Imizamo Yethu is one of the most densely populated townships in Cape Town. It’s a stark contrast to the wealth and comfort of the Hout Bay suburbs that surround it. When Thulani Madondo arrives, he navigates the space with ease and greets the residents with a familiarity that can only come from calling a similar place home.
He was raised in Kliptown, Soweto, an area steeped in history. It was there that the Freedom Charter was adopted in 1955. Like Imizamo Yethu, it is neglected, lacking basic sanitation and electricity. Thulani grew up sharing a one-bedroom shack with his mother and seven siblings.
It’s difficult to imagine him as anything other than the poised, bright young man open to tackling anything thrown at him – including gumboot dancing on the roof of a shack on a rainy morning – but he evokes with clarity the powerlessness he sometimes felt growing up. “It was challenging,” he admits. “But I understood that education was the one thing that was going to break the poverty cycle in my family.”
As the executive director of the Kliptown Youth Programme (KYP), he is helping others like him realise the same. A youth upliftment initiative he co-founded in 2007, KYP runs an after-school programme providing tutoring and academic support, offers school-fee assistance to committed students, serves free, hot meals, and facilitates extracurricular activities.
The social ills that accompany township life affect the future of its youth. Teenage pregnancy, alarming school dropout rates, and crime are just a few of the problems that often hinder their progress. A beneficiary of community outreach programmes himself, Thulani knew that he wanted to confront this, and under his leadership, KYP has successfully placed 23 students in tertiary education programmes. “People need to be reminded that they are still powerful,” he explains. “They can still achieve whatever they want to achieve.”
Driving him is a desire to see Africans uplifting themselves. He laments the common rhetoric of Americans and Europeans looking to save Africa, insisting that it is a job for nobody but us.
As Thulani takes his seat in front of the camera, smoothing the creases of his navy suit, he exudes confidence and self-respect. “I never got a chance to go to university or college,” he says. “And if I am able to provide that opportunity for others, it makes me feel better.” But the little boy from Kliptown who dreamed of becoming an accountant has done more than console himself. He has become an acclaimed and admired leader of his community, providing one of the most crucial human dignities – access – to those who would otherwise have none.