seven years in prison, mostly on Robben Island, for protesting apartheid education policies as a student and then joining the banned African National Congress (ANC).

South Africans have a lot about which they can be bitter.

Surprisingly, many do not dwell the past and have high hopes for the future.

"We bear no grudges," Mbatha says.

After the end of Apartheid in the early 1990s, the newly elected South African Parliament set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to hear grievances from victims and receive requests for amnesty from perpetrators. The commission received 21,000 statements for those who believed they were victims of human rights violations. They also received 7,124 amnesty requests.

Over 1,000 of those requests were granted.

"We don't blame white South Africans," Ebrahim says. "It was the government."

South Africa is often a model for peaceful transition of power. Their system of forgiveness and moving forward is often cited as part of that.

In 1993, Frederik Willem de Klerk and Nelson Mandela--one a sitting president, the other his successor--shared the Noble Peace Prize. Despite decades of division, they were able to compromise to give equal rights to non-whites while allowing whites to retain jobs and property they gained as a privileged class.

"We were expected to destroy one another and ourselves collectively in the worst racial conflagration. Instead, we as a people chose the path of negotiation, compromise, and peaceful settlement," Mandela said at the opening of Nobel Square in Cape Town. "Instead of hatred and revenge we chose reconciliation and nation-building."

Mbatha says it was Mandela's example that motivated him to reconcile with the past.

He is not alone. Today, many South Africans have moved on from their Apartheid history.

Ebrahim founded the District Six Museum and acts as a guide. He likely will never be able to return to District Six to live, but he is content with his new home. On his tour, he beams as he describes writing his autobiography, "Noor's Story: My Life in District Six."

Habib is active in her Bo Kaap community: giving tours, volunteering, and once serving as an ANC representative.

Mbatha was released from Robben Island in 1991, but you can still find him there giving tours of the cell in the F Block cell he once shared with 39 men.

Claire Collins, classified as "colored" under Apartheid and now a medical student at the University of Witwatersrand, says that Truth and Reconciliation was a helpful process, but thousands more still have stories to share.

"We are not done with [apartheid]," Collins says. "South Africans are walking around...with mass trauma."

Forgiveness leads to peace and hope, but it is also a process that takes time and strength. It is a fundamental part of South Africa's exceptionalism.


water.jpgThe barely passable road that runs through an "informal settlement" within the Gugulethu township. Photo by Dan Connell.

By Ayana Aubourg

Water trickled down from the shower head after washing for about two minutes. Barely any came out of the faucet as I tried to brush my teeth.

The sun had just risen over the mountains in the far background. It's early morning in Gugulethu, a predominately black township in Cape Town. Residents carrying empty buckets and plastic bottles head to the nearest water tap in the "informal settlements" of improvised shacks that fill many of Gugulethu's undeveloped spaces.

The lack of access to water, in Gugulethu is partly because the township lacks adequate infrastructure to provide it. It remains a challenge to install and maintain water pipes on land that was formally a dumping ground for non-white people under the Apartheid regime.

People don't look surprised about the situation; rather they look prepared to follow the routine.
Whenever the water is shut off by the city, they fetch water from the shack areas.

While we are sitting at the dining table, Andrew, the manager of the guesthouse, repeatedly apologizes. He says this always happens whenever there are guests staying in the house. What contributes to his frustration is that the township received no notification that this would be happening.

"They forget about us," he says with frustration in his eyes.

"People in the suburbs would've received a notification of the water being shutoff," Andrew says, continuing to vent as he runs around the house preparing for breakfast.

The owner of the guesthouse, Donald Qubeka, watches the residents walk to the nearest water pipe. He holds his face in his hands as he paces back and forth. The last time this happened was last month, he says. This is the third time.

It's an inconvenience for school children, for those who work in the morning and for businesses, Qubeka adds.

I ask him to show me where the water tap is located. As we walk together he complains that the city doesn't tell them when they're facing problems with the water.

"It kills me" he says.

The city takes hours to fix the water because there's no pressure on them to get the job done, he says, adding that if you go to the suburbs and something happens, the city notifies them.

"If they said we are going to take an hour, they feel pressured to get the job done within an hour," Qubeka, says comparing his situation to those living in wealthier areas.

"But this side everyone relaxes because who cares," he says, throwing his hands up in the air.

Although South Africans have a constitutional right to water and sanitation, the provision of these services to townships in Cape Town has long been a contentious issue.

Gugulethu is one of many areas that lack consistent water and sanitation, which reflects the race-based spatial geography that was enforced under the apartheid regime. According to the South African Human Right's Commission report on Water and Sanitation, townships and informal settlements are the areas in which communities and schools, who are black and poor, do not enjoy these rights.

"That's the problem of this country," he exclaims. "Two thirds of the people live here in the townships, in shacks, but they are the ones that nobody cares about."

Within a few hours the water will be back on, but the social problems will not disappear.


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Courtesy photo.

By Taylor Rapalyea

Our group was packed into a van, cruising down a highway in Johannesburg when we heard a brief siren. At first we were confused - we couldn't crane our necks far enough to spot a police officer. In fact, we had hardly seen any men in uniform since landing in South Africa.

After a few moments of confusion, our driver, Andoni, pulled over and stepped out of the van. An officer in a motorcycle helmet was in front of him in an instant, shouting in isiZulu and sticking a gloved finger directly in his face.

Later we discovered that the officer had claimed that Andoni hadn't used his indicator, or blinker, when changing lanes. The policeman was yelling the accusation over and over, and occasionally demanding to see Andoni's license.

"The policing here [in South Africa] is extremely poor," Chad Wesen, a career foreign service officer, had said earlier in our meeting at the U.S. Embassy.

Wesen noted that in recent years a mass background check had been conducted for police in the country. Tens of thousands of officers were found to be English illiterate, had no background investigating crime, little knowledge of the law, and, in many cases, criminal backgrounds of their own, according to the diplomat, who drafts the State Department's annual human rights report on South Africa.

Those with criminal histories were never fired, he added.

The police narrative of "they are the bad guys," demoralizes them, said Commissioner Danny Titus at the South African Human Rights Commission. That demoralization sometimes leads officers to believe their jobs don't matter.

Police officers here die frequently in the line of duty: Gang members, who rule certain areas of South Africa, have incentive to take a cop off the street with the added bonus of gaining an extra firearm. This, coupled with low pay, low life value, and a complicated crime system, causes many officers to turn to corruption or brutality.

The South African Police Service Shadow Report from the nonprofit Ndifuna Ukwazi found 4,131 cases, or 61 percent of cases, investigated by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), a citizen alleged that a police officer assaulted a member of the public.

The report stipulates that assault includes spitting or shouting at a person, as well as hitting them, but 1,236 of these cases consisted of assault "with intent to do grievous bodily harm."

While police forces in the U.S. have their fair share of problems, most kids are brought up to believe that they can trust officers, and that if there's a problem, they're the ones to call.

A women's collective in Cape Town told me that if there's a murder in a high-poverty area, the police usually take at least four hours to show up.

The police commissioner was not immediately available for comment.

Our roadside confrontation illustrated the problem. While the police officer continued screaming, Andoni calmly stood by, nodding serenely. In a moment, the officer had sped away.

"I just said to him, 'I'm sorry,'" said Andoni. "You can't win that argument."


TAC #2.jpgTAC activist Mandla Majola says jobs and education are key to South Africa's future. Photo by Dan Connell


By Laura Chandler

Cape Town--Driving through the crowded streets, we see seas of people in tents at the side of the road. Stands with fruits, vegetables, and plasticware fill the sidewalks, owned by eagle-eyed businessmen and women hoping to sell their goods to tourists.

They hustle to lay their items out before the morning traffic disappears, smiling at passersby and yelling greetings to their neighbors.

It is a cloudy morning in Khayelitsha, one of Cape Town's oldest black townships, created in 1983 under the Group Areas Act, which assigned people to urban spaces segregated by race.

Garbage lies around the stands, piled high against the fences of barbed wire and corrugated metal.

Nearing our destination, the number of informal businesses increases. So does the number of people standing aimlessly in the road, staring out at the day. Many are under 18.

Unemployment in Khayelitsha is between 35 and 40 percent, and young people have been hit the hardest, say our hosts at the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a social movement that focuses on social and economic issues. In this community of 700,000 people, there are up to 280,000 without employment and lacking faith in government assistance, say TAC activists.

Many have taken their fate into their own hands and started their own small businesses, selling whatever they kind find to support themselves and their families. Others have lost hope and descended into drinking, drugs, and violence.

Serving a community this size is no easy task; some might say an impossible one. Not according to Mandle Majola, the TAC district coordinator in Khayelitsha's Site C.

TAC was formed in 1998 to cope with the spread of HIV and force the government to provide access to prevention and treatment services. Today, after winning a victory in the Constitutional Court that compelled the government to provide anti-retroviral drugs to those who need them, the organization focuses largely on the socioeconomic rights.

"It is sad, it is depressing, but we are not hopeless," says Majola with resolve in his voice. A tall, serious man, he captures the attention of the room immediately.

Majola sees the unemployment epidemic in South Africa to be a root cause of many other issues that arise in communities like Khayelitsha, particularly domestic violence.

On a daily basis the township faces unemployment, sanitation, police corruption, gender based violence, housing, water access, and more.

The large number of unemployed youth leads to fears about power dynamics in the households. Majola and his TAC colleagues describe men feeling useless and weak, as they are unable to be the primary breadwinners. In a time where women are providing more household income than ever, the men in the community fear losing their place.

Majola does not see the epidemic ending until the mindset of the people has changed.

"The culture needs to be adjusted to the conditions of the modern day," Majola says quietly, staring out the window.

As a father of a 7-year-old girl, Majola says he worries about the future of South Africa and the safety of everyone within that state. He says he works "to create a country that is warm, safe, and secured for women and young girls."

Advocating for jobs, educating the community, and reaching the youth is how TAC proceeds to help that cause, according to Majola.

It is a vision of a future that needs to be taken up by a larger audience to truly change South Africa, but for now, he says that TAC will continue to fight for this in their small corner of the country.


By Christine Gronberg

Thirteen tense faces sit in two lines down a long wooden table, not a smile to be seen. The class had come back from an intense meeting with the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Committee (WC/AEC) and a family whose home they were trying to protect.

The Constitution of South Africa gives all citizens the right to housing. Mandela's post-apartheid government gave everyone who had been renting from the previous government the deed to their house in 1994 as compensation for the years black South Africans were legally prevented from owning property. But it didn't take long to find new ways to take the houses away from them.

We open the Noma China family's front door and walk into a dimly lit area that serves as a living and dining room. A small table with four chairs lies to the left of the sitting room. which consists of two run-down couches and a single stuffed chair. An old TV rested by the paint-chipped, mud-colored wall. A coffee table takes up the center space.

A few people are already seated, including a girl in grade 11. A baby girl sits beside her gurgling happily as she observes the new people who tries to squeeze into her tiny home.

The Noma China family welcomes us and tells their story. With the help of the AEC, they are fighting tooth and nail for the right to remain in their home. They have been living there for years, but, caught up in the cycle of poverty, they could not afford to continue the payments on a bank loan. Once they fell behind on their payments, the bank had sold their home to a businesswoman.one of them says.

Emma Lucas, an activist, says the buyer hired a gang to come terrorize the family in order to force them out. A young man who had lived in the home for 27 years was asleep in the back the night this happened.

He describes how the police were called but the officers prevented the community from assisting the family, which was forced to watch their house torn apart. A door-shaped hole in the wall illustrates their story.

After telling this to 14 complete strangers, the AEC activist asks: What you are planning to do now that you know what is happening. What are you going to do?

We do not know how how to answer.

This question haunteds us as we sit down to eat an hour later. What we saw and heard has left us shocked, guilty, and incensed, and now we are at a beautiful township restaurant for lunch and live music.

The polarity of the situation is difficult to process, so when Professor Connell opens the floor for conversation, no one is eager to begin. Silence falls heavily on the table and eye contact is avoided. Most are hunched over, as if to protect our broken hearts from anything else that may be thrown at us. Eventually, we try to verbalize our raw emotions.

Several girls say they feel useless. There is no point to the class we are taking. There is no meaning in learning about the plight of these people when we are just going to do a homework assignment and move on with our lives. Our trip to South Africa feels empty--even heartless.

The fact that we have comfortable homes, access to higher education, and the opportunity to go on this trip abroad separates us from the family we met an hour ago. The inequality is devastating, but, as Mary Ying points out, feeling guilty that we have lunch will not change anything. Connell agrees, saying that guilt is a crippling emotion and not one to dwell upon.

Taylor Rapalyea bluntly tells the table that we cannot change the situation. It is too big for just one blog to make any difference. But we can get others to make changes. We can be that spark that starts a forest fire.

That will have to be enough.


Table Mtn.jpgTable Mountain: The southern view. Photo by Dan Connell


By Ahalia Persaud

Cape Town--I can taste blood from dehydration and feel sweat seeping through my clothing and dripping down my forehead from the 3 p.m. beating sun as I stride across the rigid, rust-colored steps shedding tears of frustration from not knowing if I can make it up Table Mountain, advertised as offering an epic view of the region.

When I finally get to the top of the 3,559-foot mountain, I can see the beautiful beaches and gardens that media outlets rave about on the south and western sides of the Cape. But my satisfaction only lasts a short while, as I look in other directions and see the endless rows of tiny houses and tin shacks of tens of thousands of South Africans who have never had the opportunity to see what I see now.

Most people who come up here do so in a rotating cable car that CNN recently declared one of Africa's top aerial tourist attractions. Our group, which just arrived in Cape Town, will take the cable car down. An adult roundtrip ticket costs R215 [$21]; a ticket for a child age 4-17 costs R105.

After a two-hour flight from Johannesburg, we were picked up from the airport to go to our hotel, the Lady Hamilton, to drop off our bags before driving to the base of the mountain. During that drive, we could already see the great contrast between the beach resorts to the southwest and the informal shack settlements to the northeast.

Before we left Johannesburg, we were warned by a South African medical student, Claire Collins, who lived in Cape Town for seven years, that we would see the continuing effects of apartheid here in the city's stark racial geography. "You don't feel like you're on the African continent when you're in Cape Town," said Collins.

The closer you got to the mountain, the whiter it was and the more trees there were, she said. So if you were in an area with trees near the mountain, you were in a white neighborhood. She was correct indeed.

In Gugulethu, a historically black township of one- and two-bedroom brick houses and wood and tin shacks north of the city center, only three white people live there today. In the sections called "informal settlements," the shacks are so crowded that garbage trucks can't get into them and there is barely enough room to walk between them. There are no trees or grass in this part of town. Walking through it we try to avoid the muddy ditch ctreated by run-off from the community water tap and chemical toilet.

Donald Qubeka, the owner and builder of Liziwe's Bed and Breakfast and a native of Gugulethu, said he never went to Table Mountain until he met Ernst Jonker, a Dutch visitor. He recalled the time when Jonker asked him if he's ever been there. He shook his head and simply responded, "No."

Qubeka described South Africa as "a beautiful country" but said neither he nor most of his neighbors get to see and tour it. They're too busy trying to provide for their families. People like Qubeka are working 12 hours a day and don't have proper transportation to get to school 20 minutes away, much less go to Table Mountain on the other side of the city.

Table Mountain is officially one of the new Seven Wonders of Nature; however, many people who live in the Western Cape will never be able to get to the top even though the mountain looms as a backdrop to their daily lives, reminding them that South Africa still has a long way to go.


TAC #1.jpgMandla Majola recounts his experiences at the TAC office in Khayelitsha. Photo by Dan Connell.

By Haley Costen

It's no secret that the United States reacted poorly to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, but South Africans fared worse, both for cultural and political reasons.

Mandla Majola, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) district coordinator in Khayelitsha, experienced this firsthand when his aunt died in 1998. She was thin, weak, and often confused despite being only 50 years old. All the signs pointed to AIDS, but Majola's family disagreed, citing witchcraft as the cause of her death.

HIV/AIDS was looked at as an American or European disease, or something that only people who were gay or promiscuous could contract, according to Majola.

After the end of apartheid in 1994 most people were concerned with freedom and reconciliation. "It was a new South Africa," Majola said. "No one was concerned with HIV."

It was only in the late '90s that HIV became a serious issue, but even when groups began to recognize the disease, there was still opposition from the country's top leaders to providing health care and support to people suffering from it.

Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first post-apartheid president, whose iconic image can still be seen on graffiti, T-shirts, posters, and statues throughout the nation 15 years after his presidency, was infamously quiet about the issue of HIV/AIDS until he left office in 1999. Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki, on the other hand, had a strict strategy of denialism.

Harvard researchers estimate that the number of people who died because of Mbeki's stance that multivitamins and a healthy diet could cure the autoimmune disease, which he insisted was simply due to poverty and ill-nourishment, is at around 300,000.

Majola takes an unforgiving stance on the South African government.

"The ANC liberated us?" he asks quietly, shaking his head. "I beg to differ. Mandela is a saint? I beg to differ."

The Treatment Action Campaign was formed in 1998 to fight for a health care system that provides equal access to HIV prevention and treatment services for all people. They won that battle in 2002 when the Constitutional Court ruled that the government was constitutionally obligated to do so.

Since then they've worked to increase the community's awareness and knowledge of HIV, challenged government services, and provided cheaper antiretroviral (ARV) treatments for patients. However, their work does not stop there.

Majola passionately recounts a number of recent cases that the organization has helped in Khayelitsha, a huge township outside of Cape Town set up under Apartheid for black people forcibly removed from other areas.

When botched surgeries left one woman with a bag on her hip for her bladder and two young people permanently blind, TAC was there to help them seek action against the Department of Health. When a woman was raped and stoned to death by nine men for being a lesbian, TAC saw the case through all six years of trials.

"People are getting this service because they don't have money, don't know their rights, and don't know where to get help," Majola said.

There are around 700,000 people in Khayelitsha, a great portion of them living in tin shacks with no electricity or running water. Unemployment and crime are high, and women and children are often attacked when they go to fields to relieve themselves due to lack of chemical toilets.

When the workers of TAC are not handing out condoms to households or providing awareness classes for the community, they're there to provide social justice to the people of Khayelitsha, a population that seems long forgotten by their own government.


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Photo by Mary Ying

By Mary Ying

A tower constructed from old, scavenged street signs rises from the map on the floor of the District Six Museum.

A lively old man with a scruffy mustache and a white fez on top his head is surrounded by a crowd of visitors. He speaks eagerly and waves around a book with the page open to a black and white portrait of a man.

"This was my grandfather. He was Indian," says Noor Ebrahim, our energetic tour guide, with evident pride.

His eyes sparkle with enthusiasm as he tells us how his family first settled in the house at 247 Caledon Street in the neighborhood known as District Six.

District Six, recognized in 1867 as the sixth municipal district of Cape Town, was a place whose inhabitants came from all walks of life. Among them were freed slaves, immigrant laborers, artisans, merchants, religious leaders, and musicians--all of various races, religions, and trades.

Ebrahim's grandfather was a businessman from Bombay who married a Scottish woman. Together they planted the first roots of their family tree in South Africa.

Born and raised in District Six, Ebrahim describes the area as a cosmopolitan neighborhood where Jews, Muslims, Christians, Chinese, Indian, Hindus, and Africans all roamed the streets, coexisting peacefully with one another.

But it was this sort of cultural diversity that led to the area's demise, he says.

On February 11, 1966, District Six was declared a white area under the Apartheid regime and marked for demolition. Ebrahim recalls watching day-by-day as beloved homes and businesses fell prey to bulldozers that slowly encroached on his own house.

Soon enough, his home fell, too, and his family, like many others, was forced to relocate to a township designated according to racial classification--black, white, colored, or Indian.

Today, Ebrahim is a founding member of the District Six Museum, which opened in 1996 and is dedicated to preserving the memories of the colorful community that once existed there.

He has a knack for bringing stories to life, encouraging us to come closer as he unfurls his next tale about life in the multi-cultural district.

"District Six was alive with song and dance," Ebrahim says.

He does a little jig as he recounts his participation in numerous community musical groups, such as the Muslim choir, which colored the neighborhood's lifestyle. He describes listening to rock and roll on a Saturday night and dancing the twist with his peers.

Ebrahim conveys the tight-knit sense of community and respect in what he considers his "most beautiful memory": Each Christmas day, members of the community--Christians, Jews and Muslims alike--would come together in the churches to celebrate, regardless of their beliefs.

"We loved each other, but most importantly, we respected each other, no matter what color or religion," he says.

Of the thousands of families that once called District Six home, only 139 have been reinstated since the democratic elections of 1994. The rest remain on the waiting list for land, with many remaining in the impoverished townships to which they were relocated.

Ex-residents write their names on the map on the museum floor, marking where their homes once stood in hopes that one-day they too will be able to return.

Ebrahim himself has not returned. The place where his house once stood is now covered by a wing of the University Cape Point Technikon.

Ebrahim notes the various strides the government has made in pursuing a democratic republic, counting it a blessing that he can even speak freely of it now. Yet with many people still living in separate townships whose residents are for the most part of the same racial or ethnic group, the nation still has a long way to go before a truly unified and integrated South Africa can be achieved.

Perhaps one need not look farther for a role model than the preserved images of District Six, a community that once epitomized coexistence, acceptance, and love for all humanity.


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The cell in which Nelson Mandela spent 18 years. Photo by Dan Connell

By Rachel Goldberg

The water glistens as the sun begins to peak through the white sky. The mountains of Cape Town shrink in the distance as the boat approaches its destination: Robben Island, once a prison for political activists during the apartheid era. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years here.

Isolated from society, Robben Island stands approximately seven miles away from our departure point at the luxurious Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, a mere 45-minute boat ride. But it provides a stark contrast of light and dark, beauty and unspeakable violence.

Arriving on the island, we know we will leave in two short hours. After a winding bus tour over cobblestone roads we stop in the gift shop for a quick bite and a refreshing beverage before the walking portion of the tour. We admire the stunning view while chewing our baked goods and chips and snapping numerous pictures of crashing waves and rolling landscape.

Twenty-five years ago political prisoners brought here by boat had a very different experience--and some never got the chance to leave. One who did get out in 1991 escorted us around the jail and told us what it was like.

First, prisoners were stripped of their identity and given a number; that number was now their body and soul. Eight hours a day they spent digging limestone under the searing sun without sunglasses or protective masks. During summer days the intense heat was enough to drive a person to their breaking point, says our guide. The cells were crowded, there was inadequate bedding and food, and they were brutally tortured and harassed.

The beauty of the island is striking: the waves crashing against the rocks, birds gracefully flying overhead, and a picturesque view of Cape Town in the distance. But the beauty fades as the facts of its brutal past are told first hand.

Ntando Mbatha takes us through the gray halls of the prison where he spent seven years of his youth. Standing in his old prison cell, he shares his story of fighting for a proper education during the 1976 Soweto Youth Uprising. In the following years, after going abroad to join the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC) which today heads the government, he endured tear gas, beatings, and brutal interrogations until he eventually landed on Robben Island.

Despite his past, he says he is thankful. He feels blessed to have leaders like Nelson Mandela who taught the country the meaning of reconciliation.

"Though we suffered so much in this prison, we bear no grudges," Mbatha says.

"We want Robben Island to reflect the triumph of freedom and human dignity over oppression and humiliation," said another former prisoner, Ahmed Kathrada, a close confidant of Mandela, who is now the Chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council and is quoted on a commemorative plaque here.


By Lindsey Stokes

LANGA--The cold wind blew through the open doors of the small cinderblock home despite the sun shining brightly outside. Nobody shivered. Nobody seemed to care.

Several members of Theadora "Noma" China's family sat on the two navy blue couches in the center of the room with their close friend and neighbor, Emma, as well as activists from the Western Cape Anti Eviction Campaign (AEC). The line between family member and activist at times was not clear. The two blended together seamlessly.

The reason why became apparent as both sides began the tumultuous, at points heartbreaking, tale of the forced eviction the family endured during their fight to keep the home where so many memories had been made.

Forced removals on the basis of race were common during the Apartheid Era, when tens of thousands were relocated to single-race townships. Evictions like this family experienced began after 1994, when residents of all races were finally given the right to own their homes and add on to the cramped spaces where extended family members frequently lived.

To make these additions, they borrowed from banks that demanded the Title Deed as collateral. These loans were bequeathed to younger members of the family after the original signers passed on. If the loan remained unpaid, the bank took the home with the assistance of the police, more often than not, by force.

Without warning the bank may even sell the home to another family. An eviction orchestrated by a sheriff can happen at any time, as it did in this house several weeks earlier, according to the AEC activists.

Founded in November 2000 to combat the issue of forced eviction and give a voice to the poor, the AEC works hand-in-hand with families facing an uncertain future.

"We always put our own head on the block to protect our people," said Mncedisi Twalo, the leader of the 16 activists in this branch of the organization.

"We are not safe, we are not being protected by the constitution of this country. That is why, when our people protest, they are violent."

Means used to force the move include but are not limited to water and electricity shut-offs, furniture removal by the police, and threats or threatening actions by criminal organizations hired by the new owners.

Often at the last possible moment members of the campaign are called to stop evictions by protests, sit-ins, negotiations with the sheriff and the courts or just breaking the locks on the home, and moving a family's furniture back in.

Mncedisi described one instance when the campaign was called to help two families, one that was being evicted and one standing outside the contested home with their furniture ready to move in.

If an eviction like this is successful the family may be forced onto a Temporary Relocation Area (TRA), a so-called government dumping ground. Shelters there usually consist of shacks made of wood, zinc, and asbestos. Lung problems such as tuberculosis and asthma, as well as numerous bone diseases, can result from living in them. There are no formal schools.

With the number of shacks across the country on the rise, the AEC estimates 3 million people across the Western Cape are without homes.

While the Noma China family is now back in their home, the road ahead is still unclear. Another attempted eviction could still be on the horizon.

One thing is clear: Despite the difficult, sometimes dangerous task of standing between force and family as well as having personal health problems, Mncedisi and the activists with the AEC will be there, day after day, fighting hard for what they believe.

"We have to provide the service for those who are hopeless." Mncedisi said.
"When the police come, we don't runaway, we have guts. We want to talk."