Diepsloot, a new church project
William & Veronica Kyle – South Africa
What a wonderful and exciting time to be in the “New South Africa.” As an African American born in the early fifties, I have always been fascinated with the development and struggles of the civil rights movement. Because of the many documentaries that have been produced over the years I have gained an understanding of the hard times of African Americans and the role that the church played in the political, economic and social uplift of African Americans.
The new South Africa reminds me of the plight of the African American after the civil rights movement, after Fred Hampton, of the Black Panther Party was murdered and after the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior. What or whom did the African American turn to after he/she got their right to vote? The African American turned to the church. What or who will South Africans turn to, now that she has been free for over a decade? South Africa, she too will turn to the church.
For the past three to four months, I have been assigned to the St. Mungo’s United Church’s Diepsloot Church Project. The Diepsloot project is a new church start that has been forging onward for the past nine years. The challenges of bringing the good news of Christ to this community are numerous. In 2001, a baseline survey claimed that the Diepsloot population was at 55,000 persons. In 2003, Council officials estimated occupancy to be 120,000. However, most people spoken to feel that 150,000 plus is a more realistic figure.
“Diepsloot started to grow in the early nineties as people sought work in the urban areas of Pretoria and Johannesburg. Diepsloot soon became a relocation area receiving the overspill from areas such as Alexandra and Zevenfontein. The scarcity of land set aside for a low-cost township to the north of Johannesburg has resulted in Diepsloot becoming severely overcrowded and the lack of formal housing is now critical.
Over recent years, Diepsloot has been in the news with taxi wars, HIV/AIDS figures more than twice the national average and escalating crime levels, particularly domestic violence resulting in the abuse of women and children, reported.”
Quick general demographics
– 120,000 – 150,000. Informal shack areas outnumber the formal housing area 4 to 1.
– The gender split is estimated at 47% female and 53% male.
– Diepsloot is a young community. A third of the population is between 20-29 years of age. Over 75% of the population is under the age of 40.
– Unemployment; well over 55% (1% retired, 10% classified as students, 1% considered professionals
– Nearly 70% unskilled workers
– Nearly 80% have high school and higher education; thus frustration of unemployment is heavy
– Only 9% of the population is employed in Diepsloot
– 50%-70% is very poor, with less than R1500 ($230) as a total household monthly income
– 10-15% survives on R500 ($77) or less per month.
– Less than 1% earn above R3500 ($538) per month
– 75% of all dwellings are informal shacks
– 25% is formal housing
.30 to 35 square meters in size (one room and a small bathroom)
. No bath or shower
.The roof is non-insulated metal (very cold in winter/very hot in summer)
– Shacks have informal services; occasional water taps and no sewerage are the norm
– Theft is common; house break-ins are on the increase; domestic violence is escalating (women are reluctant to speak out)
Note: “There is virtually no food cultivation in the shack areas since there is no space to do so. Only in the areas where there are pegged and fenced stands (plots) is it possible to cultivate gardens.”
– 29% Sepedi; 21% IsiZulu; 17% Setswana; 9% IsiXhosa; 7% Tshivenda; 7% Xitsonga; 5% Sesotho; 3% IsiNdebele; 1% Siswati; 1% other.
Knowledge of English is widespread and varies from elementary to fully fluent.
Diepsloot is one of the most diverse Townships that you can find in South Africa. There are more than seven different cultures represented and a high number of those residing in Diepsloot are there illegally. All of the negative statistics that one might hear of in regards to South Africa are present, alive and not well in Diepsloot; spousal and child abuse; majority female head of households, orphaned and abandoned children, HIV/AIDS infected and affected, famine, etc.
On my second visit to Diepsloot, I witnessed a riot. A rumor had gotten started about the relocation of a great number of the Diepsloot population to an entirely different province (region), a great distance from Diepsloot, and the people’s normality. Hundreds protested, while a few of the people were throwing bricks and glass as they protested the idea of relocation; a promised band-aid has calmed the matter for now. Diepsloot, the community, needs the liberation that comes from personal and communal relationships with our Lord Jesus.
Early in Jesus’ ministry, while preaching in Galilee, a leper found the nerve to get as close as Jesus’ feet. He begged Jesus in deep sincerity, “If you are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing be cleansed.”
(Mark 1:41). Jesus just happened to be where the leper could approach him. I am blessed; therefore, you too are blessed to be where the people of Diepsloot could approach us. I pray that we will never see a community of people as isolated and voiceless as a colony of lepers. I pray that we will never sit idol once we are made aware of a community of people as isolated and voiceless as those in the township of Diepsloot. “Jesus moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him…” We need to stretch out our hands with all of the support that we can muster, as individuals and within our churches that we might “stretch out his (Our) hand and touched, him (them).” (Italics mine)
All of the above statistics are mentioned in order to give you a clear picture of the challenge that God has placed in our hands. Yes, the people of Diepsloot and I deeply need your prayers and support. When speaking to people concerned about Diepsloot and its future one fully realizes that God’s hand is needed in order to help move these beautiful people to a place of stability. Please look forward to hearing from me about how you might be able to play a role in the uplift and development of this South African Township.
Until Next Time – God Bless You All,
William and Veronica Kyle serve with the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Veronica serves as a coordinator for education, social, women and youth programs. She will also serve as a consultant to the Bridgman Center. William serves as administrative assistant to the general secretary.