GENUINELY WITH: Nyanga, cows, traffic lights and the working part of me

Today I got to climb back into my ‘professional’ skin again after a 4 month break from working in my field – the field where I am comfortable and things seem familiar.  I know I can run groups.  I know I am competent as a therapist.  I know I am able to work cross culturally –in fact I love working in teams and communities that are diverse. 

Today started with a drive to Nyanga, down Wetton Road.   Wetton Road which becomes Govan Mbeki Road is filled with of reminders of my first social work job ever.  I drove over the bridge where I did my first community research as a newly qualified social worker (Assessing a feeding project so that it could be grown into a new season).  I still smell peanut butter sandwiches on chunky brown bread when passing that piece of road.

Signage along Govan Mbeki Road indicates Brown’s Farm, Philippi, Gugulethu, Hanover Park and Mannenberg:  All communities that make up a part of the Cape Flats.  Mannenberg is the site of Ross Kemp’s documentary exploring gangs.  It’s also perhaps one of the most notorious communities in the Western Cape due to the high level of gangsterism.   Nyanga, my destination community, is just past Mannenberg.  In the background to all of these communities are beautiful mountains – in any given direction – not close by, but as a part of the horizon.

This morning I watched 3 HUGE cows enjoying the sights and sounds of the morning traffic from the traffic island.  Who knows how long they had been sitting on that traffic island next to the traffic lights? I saw packs of dogs scavenging, couples pushing shopping trolleys across a road, many micro-enterprises, refuse piled up against “informal” housing and mini-bus taxi’s everywhere.

The group of healthcare workers that I work with (or more specifically consult to twice a month) are part of an amazing healthcare center, in Nyanga. Our meeting room is on the 2nd floor.  From my seat this morning I could see the clouds rolling in over the mountain, groups of unemployed men (or gangs I asked myself?) chatting and others going about their daily activities – this all happening to the background sounds of taxi’s hooting and dogs barking.  My own internal process was assimilating all these things, whilst my professional person was listening, facilitating, summarising, reflecting and planning.  The group I have been tasked to work with has much to teach me, as much as I hope to be able to support and assist in containing & growing them.

Cape Town is often said to be a place on its own – not quiet Africa really.  This morning I could have been on any part of the continent.  Cape Town is only a place on its own when you not able or don’t see the fact that 20 minutes from the beautiful suburb where I live a stark contrast exists.  I know this because I have never had the traffic stopped on my side of the bridges, by a cow with an engorged udder and bloated stomach.  I know this because this morning the harsh face of inequality in Cape Town struck me again. 

It’s amazing knowing that I get to be a part of people living in, and doing amazing work in challenging circumstances.  It was good being back in a place that felt familiar and yet I know that I have much to learn about.  It was hard knowing that I get to climb into my own car, and drive away from the realities that the team I work with face daily and are still called to speak hope, life and resilience into others.  Nyanga was cited as the most dangerous township in South Africa in stats released in 2012 – see more here: (

This past week I have had 2 conversations with women working in different communities and the question repeatedly asked wasHow did I get the life I did and some of my colleagues and friends theirs?

The places I missed while not living in Cape Town were these communities. The children and families whose realities I want to be a part of seeing shift live in these communities.  If we want our rape stats to change, we need focused intervention WITH these communities.  Not for them.  Not against them.  WITH THEM.  That means that while I look at professionally developing my work space in Cape Town, personally I need to work out what it means to be “with”Genuinely “with”.  If I don’t work that out, then the working part of me really won’t matter much in the bigger picture.  



One thought on “GENUINELY WITH: Nyanga, cows, traffic lights and the working part of me

  1. A profound sensitive and deeply compassionate write as deeply compassionate as it is insightful. I have seen those cows in Langa and Khayelitsha too! Thank you for seeing into the soul of what we often don’t want to see or admit.

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