The socio-economic challenges faced by many South Africans are a result of the ailing education system that is dismally failing to integrate training, human resource development and the dynamic market economy. Few areas feel these ills more than the poverty stricken area of Diepsloot, north of Johannesburg.

 Established in 1995, Diepsloot was originally an informal settlement started by previous residents of the squatter camps of Alexandra. Seventeen years later, the township is estimated to have a population of more than 250 000, where a staggering 60% of them are clouded by unemployment without any prospect of entering the job market because of a lack of skills and adequate education.

The socio-economic challenges faced by many South Africans are a result of the ailing education system that is dismally failing to integrate training, human resource development and the dynamic market economy.

The scourge of violent crime, children abuse and HIV/Aids serve to add to the social problems facing this community that is often characterised by unruly politics and activism. 

It’s these challenges that Mzolisi Mbikwana, from Global Community Initiative South Africa (GCISA) based in Diepsloot, looks to remedy. Mbikwana has been involved in various social development initiatives in the area including serving on the Diepsloot Ward Committee with a responsibility to develop small business and serving as a board member for several organisations. Passionate about education and social change, Mbikwana puts his efforts into working with corporate and social organisations to improve and upgrade infrastructure and human capital through education.

Projects

One of the projects Mbikwana is involved in is the Methodist Church’s’ Arkane project. Arkane is an After Care Centre based in the township that looks to meet the social, physical and education needs of underprivileged learners. School-children in the township are serviced by seven Primary Schools and only three High Schools. According to Mbikwana the number of learners entering High School is increasing every year and there’s a need to build more High Schools in the area as the current three are falling short. It’s a worrying trend in the country when every year learners are being turned away from schools because the institution doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate them. Schools are however not being built and financially many households in the township live below the breadline and as a result struggle to put together the necessary funds to take their children to schools in the surrounding suburbs.

The Arkane Centre looks to fill the gap and besides ensuring every child is given a healthy meal everyday they have also incorporated learning and kids have the option of attending maths and science classes taught by professional teachers. Currently the centre caters for more than 300 learners from the age of nine up to 16.

As part of his responsibilities at GCISA, Mbikwana works in partnership with Bikes Not Bombs, a Boston organization that has been providing bicycles and training to people in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ghana, and many other countries for 20 years. With an aim to effect social change using bicycles, the organisation collects approximately 6 000 used bicycles and tons of used parts from their supporters around Greater Boston and New England. These are then shipped to their international economic development programmes in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

These bicycles prove valuable as they are used by the kids in Diepsloot as much-needed transport to get to school. The bike parts are used to assist in giving other kids the necessary mechanic skills to either repair or assemble more bicycles for them to use.

He says their responsibility is to ship bicycles and training young people in general bicycle repair, vocational skills, and business management. The organisation is working with the community to establish a training facility that will be linked to economic development opportunities right in the township, to increase self-sufficiency and create more jobs.

Over and above these initiatives, Mbikwana is also a president of the Noweto Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI), a business body which has over the years sponsored 30 young people from Diepsloot to attend various business training courses at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Small Business Development. “We did this as our effort to give back to the community and at the same time address the issue of unemployment and skills shortages. Some of these young people were aspiring entrepreneurs and others were running their own small businesses but it was necessary for them to undertake courses such as marketing that would help them sustain their businesses,” says Mbikwana.

To date Diepsloot has a total of 26 000 businesses that are registered on the NCCI’s database including small and medium enterprises operating in the area.  While they still have to categorise all businesses accordingly, assess their performances and identify their specific shortcomings within the industry in which they operate as an effort to address their challenges, all these efforts are a step in the right direction to give the residents of Diepsloot some hope for the future. With people like Mbikwana leading the charge, lives can and will be changed for the better.