High levels of crime and financial insecurity continue to impact children growing up in Cape Town’s townships. Immersed in a world burdened by poverty, unemployment and substance abuse, daily statistics show that youngsters remain vulnerable to a range of ever-present dangers.
Amidst deeply worrying crime and violence, 29 Cape Town women have mobilized to open their homes to offer a safe space to school-aged children. In the face of limited aftercare facilities and extracurricular programmes at public schools, this proactive community-led initiative called ‘Afternoon Angels’ has been hugely effective in securing children’s safety and well-being.
Supported by NPO Ikamva Labantu, the programme creates safe places to play, do homework, and to enjoy nutritious meals. Located within the children’s own communities, these home-based sanctuaries run by selfless ‘Mamas’ lessen the risk of them venturing further afield into harm’s way.
Thembisa Panziso, who runs an after-school club in Khayelitsha, comments that, “In the community there’s a lot of rape, child abuse, drugs, alcohol and early pregnancy – this is the reason I look after the needs of the children. This programme helps to teach them that crime doesn’t pay and that it ruins lives. We talk about everything from early pregnancy, to drug abuse, committing crime and its implications for their future”, she says.
The majority of children who attend the after-school clubs are between 6 and 14 years, when they are most vulnerable to gang recruitment. Here they have access to games, toys and books, hygiene packs, school stationery, uniforms and more. Focused supervision reinforces positive behaviour that builds strong and healthy social connections. When needed, each club is also able to provide referrals to other Ikamva Labantu services, such as health, psychosocial, or government departments.
Ikamva Labantu supports these afterschool carers with resources and money for food. More funds are needed to provide adequate nutrition for all the participants.
Within these under-resourced neighbourhoods, the clubs have become immensely popular. So much so that many children want to come on weekends, and other local youngsters also seek them out. Fun aspects of the initiative include sports activities such as netball and soccer, where local youths are employed as safety marshals and soccer coaches. In addition to a coach stipend they receive, their role enhances self-esteem and builds valuable skills development.
While these refuges provide a much-needed safety net, they also teach by example, as seen with Simamkele Booi, the son of one ‘Afternoon Angel’: “Being part of this programme has inspired me to create change in this community by teaching a lot of kids how to be themselves, how to behave and how to speak to people. People here have a lot of problems and just can’t handle it them by themselves – they need people to rely on and they just need basic help,” he says.
Buoyed on by the unifying strength of the volunteers, this project has led to a groundswell in a call to ‘Take Back the Streets’ – a heartening movement to reclaim the safety of children, and ultimately, also the community.
In the wake of recent incidents such as the deaths of teenagers at Enyobeni Tavern in East London and six-year-old Khaya Magadla in a manhole, it’s clear that impactful programmes such as Afternoon Angels serve to safeguard those most at risk.
Positive change comes about when people care enough to stretch out a hand of kindness to those around them, and these motivated ‘Afternoon Angels’ not only demonstrate their generosity of spirit, but also the phenomenal power of self-organized community involvement. These steadfast, strong women continue to transform the lives of countless children, and they remain resolute in their endeavour to ‘Take Back the Streets’.