The Foundation for Human Rights (Foundation) represented by Ronnie Sikwapela (intern), Tebogo Molapisi (intern), Challote Nyakabau (Intern), Muzi Shoba (Intern), Nombuso Makhathu (Intern), Busi Muwane (Human Resources Manager) and Butjwana Seokoma (Communications and Media Officer), attended the 20-year anniversary celebration hosted by the Itsoseng Women’s Project (Itsoseng) in Orange Farm, a township located approximately 45 kilometres from Johannesburg.
The event brought together delegates from the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector, donors, academics, religious leaders and activists, among others.
Labour Relations Service’s (LRS) Nosipho Thwala, who recalled the early days of Itsoseng, likened the project to a child who was born 20 years ago and went through a period of growth to become a young adult with “a good story to tell”. Thwala, who worked for the Anti-Privatisation Forum when Itsoseng was established, says that the project’s achievements are the main reason for the celebration.
Itsoseng Project Coordinator, Gladys Mokolo, recalls how the project started from ‘zero’ by people who had no resources but knowledge and vision. Itsoseng was started by a group of unemployed women in Orange Farm and they were mainly focusing on voluntary work. The organisation developed since its formation and currently focuses on projects dealing with food security, early childhood development centre, recycling, arts and culture, and legal advice.
In the early years Itsoseng operated from the local Reamogetswe Primary School where it created a vegetable garden because initially, the project did not have land to operate from. After failing to secure land even when they have approached the City of Joburg, the founding members were left with no option but to occupy a piece of land adjacent to the school, which was used as a dumping site. To date, Itsoseng is still operating from the same land it occupied.
Itsoseng started from humble beginnings and unlike other like-minded initiatives, it is still deeply-rooted in the community. As Mokolo explains, Itsoseng is a women-led and has grown to create employment opportunities for men and women. She says, “Men are welcome to work at Itsoseng provided they are willing to be led by women.”
Most non-governmental organisations close down due to lack of donor funding, succession plan, and other sustainability-related factors, among others. In a bid to remain sustainable, Itsoseng has income generating programmes that contribute towards enabling the beneficiaries to generate income to sustain their livelihoods.
The following are some of their activities:
Early Childhood Development Centre
Itsoseng also established an Early Childhood Development (ECD) to save children of parents it employs from various forms of violence. To date, the ECD caters also for other children in the community. The increasing incidents of violence, including abuse in Orange Farm, in the hands of relatives especially when their mothers are at work compelled the founders to also accept other children in the community. Currently, the ECD has a total of 98 children, including children of migrants which contributed to social cohesion in Orange Farm. Children aged between 0-2 years contribute R220 monthly and R200 for children over two years. These contributions go towards the sustainability of the ECD. However, children from poor families are exempted from making any financial contribution to the sustainability of the day care.
Itsoseng’s ECD initiative offers more benefits than ordinary ECDs. Anna Mahlake, one of the teachers, joined Itsoseng as a teacher in 2014. After having worked with other ECDs in the past, Mahlake is focused on empowering the children through education. She admits that using information and communication technology tools including tablets contributes towards producing better learners for the future. The children also learn life skills.
Karabo Mula is one of the beneficiaries of the ECD programme. Mula is currently studying at the University of Johannesburg. She is thankful to Itsoseng for giving her such a solid foundation. Mula further credited the ECD for her progress in education.
Itsoseng prides itself for implementing one of the most successful vegetable projects in Orange Farm. With the use of vegetable tunnels, the project, led by Johannes Senyane, a 75-year old, and his team of five people, produce cabbage, onions and beetroots and other vegetables which play a critical role in the nutrition of children who participate in the ECD programme. In addition to feeding the children who are part of the ECD, the surplus vegetables are sold to informal traders who also for their profit. Senyane and his team are focused on ensuring that the gardens produce organic vegetables. It is for this reason that they only utilise cattle manure when planting the vegetables. The Vegetable Project is critical in that it contribute to enables Itsoseng to produce sufficient food in line Section 27(b) of the Constitution of South Africa.
The recycling project provides an opportunity for the unemployed to collect waste material for recycling. While focus is on ensuring that waste collectors play their part in collecting waste material to generate the much-needed income to sustain Itsoseng and also their own livelihoods, truth is that their contribution goes a long way in enabling the beneficiaries to realise their constitutional right to have a clean environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing (Section 24(a)).
The partnership between Itsoseng and Pikitup Johannesburg Ltd (Pikitup), the official integrated waste management service provider to the City of Joburg, has taken the recycling project to another level. Pikitup provides Itsoseng with trucks to transport the waste materials to various companies for recycling. Some of the waste material are processed using the two machines that were donated by the DG Murray Trust. For example, the machines are used to convert plastic into useful items such as plastic plates, cups, etc.
The Recycling Project currently employs 13 people. Zanele Mqocwa is one of the beneficiaries who work on the Recycling Project as a supervisor. Mqocwa initially worked in the day care centre and later switched to recycling. She collects waste material and this enables her to feed her children as well as to finance their education. One of her children is currently studying towards chemical engineering at University of the Witwatersrand.
What other stakeholders say about Itsoseng?
- For Paul Verryn, an ordained minister of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and also activist, Itsoseng is a place of hope not only for the community of Orange Farm but the entire country. Verryn is concerned about the growing distance between the rich and the poor, something that is still a challenge in South Africa 23 years after the fall of Apartheid.
- LRS’s Nina Benjamin, was introduced to Itsoseng for the first time in 1998 when she moved to Johannesburg and was inspired by the work it was doing. She acknowledges while the organisation has touched many lives through its activities, the determination of the entire team is the driving force behind Itsoseng.
In addition to some of the above projects, Itsoseng also works with migrant workers and on issues relating to xenophobia in Orange Farm. Itsoseng comes a long way. The organisation, as Bricks explains, acknowledges the important role that the taxi industry played in transporting staff at no cost when focus was still on putting systems in place with no funding.
Itsoseng adopted Dr Neville Alexander as its patron. It is for this reason that a head stone was unveiled with Dr Alexander’s words “you shall be judged b your deeds and not by your words”. Next to the head stone is a donated tree named after him. This is a space where parents and children can talk about education. It is a space that aims to promote talk and to educate parents and the community about the life of Navel Alexander and his contribution to education.
For more about the Itsoseng Women’s Project, refer to www.orangefarmadvicecentre.org.za.