Khanya College Visits Habitat61 in Thokoza


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Many communities do not have libraries, no community centres, or spaces for youth. So it was very refreshing for Khanya College to meet a group of youth who have taken the initiative to build a cultural youth centre in their community.

In 2019, this group came together and established Habitat61 to address some of the issues they saw in their community around them. Habitat61 is a non-profit organisation based in Thokoza, on the East Rand of Gauteng. In the absence of spaces in the community to use as a centre, they identified a space that was being used as a dumping site. They decided to approach their local councillor who gave them written permission to use the open space for the centre. The youth of Habitat61 then cleaned the dumping site and turned it into a beautiful space where they now offer activities and programme’s such as reading and writing, skills development, poetry, visual arts, story-telling, skills for livelihoods and literature festivals for children, school youth and out-of-school youth.

Some of the programmes run by the organisation include: The NALU DABA literature festival; The Bedroom To Boardroom Creative Business Incubator Programme; and the COSI-COSI: Reading and Writing Club.

Habitat61 has recently started a partnership with Khanya College on a range of activities and programmes for children and youth. As part of building this partnership, on 17 May 2022, Khanya College staff went on a site visit to Habitat61 to view the site but also to understand some of the challenges and struggles the organisation is currently facing.

A big struggle for Habitat61 is that they was served with an eviction notice on 13 May 2022 by the City of Ekurhuleni municipality. Despite the good work that Habitat61 is doing for the city and for the community, there have been fights amongst the community members for the space now that it no longer a dumping site. On several occasions, some community members have approached the organisation and demanded to put their containers there to sell things for the profit of businesses, despite the agreement for the space to be used for non-profit programmes that benefit the community as a whole. The organisation has requested assistance from the police on several occasions but instead of mediating the police came to the conclusion that everyone, including Habitat61, must vacate the space as it belongs to the city.

In response to this, Habitat61 called a community meeting on Monday, 16 May, where they discussed the issue of the eviction and the divisions in the community between those who want to use the space for small businesses and those who want the space to be strictly for learning and NPOs. According to the Habitat61 members, it was clear the community was still divided as some clearly indicated in the meeting that ‘they do not care about NPOs, they want to use the space to give youth a chance to … make profits, as there is a high case of unemployment in the area’.

On the morning of 17 May 2022, some of the community members who are fighting to use the space for profit vandalised and burnt tyres, threatening to burn the centre down. It was also reported that some of the community members who are fighting Habitat61 want to use this land for their own benefits now that it has become popular with the youth of the community, which include selling fast food and allegedly even drugs.

To deal with the eviction, Habitat61 has circulated a petition requesting community members to help them secure the land as a youth centre. The local youth are also supporting the petition and have vouched to help protect their organisation and space.

While the majority of the community members support the organisation, there are still many issues that need to be ironed out between the organisation and community members, including the issue of patriarchy where female leadership are told they cannot speak and address the community. Woman’s views and opinions are often undermined during the community meetings.

Habitat61 staff were also threatened by a community member who came with dogs to their organisation to chase them away, but this did not stop them from doing the work that they do in the community.

During the visit, Khanya offered to assist Habitat61 with workshops around campaigns, dealing with anti-evictions, flyers to raise awareness and to walk this road with them as they continue to fight to secure the space for children and youth. Khanya College pledged to give Habitat 61 the knowledge and support that they need to fight and win the struggles they face and grow as an organisation.

Habitat61 is an important space that has kept youth and children off the streets. Some community members recognise this, including 48 Somali shops in the area that have assisted the team with donations for events because they see the importance of the work they do in the community.

This article was submitted on 23 May 2022. You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and Karibu! Online (www.Karibu.org.za), and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

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