Port Elizabeth is a city unlike any I’ve visited in South Africa so far. A city that’s once had its shine and trying to regain its claim for fame – the Windy City. It was an unexpected duration of time for my visit, as I planned to stay for only two days. But by the power of natural order I stayed for a week thanks to the kindness and friendliness of the people in Port Elizabeth.
Walking into PE (Port Elizabeth) seemed to take ages. My timing was off by hours and I didn’t want to walk into an unknown city at night especially in suspicious looking areas. I phoned my contact Sundy who I have been in touch with since back at Wild Spirit. He has promised to look after me for accommodations and meeting with the deputy mayor of PE. Sundy was a referral contact from a friend of mine Eddie Calvert, I met him back in Elim with his family Dianna and their daughter. Eddie is a very resourceful man and true to his word so I knew that Sundy would be a great contact for me.
I stayed with Sundy and his wife for a night at their place. They were of course very welcoming and sadly with the recent passing of their late son, I hope it was a distraction for them to think about something uplifting. Sundy managed to get a lot done in PE, he has called the press and phoned the deputy mayor just to sit and talk with me about racial issues happening here in South Africa. Sundy made all of that happen, I’m truly grateful for also his wife who took the time to drive me to the mall and run errands.
The Deputy Mayor
Bicks Ndoni is an interesting, soft spoken character. A politician, always sharply suited however he has a gentle swift to him. Sundy managed to arrange for the deputy mayor to meet up with me and discuss the racism issues happening in South Africa as well as the power struggles between the whites, coloured and blacks. He simply said, the reason there will be no peace for a long time is because the people in power simply don’t want to give up their power, even if that means sharing just 5% of their wealth to the starving native Africans. The majority just won’t budge. To hear that infuriated me, why don’t people want to give up just a little power so that everyone can benefit? To keep the blacks poor means that as a white person or someone with financial freedom you can easily afford a maid or cheap labour giving. The Indians and the coloured people told me stories of when they used to live along the coast but gentrification happened and they were forced out of their homes into designated areas designed for them, separate from the slums where the blacks lived. It feels like segregation is still very much alive but in a very subtle way that tends to seep through the law.
To give you further perspective about the racism issues in South Africa I’ve tape recorded a conversation with the Deputy Mayor, of course under Bicks Ndoni’s permission.
I wanted to explore the rest of PE so I managed to have another contact of mine arrange accommodations at a B&B near the beach owned by Glenda Brunette. A very special woman, she has dedicated her hard work to helping those in need in the townships of Gqebera in Walmer or locally known as the Walmer township. They call Glenda by her clan name, which is Mamtshawe, so the kids would always chant her clan name as she drove around. Glenda started the community work in 2005 because she wanted to improve the conditions of the day care centres where the children attend. Most of these are in shacks. This led to addressing hunger by starting the soup kitchens, which many school children attend. Then Glenda helped start the Shine literacy project, she saw it as aneed to teach the children to speak English well. Her attention was brought to the many school children who attend school in torn and very old clothing, so she started getting sponsors to clothe 200 children per year in brand new school uniform. Check out The Walmer Angel Project for further information.
The Walmer Township
Whenever you speak with Glenda she is constantly thinking about how she can help people, whether it’s through food drives, financial aid or connecting the right people together she is doing it. On top of that she has a son that goes to a semi private school nearby. One day I decided to drive with Glenda to Gqebera and see what it was all about. We handed out bread with peanut butter to kids that were roaming along the streets. It was the biggest township I’ve ever seen, massive you could easily get lost in it.
I was easily overwhelmed and I’m hard person to make feel uncomfortable but this was a lot to take in. The reactions toward me were mixed with suspicion, pride, joy and confusion. It is unfortunate though that to have a dark skin pigmentation automatically you are thrown in the slums otherwise known as townships. If you visit the coastlines it’s all whites with blacks as their labourers. As you go a further inland it’s Indians, then coloured people and deep inland is where the black people live. Consequently the waters, electricity and proper housing structures don’t reach that far inland, these people are just located there to fend for themselves. They use candles as light and hustle for a job that pays them only $5US a day on hard labour or doing service work.
I felt an instant shock of guilt, anger and sadness at once. Guilty because I could do nothing at the moment, sadness because what I’ve witnessed and anger because how could you let another human being live like that. We don’t even let dogs live this kind of life. The children in the daycare seemed unfazed by what was happening around them. However you would find random children crying along the roads and no one is there to help them, care for them or give them any kind of affection. It is a truly rough world.
This is the 2nd major township I’ve visited and there will be hundreds more along this ambitious journey.
Friends in PE
My special boots were suppose to arrive in PE to my friend’s address Tahira whom I’ve met before in Mossel Bay. It’s nice to see a familiar face in a completely unfamiliar place. The boots would arrive 2 to 5 business days but I couldn’t wait much longer so I decided to leave the next day in my old shoes.
It wasn’t a good idea, thirteen hours of walking from Glenda’s B&B in Port Elizabeth to Colchester was a fifty kilometer walk. Though my friend Georgina in her unique yellow car named Daizy stopped by the side of the freeway to make a lunch and refreshments for me. It was the best walking lunch break I’ve ever had, with a cooler full of cold refreshments life is good.
Walking fifty kilometers to Colchester in my worn down boots wasn’t a smart idea. Georgiana picked me up from Colchester the next day after I camped overnight, we drove back to Port Elizabeth. I was unable to move, completely broken. No regrets going back to the Windy City though. Glenda very kindly offered me accomodations at her B&B for free.
There are of course many, many more experiences and fantastic moments with people in Port Elizabeth. People who have offered me dinners at their homes, given m tours around the city, sharing insightful life lessons and so much more. So much has happened in PE that I could write a book abou the experiences. However for those I’ve left out will most likely be told about on my Facebook page or Instagram.
Mario is an explorer currently embarking on a voyage to walk across Africa by foot.