LIMPOPO, South Africa — Rural South Africa, like its urban counterpart, has various social ills such as high poverty levels, a high number of orphaned children (mostly because of HIV/AIDS) and a poor education system. These and many other social issues are the reason why Limpopo-based social enterprises like the Hlatlaganya Drop-in Centre, Peer on Peer Education and Sane Knowledge Foundation have opened up shop.
Eleanor Roosevelt once famously said, “With freedom comes responsibility.” The world over, governments and social responsibility initiatives have been at the forefront of eliminating social ills. South Africa’s social grant scheme is an example of such schemes and the envy of most of its African neighbours. The scheme has been widely praised for uplifting the lives of the disadvantaged.
Yet this is still not enough. More is required to ease social problems. As all South Africans are entitled to opportunities in commercial enterprise, they all deserve opportunities in social entrepreneurship as well. This may be needed especially in Limpopo, South Africa’s poorest province. These organisations are either being run by young social entrepreneurs or are aimed at assisting young people.
Caring for orphaned, vulnerable children
Every day, as early as 4 in the morning, several women are already awake and have huge pots cooking on the fire. They are also cutting bread, onions and tomatoes. Twelve hours later, at 4 p.m., the same women have the big pots back on the fire again and are preparing supper. At 7, the workers pack daily food parcels for distribution to orphans and children from poor families in and around Hlatlaganya village in Limpopo. This is what the Hlatlaganya Drop-in Centre does: providing social, psychological and emotional support to orphans and vulnerable children in the community.
Hlatlaganya was established in 2006. Emma Mamabolo, 65, its founder, says, “The main reason why I created the center was that I saw how HIV/AIDS was making many of our children orphans. But there was no one who took care of those children.” At present, the centre has 139 children registered in its records, but more come in every week, and the number is increasing by the day.
What is most special about the centre is that most of its volunteers are young people who are barely remunerated. “The volunteers have a standard monthly income of R1500 (about $140 US) from the Department of Social Development. But this is very little, and sometimes it is delayed by as long as six months,” Mamabolo says. “But they come to work at 4 a.m. and leave at 8 p.m. When I speak to the volunteers, I realise that they were not driven by monetary gain but rather the feeling of knowing that they have helped an individual and thus have made their contribution to the country.”
The center’s income is derived from donors, including South Africa’s National Lottery, Eskom, the U.S. Embassy in South Africa, the University of Limpopo, an NGO called the Cambodian Community and the Department of Social Development. In spite of the donations, the center’s revenue base is thin compared with its expenses. Mamabolo stresses this by noting, “At the moment, our electricity has been cut due to no payment, and because we have no tap water, we buy bottled water every day but cannot afford to buy enough because of the small budget we work with.”
Going the Bob Proctor style
Having received a brief scholarship to study at the University of Notre Dame, Athanatious Masoma, 22, witnessed and participated in various nonprofit initiatives. He brought back this knowledge to rural Limpopo to found Peer on Peer Education with seven of his friends.
“Peer on Peer educators think that most learners [in South Africa] are from backgrounds that have a low understanding of English and a shortage of resources to learn the language, especially in the rural areas,” he says. “We also feel that most scholars in South Africa are not motivated and feel inferior, and so they do not dream big or reach their full potential. Hence, Peer on Peer Education was formed to provide opportunities to rural students to acquire skills in speaking, reading and language functions as well as have self-confidence in themselves.”
The organisation goes to rural high schools in Limpopo to give motivational speeches to inspire rural youths to acquire education, as well as assisting them in reading and writing skills in English. On a visit to Makobateng Secondary School in Ga-Matlala, Masoma gave a speech reminiscent of famed self-help motivational speaker Bob Proctor, one of his biggest influences. He quoted Nelson Mandela in his speech, galvanizing the students to dream and to have tenacity and a sense of self-worth.
A major aim of the apartheid system was discriminatory laws that instilled a sense of superiority among whites while oppressing a black population perceived as inferior. And even though it has been 20 years since the beginning of democracy, the effects of those inequality regulations still haunt black South Africans. It is no wonder that Peer on Peer Education aims to motivate rural youth, because it knows this part of the black community is the future of an emancipated South Africa.
“The learners can benefit a lot from the organization because we are there to assist them in improving their reading and writing skills, as well as encouraging them to participate in public speaking and dream big and chase those dreams,” says Pelane Mphahlele, Peer on Peer Education’s communication officer.
Sane Knowledge Foundation is also in the business of inspiring rural youth, in Zebediela, Ga-Molapo. “In addition to motivating the youth of our village, we also provide a communication service of informing them about job vacancies, job interview training, and informing and assisting with application to aspiring tertiary students,” says Kabelo Mampa, 21, founder of the organisation. She works with six of her friends, who are part of the workforce.
For those working at Peer on Peer Education and Sane Knowledge Foundation, it is a part-time occupation, as they are either students themselves or have full-time jobs. Securing funding has been a major problem in enhancing the scope of the initiatives. “We would like to visit the learners more [frequently], but the challenge of finances is hindering this, as we have no sponsors and we actually use money from our own pockets,” Masoma points out.
Mampa urges both government and the private sector to partner with these nonprofit organizations. “The government has agencies and private companies have charities, but perhaps they should also work with us in order to broaden the scope of help given to societies,” he says.
The new South Africa has accommodated all sorts of enterprises, be they economic or socially oriented. The number of young social entrepreneurs from rural areas, as well as social enterprises that seek to assist rural youth, has increased in the young democracy. Although there are challenges, mainly in funding, this shows the dynamic nature of a truly entrepreneurial society, including the role of its young people. As Masoma puts it, “Nelson Mandela lost his youth giving himself to the struggle. There is no other better way to thank him than to follow in his footsteps as young people of Mandela’s South Africa.”