Mholo from Cape Town,
We’re in the Cape Flats, an expansive low-lying area of townships situated roughly 25 km/15 miles southeast of the city of Cape Town.
But in fact, this area is still considered to be part of Cape Town. “We are right in the middle of Cape Town, but many people don’t quite understand that,” says Florian Kraemer, founder of Vulamasango Orphanage and our host for the day.
“Cape Town city centre doesn’t lie in the centre of Cape Town. If you look at a map you will see that it actually lies between Table Mountain and the Atlantic sea. Much of the city’s white population lives close to the mountains, and the majority of the city’s black and coloured populations live in the Cape Flats”.
The reason for this is due to the apartheid regime’s actions of segregating races and placing all non-white communities in the less desirable outlying districts of Cape Town. Many years later the living conditions remain the same – that of segregation.
OPEN GATES IN XHOSA
Vulamasango (meaning ‘open gates’ in Xhosa) is an orphanage based on a farm situated in the heart of the Cape Flats. The farm was once a German colony set up in the early 1800s to turn beach sand into arable land. It is a non-profit organisation which opens its doors to orphaned and vulnerable children from the townships of Cape Town, providing them with a new home and a shot at a brighter future. Florian is the CEO and Founder of Vulamasango and although he’s German by birth, he has been here so long that he has developed a pseudo-South African accent.
Vulamasango, aided by its German fundraising entity Positiv Leben, is a Child and Youth Care Facility for children whose parents passed away or, for whatever reason, are not able to provide for and look after their children anymore.
One of the things they are known for is their youth choir and children’s project called Vulingoma which sees the children travelling around the world performing concerts to captive audiences. As I get there they are rehearsing and so I am lucky to receive a private concert. What beautiful voices these children have!
HOW BIG IS KHAYELITSHA?
Vulamasango is situated almost 10 km from the largest and fastest-growing township in South Africa – Khayelitsha. It’s almost impossible to know how many people live in Khayelitsha. Wikipedia says the number is roughly 39,2000 however those figures are from 2011. Another number I found from 2014 states that the number is as high as 450,000.
But the residents of Khayelitsha say these figures are way too low, and it’s often claimed that the area, in fact, has over a million residents.
According to Florian, the number of people living in Khayelitsha is more likely over 1.6 million. That was at the time of recording, and with 1000 new people moving in every day it’s probably even higher now.
It is estimated that more than 99% of them black or coloured and they live closely together in small shacks. Vulamasango is a true oasis of hope in the middle of South Africa’s largest township.
THE BIRTH OF HOPE
To find out how Florian ended up opening an orphanage in the southern tip of Africa, we have to go back to when he was 19 and embarked on a crazy hitchhiking trip through Africa – where he got lost in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) in the middle of a civil war.
Florian and his friend attempted to escape the civil war by hiking through the mountains to Uganda. They got lost and ran out of money and eventually, after 12 hours of hiking, passed out in the jungle from exhaustion and not eating for 3 days. A small boy found them in the jungle in the middle of the night and led them to an international observer station cottage where they found rescue. The next morning Florian found out that the entire jungle where the boy found them was flattened soon after they fled and rebels killed everyone in sight. Florian never got a chance to thank the young boy for saving his life.
This harrowing and heartbreaking experience inspired Florian to devote his life to helping African children in need. He set his sights on South Africa and started his studies in social work.
After a failed attempt at starting a social project in Nyanga, one of Cape Town’s most violent townships, due to the gangster community stealing and killing children (they shot a 5-year-old boy for his project), Florian learnt his lessons and eventually opened the gates of Vulamasango in 2009.
“We are realistic in the sense that we understand that we cannot help change an entire country, we can only help a small number of children but it does make a big difference,” he says.
According to to Florian, poor people come to Cape Town for work because the rural areas of South Africa are very poor. They work hard in the city and live in the townships and send money back to their rural communities. This is why, as Florian says, “townships stay townships” as there is no money being put back into the development of the community.
Looking out the window we see some wonderful smiling children running past. It makes me instantly smile back. Florian also smiles, briefly, and then turns serious and tells me something that blows my mind.
“A strange cultural thing happens here. When a child is raped at a young age (3-6 years old), they are put alone on a bus and sent 1500km to another town in the country.” What about the perpetrator, you may ask? “Most child rape cases are perpetrated by a relative or family member, and the families tend to protect the perpetrators rather than the victims.”
Florian has dealt with many cases like this and knows it too well. Many of the children of the orphanage have parents, but they are unable to provide for and protect them.
“It is the culture here. The man is dominant, he is the patriarch and the women don’t have the authority to send the men away”.FLORIAN KRAEMER
A recent study states that rape in this culture in South Africa is very common. It states that one in three black men in South Africa admits openly to having raped a woman in their life.
It is heartwarming and remarkable to witness first-hand just how passionate Florian is so about caring for these kids.
In the next episode of my visit to Vulamasango Florian tells about a specific girl in the orphanage and how far he went in her case.
If you would like to donate to the children of Vulamasango please visit their website.
As always, I would like to thank Hotels25.com for all their assistance helping me find the best most affordable accommodation around the world. Without their amazing support, none of this would be possible.
Look out for part II of my visit to Vulamasango.
Until then, stay safe and healthy.