YOUTH DAY 2023
‘They just need a chance’ – NPO founder believes young people in ‘neglected’ Finetown can shine
Samuel Johnson is a lifelong resident of Finetown, a township in the south of Gauteng, where the many problems plaguing the area drove him to start Kganya Development Projects, a nonprofit organisation that focuses primarily on education.
‘The truth and reality is that living in Finetown has always been a very difficult thing because the area is greatly neglected,” said Johnson.
Residents have voiced concerns about government neglect and service delivery issues. “We lack a lot of things. We’ve got primary schools and a high school that still have children schooling in containers. We don’t even have things like your libraries, we don’t have proper roads, and people are struggling immensely with electricity prices,” he said.
Doing his part to help
In 2013, Johnson started the nonprofit Kganya Development Projects, which runs numerous initiatives and activities geared towards young people, focusing particularly on education.
“I feel that the only way we’re going to be able to fix the crises of the youth of today is to come up with ways of educating ourselves – not necessarily the classroom-confined mainstream education methodology, but different types of education, whether it’s financial literacy or experimental,” he said.
Johnson believes the current curriculum is insufficient to address young people’s needs. “It doesn’t feed to the needs of our people, particularly in developing rural areas – the curriculum on its own doesn’t speak to the needs of the average black child.”
The NPO runs afternoon classes to help children with homework, as well as spelling challenges and readathons to improve pronunciation and reading. It also offers extramural activities such as pageants and sports days and is working on incorporating speech contests.
“There was a flux of children that would come and would require assistance, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. They would get homework or tasks and would come and tell you that they have been living with grandparents or living with parents that don’t comprehend what needs to be done and we would have to help them,” he said.
The biggest obstacle to running the NPO had been establishing a base of operations and securing long-term funding. Johnson funds it himself and can accommodate just 50 pupils per class owing to space restrictions.
“Currently, I have the afternoon classes in somebody’s back room. There were times when I used to write letters to the municipality, begging them to allow me to use their facilities. You find that it’s quite difficult to get access to a place you can call a centre,” he said.
There are currently six people who are fully hands-on at the NPO, since Johnson needed extra help due to the large number of youngsters who wanted to attend the afternoon classes. Despite struggles with funding, he does not believe in volunteerism. “As much as this country pushes young people to volunteer, I feel that volunteerism has broken the spirit of others because you expect somebody to come to volunteer for the longest time without even giving them something to buy soap with so they can look presentable,” he explained.
‘Hubs of substance abuse’
Then there is substance abuse, which is a major challenge facing young Finetown residents. “If you look at Region G, including Finetown, Eldorado Park as well Ennerdale, those are the hubs of substance abuse,” Johnson said.
The problem is so severe that he describes it as a “pandemic of its own’, with many people resorting to crime to feed their habit, while a lack of recreational facilities and high unemployment make things worse.
It’s like there is a hype for violence, there is a hype for drugs, there is a hype for lawlessness.
“It is scary because the reality is, these children and the youth have so much time on their hands and nothing to do.
“In Finetown, you’ve got houses that have become child-headed households and those children fall into the trap of substance abuse.
“It’s a huge crisis. It’s a huge crisis and we are trying to help”.
The nearest rehab centre is the Jamela Rehabilitation Centre in Vanderbijlpark, of which Johnson speaks highly. “It’s a great success story. We hope and pray that those entities could open the door to us so we can allow a lot more young people to be a part of their programmes.”
A life of doubt and disappointment
“A day of a young person in Finetown is one filled with doubt, filled with disappointment, and one where you feel caged. You’re going to feel trapped in a small space that you can’t move and do much to achieve much,” he said, adding that there is no facility with free Wi-Fi in the area
Without anything to do, “comfort comes from drugs and crime”.
“Today you’ll be waking up thinking what’s your activity for the day, and finding that there isn’t anything constructive that you’re going to be able to do in that day because of limited resources, so you’re obviously going to fall into the traps that go into the types of lawlessness and drug abuse.”
Recalling the 2022 mass shooting in Finetown, Johnson said the lack of jobs was likely to have contributed to it.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Where were the police?’ – residents plan crime summit following Ennerdale bloodbath that left seven dead
“It’s like there is a hype for violence, there is a hype for drugs, there is a hype for lawlessness because the majority of the young people that are here are not working,” he said. “How would you expect a young person to say in the morning, ‘I’m waking up because these posts are out and I’d like to apply’, when we don’t even have a place that’s got free Wi-Fi?”
Hope amid the gloom
Despite young people’s struggles in Finetown, Johnson believes there are positives.
“In as much as we are going to speak about the negative and the detrimental things that are killing the youth, the potential that’s here is amazing,” he said.
“The youth are only looking for a platform or opportunities for them to express themselves. It’s difficult to get access to the one recreation centre that we have, but they just need a chance.”
A by-election will be held in Finetown’s Ward 7 on 28 June 2023, and 90% of the councillor candidates are young. “It makes me so happy when I am saying 90% of councillor candidates across the spectrum from the different political organisations. It gives me so much joy that youth are finding expression and I pray that they’re going to be able to propel the area to its best capacity,” Johnson said.
In addition, he believes residents uniting under active citizenry could help young people realise their potential.
“There’s a lot of potential here. We’ve got very artistic children, we’ve got children that excel academically, we’ve got children that are good in extramural activities. All we ever ask and plead for is a platform to express ourselves and to find expression in different spheres and for different opportunities.” DM