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Zenani’s ladder — NPO founder providing crucial leg-up to Kayamandi youth through community enrichment

Zenani’s ladder — NPO founder providing crucial leg-up to Kayamandi youth through community enrichment
Zenani Mithi is the founder of Ukukhanya Projects, an NPO based in Kayamandi. (Photo: Joel Ontong)

Zenani Mithi is the founder of Ukukhanya Projects, a nonprofit organisation based in Kayamandi which is set on uplifting the youth of the Stellenbosch township. 

In 2013, Zenani Mithi, a lifelong resident of Kayamandi, saw that there were numerous issues plaguing her community and she wanted to do something about it. Kayamandi is considered the second oldest township from the apartheid era, but Mithi feels it is overlooked. “I was still seeing the harsh realities of how disadvantaged Kayamandi is, in comparison to recent townships,” she says.

This drove Mithi to found Ukukhanya Projects, a nonprofit organisation that runs various initiatives, in hopes to benefit Kayamandi and particularly its youth. The NPO works with local municipal councillors and other nongovernment organisations.

The organisation currently has between 10 and 11 members, who are primarily recruited through word of mouth. “With a group of 10 or 11 we manage to do quite a lot,” Mithi says.

Multipurpose community centre

Currently, the NPO’s biggest project is establishing a functional multipurpose centre for residents of Kayamandi. Mithi hopes that the centre can be used to engage Kayamandi youth and be a place where “the youngest to the oldest” can have a space for recreation.

Substance abuse and crime are some of the major challenges for Kayamandi youth today, she states. However, she feels that the youth do not have too many alternatives. “If I’m a 16-year-old and it’s after school, what else can I do? There are not any extra-mural activities within walking distance for kids all around.”  

She hopes that a multipurpose centre will provide an alternative to substance abuse and crime. It could also make extra-mural activities easier to find for community members, including educational programmes, self-defence classes and activities for youth and seniors. Other NGOs or NPOs could also use the space if needed.

Ukukhanya Projects

One of Ukukhanya Projects’ current major undertakings is developing a multipurpose centre for the Kayamandi community. (Photo: Joel Ontong)

An ear of the President

Mithi even presented the idea for a multipurpose centre to President Cyril Ramaphosa himself, at a presidential imbizo that took place in Drakenstein on 19 May.

ramaphosa imbizo

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the crowd on Friday, 19 May 2023 during the Presidential Imbizo initiative in Paarl, Western Cape. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Mithi says she was determined to attend the imbizo and speak to the President. “The day before, I was trying to prep myself for what I would say if I’m given the opportunity,” she says.

She told the President that she had acquired land for the centre to be developed on. “The government can definitely help us improve and build a proper multipurpose centre for the people,” Mithi says. “If [the president] could assist me to build one, that would be nice. The assistance is really for Kayamandi.

“Even though he might not act now, we know that there are people who heard [about it]. It was definitely a huge platform just to be able to speak and share what we are going through, and what we hope to achieve in this township.”

Mithi also talked about the lack of government support for her community. 

“At the imbizo, I merely highlighted that we are told to go forth and look for opportunities and then when we do, we don’t get support from the government.”

An example she used was that Kayamandi lacked an adequate victim support room and that the Department of Social Development was made aware of this back in 2018. As time passed, gender-based violence in the area worsened with no sign of a victim support room forthcoming.

So, Ukukhanya Projects decided to build one themselves.

Victim support

For Mithi, opening the victim support centre at the Kayamandi SAPS station is one of her organisation’s biggest accomplishments.

The room was launched on 26 April, and Ukukhanya Projects established it with assistance from Ranyaka Community Development, Nedbank and SAPS. This is according to Captain Nathalie Martin, spokesperson for Stellenbosch SAPS. They were able to turn an old storage room at the SAPS station into the victim support room.

According to Mithi, for years if a victim of gender-based violence wanted to open a case at the police station, there was not a proper private space for them that ensured confidentiality. “The woman was always expected to open the case in front of everyone who’s there to do affidavits or certify IDs. We saw that you are almost putting this woman through another traumatic experience,” she says.

Victims may also withhold information, out of fear that someone may overhear what they share with the police. “So, when people go to police stations with such sensitive cases [they need] to be given their right to privacy and inherent dignity,” she continues.

“[Victim support rooms] provide emotional support, practical assistance, referrals to professional support services and information on victims’ rights,” says Martin.

The room is almost fully operational, but it is now up to the Kayamandi police station to ensure that police officers are trained to properly use the room and assist victims fully, Mithi adds.

Ukukhanya victim support

Ukukhanya Projects helped launch a victim support room at the police station in Kayamandi. (Photo: Joel Ontong)

More in the pipeline

Ukukhanya Projects is also engaged with helping provide business training to a group of young people from Kayamandi. So far a group of 50 budding entrepreneurs from the area has received five days of training through the National Youth Development Agency.

The initiative is ongoing, and the group will receive further help with registering their businesses, Mithi says. Once their businesses are formalised, they can qualify for funding opportunities, she added. 

“Our [goal] is just to make sure that Kayamandi as a whole is benefitting from all these [types] of programmes,” she states.

Ukukhanya Projects also helped renovate the oldest creche in Kayamandi, which was established in 1980. They saw that the creche had been neglected for many years, according to Mithi. “So, we did a facelift and we were [surprised] to see that people from the other side of Kayamandi were coming in to paint.” Kayamandi SAPS and Stellenbosch University students also helped with this initiative.

Another future goal for Mithi is to create a Xhosa radio station. “I want Kayamandi, in fact, Cape Winelands, to have a Xhosa-based radio station. Because we’ve picked up that some things get missed [by the community].” Important information, especially from local government, does not always reach her community and she believes a radio station could address this issue.

Smalls steps towards big results

Mithi knows that the small things they do in Kayamandi have a big impact, which is one of the reasons she does what she does.

“The love for my township makes me do all types of things and makes me go the extra mile,” she says. She is receiving no remuneration for the wide range of work she’s doing, “but it pays me to know that a service will be in Kayamandi”. Mithi’s found that if a community unites by working together, it can empower itself to address all manner of concerns and solve countless problems. DM


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