Category Archives: Ithemba

#272 ~ Will the Sun Come Out?

Most people find their first year of University an out of this world experience. I found it a brutally humbling and disorienting experience. And now, as I sit here preparing to return, I am questioning what kind of an experience I will let it be. Part of me is excited to tread the familiar paths to lectures, to struggle to wake up in the morning, for the late night essays. I’m hoping I will have matured and grown from previous experiences, maybe i’ll even start my reading on time. Yet trepidation is also itching at my sides. I know people from my school are joining, friends from a former life, and I’m questioning how i’ll integrate with them, or allow them to integrate into my life. I’m wondering whether at last an excitement will burn deep into the crevices of my heart, whether my eyes will grow bright with expectant wonder. If the popcorn yellow hopes and dreams will come to fruition, or if a grey smudge will taint the boarders of my framed vision. Because I have to go back, I have to seize the day and make it mine; it is both necessary and important. I cannot live in a memory, but in a present reality. Yet, change…can be bittersweet. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and I worry that I am worried.

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#269 ~ Ithemba Projects : Day 34

Sala Kahle

At some point or another, we must all say farewell. Farewell if not to friends and family, then at some point to life. Working with Ithemba Projects (and Zanini Bantwana), has at times been a harrowing experience, challenging, joyful and draining. To say it pushed me to my limits would be a lie. Rather, it exposed me to the limitless boundaries that existed within. That in fact, where before I would have given up at the slightest hint of being unwell or fatigued, here I was, on an ‘appetising’ cocktail of antibiotics, cough mixture, Sudafed and tissues, still ploughing through work, straining out songs and encouraging a waning appetite.

As a process of becoming naked, it explored the flaws, prejudice and darkness within me. How I despised those who were unwell, disfigured, and how through extreme grace, I began to see the least of the least, through, as Jethro in the Prince of Egypt professes, Heaven’s Eyes. I began to yearn to remove blood filled mucus from my creche babies noses. A patience to control my classes overcame me. An excitement to prance around gardens singing and dancing consumed me. I grew and became hopeful of life, just as Ithemba Projects desires to bring hope to the lives of the people of Mpumuza, Sweetwaters.

Three years ago I flew into South Africa and partook on what, really, was an act of poverty tourism. I spent 10 days sightseeing Sweetwaters. Glancing at the work of Ithemba Projects, gingerly holding hands with little Zulu children. If i’m honest, when I looked at the money I’d saved all year and considered buying a plane ticket back to SA, something stopped my heart. Every young Christian does Aid work in SA, it’s so cliche. Yet, the thought wouldn’t leave me.

I hadn’t entered South Africa with an agenda. I didn’t know I was being particularly ‘affirming’ in anyway. I just wanted to return to a place I had seen in a hazy dream, and really invest some time, invest my skills, and serve an organisation that I admire and respect. One doesn’t have to travel half way across the world to experience poverty, pain, desperation, abandonment, or any of the experiences I’ve catalogued here. We live in a world that reeks of such experiences.

Yet often, our eyes become focused when we step outside of our own environment, and then step back. When we begin to convert our pound Sterling into Rand, when we remember how we survived on x amount of clothes, then peer inside our wardrobes that are brimming with unworn, unnecessary garments. When we make the choice to embed these memories and experiences into our very veins, and let the focused insight we have gained, pulse through our bodies, through our very beings, and let it transform our very lifestyle.

I want to encourage everyone that has participated on this journey with me to be hopeful. I began this 5 week ‘diary’, with the statement: Ithemba means hope, and for the people in Sweetwaters, Ithemba means life. May your lives be transformed by this experience, may your lives be filled with hope, hope for tomorrow, hope for your communities, hope for the change you desire to see and create. May these experiences inspire you, and where you can, can I urge you to support the work of Ithemba Projects and Zanini Bantwana in whatever capacity you can. Either by telling people about the phenomenal work they are doing in rural Sweetwaters, by supporting them financially, or by volunteering. Their ministry is life changing, their progress forward-looking, and their vision ever hopeful.

If you have been touched by the work of Ithemba Projects, then I would love to encourage you to continue being involved in their long-term journey, by liking their Facebook Page, and by following the blog: Bridging Hope, which is run by my former colleague Stephanie, who is working this year with the charity.

Thank you for coming along with me. Keep a look out on the Ithemba Page for an article I will be writing for them.

Prayer for day 34: May God Bless and Keep you wherever you are. May Hope reign in your hearts, and may you continue to pray for the work of Ithemba Projects. For their protection, for their provisions and for their incredible journey.

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#268 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 33


When I stepped into the Ithemba office, my co-workers re-christened me Zahara in celebration of the famous South African artist of the same name, who I apparently resembled. Travelling through Sweetwaters, even without my guitar in tow, the name sailed through the air, as adults pointed and grinned. If you asked any of my students what my name was, Zahara and a cheeky grin would be first on their lips. So I became this elusive Xhosa woman from the Eastern Cape, the dual identity integrating me deeper into the community. I had never heard her music, never even seen her, but I was part of her, in some respects. In the eyes of my children.

On my last day working with Ithemba a surprise birthday party awaited me. Poems and farewell tributes were presented. I wanted to cry, but was unable to. My eyes were so dry they almost hurt; my heart hadn’t registered that an Emirates plane was waiting for me. Yet, in and amongst the farewell presents and cake, I was presented with my doppelgänger’s CD. With her hair scraped back, and her guitar cradled between calloused hands, I smiled at the sweet resemblance.


Packing, can be both a cathartic and painful experience. As Zahara’s rich voice filled my bedroom, twisting itself into the crevices of my folded shirts and skirts, I felt a loss. A deep loss. Because now that Zahara and I had met, we were parting. Now when South Africa and Ithemba had begun to mean something to me, we were parting ways. I was returning home to the sounds of Oasis and Tiny Tempah, whilst Zahara still had her guitar. She consoled me, telling me in her famous song Loliwe, to dry my tears and not be worried.

Yet it is painful,parting ways, moving on. Remembering, that in many respects it was just a dream. Not that one didn’t experience the pain, the joy, the hopes and fears, but that another reality, a tenable reality was awaiting back home. One where the slog of being part of a journey every day, where there is no get out clause, awaited.

Prayer for Day 33: For a smooth transition back to home life. For a hopeful attitude to overcome me, hope for what is to come.

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#267 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 32

As I wrap up this experience, before I write two final posts evaluating my time in South Africa, i’d like to leave you all with a final montage of images. Below are some of my creche babies, who I was afraid of and fell in love with by the end. Please continue to pray for them and support them.

Akhona, one of the brightest students, full of life and intelligence.

Girl. Beautiful, precious child.

 Olwa, he would blink at you all the time. Blink, blink, blink. Great baby dancer too!

 My faux baby, we had a special bond. She cried whenever I left…

 Ma Cornelia. As her team grows, I have faith the crèche will become a wonderful establishment.

Prayer for Day 31 : Pray for the children and the crèche. Pray the education in the crèche blooms and sets the children up for an incredible life

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#265 ~ Ithemba Projects : Day 30

It takes a surprise farewell to realise, what you thought was average, really meant something to them.

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#264 ~ Ithemba Projects : Day 29

One of the, approximately 20 cards, I was presented with as I delivered my last assembly at Mountain Home Primary School yesterday.
It wasn’t saddening at the time, in fact, I hardly feel as though I’m on my last 48 hours here. I’m worried the realization will hit whilst I sit in Dubai’s excessive airport early in the morning and realise, I won’t have to work out what my assembly will be, or what i’ll teach them, how ill translate ‘There’s a fire on the Mountain, run, run,’ into fluent isiZulu ( kunomlilo entabeni, baleka, baleka).

The cynic within questions whether these students really will miss me, or if they’re just being polite as I disintegrate into a fragmented image. Yet, maybe they really will. Maybe what happened over those five weeks, having an english teacher from the UK, having a black female english teacher from the UK, has had an unprecedented impact on them. Maybe my presence really has expanded their eyes, at what they could potentially be. Maybe they saw themselves in me, saw a relationship a recognition? Maybe I really will be missed. Either way, the sentiment was both touching and encouraging; being here was a worthwhile adventure.

Prayer for Day 29: The the process of transition and leaving will be smooth, and Mountain Home Primary will build on the teaching that’s taken place over these 5 weeks.

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#263 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 28

Why do you have Zulu hair?

When I first travelled to South Africa to work with Ithemba Projects, a young girl asked me that question. She had assumed, that if I came from the UK, I could afford weave, extensions, hair accessories, and was perplexed when I chose to wear my hair short and natural. Having Zulu hair obviously had negative, or financial connotations in her still-forming mind. I explained that I loved my hair the way it was, and she nodded in a non-committed fashion. Ok crazy westerner.

Walking into a Mega-Store in downtown Pietermaritzburg last week,  I was driven to a spontaneous bark of laughter, when I saw the sign ‘ethnic hair care’ over black hair products. In my experience the term ethnic often implies ethnic minorities, something, whether it is art, fashion or jewelry that is not indigenous to the land it is being sold in. As much as the term irritates me; in my opinion all produce is ethnic, even the dominant white culture is itself ethnic, it is a term I must accept in the context of the UK. Hair oil, cow-bone earrings, printed cloth are all ethnic items to the UK, and those who wear or utilize such produce are either part of or sympathetic to that ethnic minority.

Yet in South Africa where blacks are the majority, to use the term ethnic in relation to their, for example hair produce, seems highly incongruous to me. What should be seen as ethnic are the white, or indian produce, clothing, art and hair care. Why do I make this point?

I remember, when I was a primary school student, desperately wanting to be white. I believed a fairer  complexion automatically meant beauty. Wherever I went white models peered back at me, smiled from billboards, engaged in romantic relationship in films and shows, graced the stage and album covers. One had to struggle to see a black face in a positive light, and with the same quality of professional editing as mainstream media.

The image that was compounded into my mind stated, flowing locks that could be tied into a pony tail or swept into a fringe were not only normal, but a sign of beauty. Braids were an unfortunate hairstyle only utilized until a weave could be found. And that premise, is often one ‘ethnic minorities’ are still under. The black celebrities that now grace our television screens still, in my opinion, emphasize the image. That’s not to say they aren’t ‘black’ or proud of their ethnicity. Far from it, but it seems to me, that there is still a subtle allusion that there is something ugly, or unattractive to natural kinks.

To hear a young child in ‘deepest darkest Africa’ (though SA is one of if not the most westernised country), surprised to see a ‘wealthy westerner’ with natural hair is saddening. That one easily elides wealth with the necessity to transform natural beauty, to me has deeper connotations and implications.

So it has been encouraging and warming to see, over my five weeks here, the initial surprise and the final, perhaps pride, or gratitude even, in the young students i’ve been teaching in Sweetwaters. To hear whispers of ‘she’s pretty,’ ‘I love the way you do your hair,’ demonstrates to me, that if i’ve done nothing else here, i’ve worked at dispelling the lie that once someone has emigrated to the West, once someone has become wealthy, they must deny their natural beauty. Perhaps it has even empowered some of the young girls in Sweetwaters, to remind them that, just the way they are, with their shaved heads, or short afro’s, they are beautiful. And that having ‘Zulu hair’ categorically  does not mean you’r epoor, and has none of the negative connotations they might associate with it.

Prayer for Day 28: That young girls the world over, especially in Sweetwaters, would be empowered in their own natural beauty. They would understand that their own complexions, hair styles or body figures have no relation to social or financial positions, and they would be liberated in that understanding.

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