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Township Holiday

Paarl, Western Cape, SA – July 2017. Impromptu dance routines choreographed to local kwaito hits are met with loud applause in the talent show. Kwaito, which originated out of the townships of Gauteng in the ’90s, is a mix of house rhythms, percussive synth loops, African instrumentals, and distinctive vocals; its genre-bending sonic texture has successfully brought township culture into the post-Apartheid South African mainstream, and its popularity continues to endure.

Township Holiday, photo essay by Madeleine Bazil


Holiday camp is a glorious fever dream, and it means a lot to all involved. In 2016 and 2017, I followed along and saw for myself.

Western Cape, South Africa: 60 kilometres north of Cape Town proper, in the heart of the Cape Winelands, hectares of idyllic sun-dappled vineyards and sprawling candy-coloured farmhouses line the N1. Out here, the place names are rarely Anglophone; the town of Paarl is the birthplace of the Afrikaans language. If you squint, you can imagine that it likely didn’t look all that different back in the 17th century when the Dutch East India Company first set up shop.

Paarl, Western Cape, SA – July 2017. Peers and facilitators look on as a student stifles his giggles in order to perform in the camp talent show.

Paarl, Western Cape, SA – July 2017. Facilitators Patrick and Chester pause whilst setting up audio equipment.

45 minutes away in the impoverished Cape Flats, an antipodean South Africa is visible. Geopolitics in the Rainbow Nation are no longer bound by the rigidity of Apartheid-era laws, yet invisible lines of entrenched socioeconomic strata and endemic cycles of poverty remain. Labyrinthine township streets see open-fire braais, gated spaza shops, stray dogs, women chatting in groups sitting on upturned buckets in front of hair salons with impeccably hand-painted service lists. It is in 5 such neighbourhoods that the Amy Foundation, a South African not-for-profit organisation, offers daily after-school programmes to over 2000 township youth.

How do these two disparate worlds collide? Twice a year, during school vacations, the Amy Foundation holds two consecutive weeklong holiday camps in the Winelands for a group of the best-behaved students from its after-school programmes. Think classic Americana sleep-away camp mixed with vibrant Xhosa and Coloured tradition and close-knit township culture, all combined in a decaying historic Cape Dutch building surrounded by vineyards. It is a lot of planning, and a dash of chaos, topped off with the giddy excitement of several dozen energetic kids eager and apprehensive about making new friends from other schools.

 

Paarl, Western Cape, SA – July 2017. Facilitators lead a group of students in a game of pickup soccer during sports hour. Even today, sports in South Africa tend to fall on persistently racial lines: despite integration, rugby is still seen as a white sport, cricket a coloured one. Amongst the black population, soccer – and national team Bafana Bafana – is king.

Paarl, Western Cape, SA – July 2017. Students enjoy the winter sunshine in the camp’s courtyard during a period of free time.

In Township Holiday I am telling a story of students at play, capturing moments of joy, exploration, culture, sportsmanship, and camaraderie – sentiments part of any childhood but rarely focused on by photographers when working in indigent communities like the Cape Flats. This is the long-delayed fulfilment of a birthright which has for decades been denied the children of the townships: the opportunity to play soccer, kwaito dance in a talent show, lip-sync Mafikizolo songs over dinner – all on the very land which spawned their systematic oppression.

(by Madeleine Bazil)

Paarl, Western Cape, SA – July 2017. Part of the novelty for many students is the opportunity, some for the first time, to experience nature at its fullest expression, away from an urban setting and the attendant dangers.

Paarl, Western Cape, SA – July 2017. Ringed by wineries and sprawling private homes, Groot Drakenstein Cultural Centre is a former prison whose Cape Dutch architecture and verdant green lawns now house camp trips, corporate retreats, and other large rental groups.

Paarl, Western Cape, SA – July 2017. The girls’ dormitory. Students who are cherry-picked to participate in each iteration of holiday camp are the most consistently well-behaved ones across the schools in which AF operates. Because of this, discipline is rarely a problem and the staff places a great deal of trust in the students. The biggest issue year to year, discussed preemptively in staff meetings in the many weeks of planning, is not of fighting or drug use or racial incidents but rather that of illicit teenage romance: the inevitable pairings of older teens who try to sneak into each other’s dorms for a late-night rendezvous.

Paarl, Western Cape, SA – July 2017. Preparing food for several dozen active and growing kids – who are often food insecure at home – is a hectic task, involving assembly-line style preparation.

Paarl, Western Cape, SA – July 2017. Students drum, dance, and sing along to isiXhosa songs in the courtyard during free time. Without access to electronics during camp, the campers find more old-school ways to entertain themselves.

Paarl, Western Cape, SA – July 2017. The chance to meet kids from other schools and neighbourhoods – the programmes spanning several Xhosa townships as well as one Afrikaans-speaking Coloured township – is stressful yet exciting for the students. Ultimately, though, this melting pot adventure goes off without a hitch every year, with new friends bonding and pledging to stay in touch until next year’s holiday camp. Students who are particularly adept in English, or those who can translate between isiXhosa and Afrikaans, are in high demand throughout the duration of camp in order to facilitate conversations between friend groups.

Paarl, Western Cape, SA – July 2017. ‘They taught us that we can change impossibilities into possibilities, and we as the youth can actually become the change we want to see in the community,’ says one holiday camp alum about Amy Foundation programming. ‘That was the core, that was the slogan: you can be the change in your community. Start in your community.’

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