Defying The Odds

Janet and Jim – Robberg Trail – South Africa

Once again, the time is approaching when we take a break from South Africa and return home to Canada. Thank you to everyone who provide words of encouragement, monetary support, and laptop computer donations. It takes a team, and we appreciate that so many people have remained faithful.

We experience mixed emotions in the lead-up to our departure, but recognize that the time we spend with friends and family in Canada is critical to remaining passionate about our initiatives in South Africa. Our resolve has not diminished, and we don’t want that to change.

White Location (Knysna township)

To acknowledge the obvious…rising above poverty is tough. To say it is difficult is an understatement. Escaping generational poverty, particularly in a country steeped in a history of oppression and racism, remains elusive for all but a few. The majority of South Africans live in poverty and, if you are black or Coloured, your likelihood of being poor is considerably greater.

When we speak of poverty, we don’t simply mean the refrigerator is old. We mean the refrigerator is sometimes empty. And by empty, we mean empty. A few years ago a rather bright teenage boy, Kudzai, opened his empty refrigerator and jokingly said “this is where we store the lightbulb.

Because of your individual donations and support from the Khayamandi Foundation and Moondance Foundation, this promising young man now attends university. And he is one to watch.

Spaza shop (corner store), White Location

World Bank Study on South Africa – Geoffrey York, April 5, 2018:

“Nearly a quarter of a century after apartheid ended, South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world by any measure, and race is still one of the biggest determinants of income and wealth, a new World Bank study has found.

Inequalities are being passed down from generation to generation, “implying little change in inequality over time and perhaps even a worsening of the situation,” the World Bank reported. “Current levels of inequality are likely to persist in the future.”

Poverty and inequality have both increased in South Africa in recent years, the report said. Poverty rates still follow the old geographic and spatial patterns that were created during the era of white-minority rule, a result of the “enduring legacy of apartheid,” the study found.

At the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa was measured as the most unequal country in the world, although some Latin American countries such as Brazil were at nearly the same level. Since then, the Latin American countries have become less unequal, but South Africa’s level of inequality has barely changed.”

White Location (Knysna township)

Only 8% of grade 8 students attending under-resourced, township high schools in South Africa will attend university. Needless to say, fewer than 8% will complete their university studies.

Only 50% of grade 8 students will make it to grade 12. Only 40% will graduate (matriculate) from high school. In many respects, the 40% misrepresents the gravity of the situation. Reason being that a student can matriculate in South Africa despite their highest mark being only 40 percent. Furthermore, of the 7 subjects taken in grade 12, two only require a minimum mark of 30%.

Knysna – view from the townships

So…how does one defy the odds and escape poverty in South Africa? Based on our observations, by completing a university degree, 3 year vocational program, or equivalent. In other words, through significant formal education. Seems obvious, and relatively straightforward.

Straightforward until we factor in the stress of growing up in chronic poverty, and its documented negative impact on cognitive development. Factor in the days with little to no food, or substandard nutrition, dysfunctional or violent home environments, overcrowded classrooms with up to 50-60 students, and the challenge of living in communities impacted by crime, drugs, and gangs.

For most, the barriers verge on insurmountable. But some do make it, and that’s what is important. We have profiled many such youth in previous blogs, including Thomas, Ben, Aphiwe, Ntokozo, Kudzai, Wanga, Paul, Siyathemba, Daniel, Onke, Ace, Zamela, Junior, Masonde, Axo, Sibabalwe, and more.

Janet and Mandla

One young man who has defied the odds in many ways is Siphamandla (aka Mandla). We met Mandla in grade 10, soon after he turned 18 years of age. Along with each of his siblings, Child Welfare removed Mandla from his alcoholic parents and placed him in the care of an orphanage at 6 years of age. Mandla remained at the orphanage until the age of 18 when he was required to leave.

The home environment Mandla returned to at 18 was as crazy and impoverished as ever. Little had changed. Within months of meeting Mandla, our friends Penny and Ella came to his rescue while we were in Canada. Ella grew up in a similarly dysfunctional home and knew Mandla would never be able to complete high school if he remained with his parents.

Ella and Penny invited Mandla, and his friend Masi, to move into their Safehouse. The boys jumped at the opportunity. Three years later, despite considerable expense (funded by Ella, Penny, Canadian couple Laura & Steve, and other donations), Mandla completed high school. It wasn’t a perfectly smooth journey! Lol. However, to the surprise of some, Mandla defied the odds and graduated high school.

L to R: Masi and Mandla – working with Khayamandi Foundation

Mandla always wanted to be a social worker. It’s a common job aspiration among township youth; they want to help their communities. That being said, few qualify academically for admission into such a degree program.

Mandla was no exception. Despite graduating high school, his marks were poor. He qualified for a 1 year social work auxiliary program, however such programs are only available at private colleges. Private college means no government funding available. The R50,000 ($5,000 CDN) amount Mandla required would exceed the annual household income of most township residents. Cost prohibitive.

Yet Mandla was determined. He had already applied to a private college and been accepted. The deadline to pay a required deposit was quickly approaching. Somehow, Mandla sourced the deposit from a municipality education fund.

Now Mandla needed the big money. It so happened that the Khayamandi Foundation had a mission team in Knysna at the time, and Mandla was working with them for a few days. Long story short, after many discussions and undying determination by Mandla, the Khayamandi Foundation agreed to sponsor Mandla.

Center: Siphamandla (Mandla)

Mandla is now a certified Social Work Auxiliary, employed full time with a youth-development NGO that played a crucial role in his life during the years he resided at the orphanage.

Two weeks ago he was offered a position with Child Welfare, a child protection organization in Knysna. After much consideration, Mandla chose to remain with his current employer. Mandla loves what he does, is implementing new school-based programs, and believes he is making a difference in the community.

Mandla’s parents and his disabled sister have also benefited from Mandla’s education and employment. Multiple lives have been positively impacted.

Mandla defied the odds, but it required the emotional and financial support of many. Thank you to everyone who participated.

South Africa

If you have visited Africa, or call Africa home, possibly these words from author Dana Atkinson will resonate: 

“I dragged myself onto the plane. As it took off, I stared down at Africa, watching her get farther and farther away from me. I told myself…that I had to take what I learned from the land, the animals, and the people and be a better person because of it. I had to make my life have meaning.” – Domestic Departures: A Midlife Crisis Safari, by Dana Atkinson

Janet, Jim, & Clarke

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Don’t Abandon Me

Grade 8 and 11 boys (L to R): Athi, Siyambonga, Jim, Simamkele

While it may be instinctive to react negatively when a boy misbehaves, and feel inclined to abandon him, negative conduct can serve a mentor well. Instead of focusing on the inappropriate behaviour, focus on the reason behind the behaviour.

What is happening in the youth’s life which is motivating the destructive acts, making them seem pro-survival?

“Discouraged children show their conflict and despair in obvious ways, or they disguise their real feelings with acts of pseudo-courage.”   ” …such as attention-seeking or running with gangs.” – Reclaiming Youth At Risk : Our Hope for the Future (Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg)

Bryan – age 17 – home for his family is a steel shipping container with no electricity or running water. Jim helped Bryan return to grade 9 in January 2018 after dropping out 1 year ago to due circumstances at home.

Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, by Eric Jensen:

“Children who have had greater exposure to abuse, neglect, danger, loss, or other poverty-related experiences are more reactive to stressors. Each stressor builds on and exacerbates other stressors and slowly changes the student.” “Behavior that comes off as apathetic or rude may actually indicate feelings of hopelessness or despair.”

L to R: Jason (14-grade 6), Jay Jay (15 – grade 7), Chaylon (14 – grade 8), Rayno (14 -grade 8). Only 40% of grade 8 students in township schools complete high school.

The Price of Inequality – Joseph Stiglitz: “…the poor know that their prospects of emerging poverty, let alone making it to the top, are minuscule.”

“NIDS- national income study: “…if your parents are among the poorest earners, the chances that you will be income-poor is about 95%.” (Murray Leibbrandt, Director)

Leedunn – Age 17, dropped out of grade 9 in 2016 due to circumstances at home. Jim helped Leedunn return to grade 9 in January 2018.

Professor Ben Turok (The Confronting Inequality Conference): “We also know from historical experience that extreme inequality of the kind of levels we see in South Africa is not good for development and growth…”

Oxfam: “Left unchecked, growing inequality threatens to pull our societies apart. It increases crime and insecurity, and undermines the fight to end poverty.”

L to R: Wanga and Siyathemba

Wanga and Siyathemba represent the future of Africa. We met Siyathemba when he was in grade 8 and joined one of our mentorship groups, and Wanga when he was in grade 12.

You won’t meet better people than these 2 young men; hard working, reliable, and honest. Siyathemba just commenced his 2nd year of a B. Comm degree, and Wanga is completing the final year of a computer science degree.Your individual donations, and support from the Moondance Foundation, are helping Wanga and Siyathemba continue their studies.

Janet’s connections at Cell C (internet provider) helped both guys secure employment during the December-January university break.

Janet and Ace (Andile)

After commencing university in 2016, Ace’s mother passed away and he needed to return home to care for his younger brother, Asanda. Asanda is in grade 10 now and doing well again, allowing Ace to resume his studies. Thanks to generous sponsorship from the Khayamandi Foundation, Ace recently enrolled in a 1 year program in Cape Town to upgrade his high school marks and qualify for admission to an education degree. Ace aspires to be a high school teacher.

Some of the boys we mentor who didn’t complete high school, working with the Khayamandi Foundation for 1 week in January: (L to R) Akhona, Ruwaan, Ruwaan, Reagro, Franklin.

Statistics South Africa 2012 – only 38% of South African fathers live with their children.

Fatherless children are at greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, poor academic performance, school drop out, teen pregnancy, and criminality.

Working with the Khayamandi Foundation team (January 22 to 26, 2018).

Don Pinnock – South African criminologist and author: 

“One of the biggest indicators for male delinquency is absent fathers.” “…in the absence of role models, how do young men assert their masculinity?”

“They carry feelings of shame and anger which they generally hide with bravado and, often, violence.” “They are drawn to others like themselves…”. “These kids often turn to violence and aggression…because these are a reliable method for reasserting their existence.” “I hurt others therefore I am”.

Olwethu – age 19, completed grade 8. Currently enrolled in a 9 session carpentry skills program.

Growing up in the Care of strangers – Waln K Brown, John R Seita:
“That is why I started running with a gang. The streets let us escape from problems at school and at home. Home was just a place to eat, sleep, and catch heck.”

Siyabonga (age 14) – returning to school tomorrow, thanks to the determination of friends Tracy, Kurt, Ross, and Lauren.

Epigenetics (by Don Pinnock) – It’s new science that is raising profound issues.

“What was not formerly realised is that, in the assembly of a foetus, the cell membrane mediates information between the DNA’s templates and the environment within which the pregnant mother exists. New life is built on a combination of ancient genetic wisdom and epigenetic responses to what’s happening moment by moment. Nature is nurture.”

Concordia township (Knysna) – 2018

“This means that a mother’s stress, poor nourishment or use of harmful chemicals can alter the way a baby’s brain forms, sending signals to it to adapt to a hazardous environment. It means more dopamine and aggression, less control by the prefrontal cortex, more physical, less reflection. In teenage years this translates into more aggression, higher drug use, lower inhibitions.” – Don Pinnock

Cooling off in Knysna township with a water-filled pylon cone!

“The assumption that youth-at-risk are incapable of learning and/or do not care about anything is a fallacy. They long for adults…willing to make the effort to understand them…” – Janis Kay Dobizl

Thank you for your ongoing support.  Janet & Jim 

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Mentorship

Junior (Panashe) – completing his final year of F.E.T. College.

While the benefits of mentorship may seem obvious, few youth mentorship programs have been subjected to controlled studies regarding their effectiveness. Surprisingly, some seemingly well-designed programs have even demonstrated negative outcomes. Mentorship is a somewhat nebulous term and, while the purpose of mentorship is clear, evidence-based guidelines on how to mentor effectively are less available.

“If it feels at times like you are at the end of your rope in reaching out to them, remember you are the rope – the very lifeline they desperately need and deserve to experience success in their lives (Breaux, 2003).”                                                                    Educating Latino Boys. An Asset-Based Approach – David Campos.

Siyathemba – completing 1st year business degree at University of Western Cape (UWC)

One youth mentorship program for which scientific evidence does exist is B.A.M. (Becoming a Man).

B.A.M. is a mentorship program for at-risk high school boys in some of Chicago’s most dangerous inner-city neighbourhoods. We learned about B.A.M. almost 3 years ago.

Structured like a randomized clinical trial, a University of Chicago Crime Lab study found a 44% reduction in violent crime arrests among B.A.M participants, as well as a significant improvement in school attendance.

L to R: Urhll, Haylen, Max

B.A.M. founder Anthony Ramirez-Di Vittorio: 

“…the most important thing is you have to start with the men who lead the program. We’re looking for men who have a hybrid set of skills that is hard to find. Because we know it’s not the message.”

“The kids have heard ‘Stay in school and stay away from drugs 1,001 times.’ It’s the messenger. The clouds part and the sunshine comes through when the right messenger is there.”

“…at BAM, we’re not talking at the youth.”

Kudzai – completing 2nd year at University of Namibia with financial support from the Khayamandi Foundation, Cooper family, and Iizidima.

“I want to be remembered for making a difference that rippled through generations. The real question and my secret is what difference that will be.” – Kudzai

Ben – completing final year of Computer Science degree at UWC – sponsored by the Khayamandi Foundation.

Reclaiming Youth At Risk: Our Hope for the Future – Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg

“Positive, trusting relationships are the bulwark of success in work with challenging children and youth. This is not a “touchy-feely” truism but is based on a half-century of hard data from research…”

“The most difficult youth are those who create trouble rather than friendships. Successful youth workers have long recognized the…potential of turning crisis into opportunity.”

“Obedience can be demanded from a weaker individual, but one can never compel respect. In most children’s programs, it doesn’t take long to see that adults expect to be treated with more respect than they demonstrate.”

Daniel – completing 2nd year Business degree at University of Zimbabwe with support from family & Iizidima.

“Horace Mann, the leading American educator in the nineteenth century, told teachers they needed to respond to the most difficult pupils like physicians who find challenge in solving difficult cases.”

Paul (left) completes Bachelor of Business Administration degree from TSiBA University in December 2017 with support from a Canadian couple and Iizidima.

Paul Tough, author of Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why

“…best thing is to have disadvantaged kids spend as much time as possible in ‘environments’ where they feel relatedness, competence, and autonomy.”

“The problem is that when disadvantaged children run into trouble in school, either academically or behaviorally, most schools respond by imposing more control on them, not less.”

“Autonomy is not what one is inclined to use to manage the truly unruly kid in the class.”

Wanga – completing 2nd year computer science degree at University of Western Cape, Cape Town with support from family & Iizidima.

“The more they fall behind, the worse they feel about themselves and about school. That…tends to feed into behavioral problems, which lead to stigmatization and punishment…” – Paul Tough

“Fast-forward a few years, to the moment when those students arrive in middle or high school, and these executive-function challenges are now typically perceived to be problems of attitude or motivation.” – Paul Tough

Onke – completing 1st year Business degree at University of Cape Town.

Paul Tough:

“One of the chief insights that recent neurobiological research has provided, however, is that young people, especially those who have experienced significant adversity, are often guided by emotional and psychological and hormonal forces that are far from rational.”

“This doesn’t mean that teachers should excuse or ignore bad behavior. But it does explain why harsh punishments so often prove ineffective in motivating troubled young people to succeed.”

Talking back and acting up in class are, at least in part, symptoms of a child’s inability to control impulses, de-escalate confrontations, and manage anger…”

Thomas – graduated 2016 with B. Tech degree from Nelson Mandela University and currently completing a 1 year internship. A Canadian couple were very supportive of Thomas while he completed his education and sought employment.

Thank you for enabling us to mentor and provide academic support to many deserving youth. The young men whose photos appear in this blog post are all doing well and serve as positive male role models. We have known each of them for a number of years, in some instances since they were in grade 8, and we continue to be proud of their accomplishments.

Janet & Jim

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Disadvantage

Joodse Kamp – Knysna

How does the world appear through the eyes of boys growing up in poverty?

Is there a causal link between the chronic stress of poverty and an overdeveloped fight or flight response?

Do disadvantaged youth demonstrate a lack of resilience or motivation?

Why do children living in poverty often struggle academically?

These are some of the issues we encounter in South Africa.

Khayalethu – Knysna

Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed and How Kids Learn Resilience, documents the effects of toxic stress on children living in poverty.

“On a cognitive level, chronically elevated stress can disrupt the development of what are known as executive functions: higher-order mental abilities…”

“When parents behave harshly or unpredictably—especially at moments when their children are upset—the children are less likely over time to develop the ability to manage strong emotions and respond effectively to stressful situations.” 

Concordia – Knysna

While the body’s fight or flight response to danger serves the purpose of shortening reaction time, environments which chronically stimulate flight or fight are not healthy.

“…toxic stress can make it difficult for children to moderate their responses to disappointments and provocations. A highly sensitive stress-response system constantly on the lookout for threats can produce patterns of behavior that are self-defeating in school: fighting, talking back, acting up,…” – Paul Tough

Jack Shonkoff – Director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child

“If you haven’t in your early years been growing up in an environment of responsive relationships that has buffered you from excessive stress activation, then if, in tenth-grade math class, you’re not showing grit and motivation, it may not be a matter of you just not sucking it up enough. …you may not have developed those capacities because of what happened to you early in life.” – Jack Shonkoff

Khayalethu – Knysna

Gender Gap: A Disadvantaged Start Hurts Boys More Than Girls – Claire Cain Miller

As society becomes more unequal, it seems, it hurts boys more. New research from social scientists offers one explanation: Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage.”

“Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters.”

Marianne Bertrand (University of Chicago) with Jessica Pan “…also found that boys fare worse than girls in disadvantaged homes.”

Rheenendal settlement – near Knysna

Reclaiming Youth At Risk : Our Hope for the Future – Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg

“…kids growing up in adversity often make choices that seem in flagrant opposition to their self-interest, rendering those goals more distant and difficult to attain.”

“Frustrated in their attempts to achieve, children may seek to prove their competence in distorted ways, such as skill in delinquent activity.”

“But for others, the fear of failure is stronger than the motivation to achieve. Youth who have learned to expect failure seek to escape further shame and embarrassment by working very hard at avoiding work.” 

Knysna Location

Protective Factors and the Development of Resilience in the Context of Neighborhood Disadvantage – Ella Vanderbilt-Adriance & Daniel S. Shaw.

“…resilience refers to the process through which positive outcomes are achieved in the context of adversity (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000a).”

“Protective factors are defined as characteristics of the child, family, and wider environment that reduce the negative effect of adversity on child outcome (Masten & Reed, 2002).”

“Several studies…have found that qualities of the parent–child relationship are not related to positive outcomes for children living in the worst neighborhoods (Gorman-Smith et al. 1999; Shaw et al. 2004).”

After-School Mentorship Group

“Across risk status, child IQ has consistently been found to predict a range of positive outcomes, including academic achievement, pro-social behavior, and peer social competence (Masten et al.1999), as well as the absence of antisocial behavior (White et al. 1989).”

Thank you for your continued support. Janet & Jim 

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Drought, Wind, Fire

Lush Knysna – before fires of June 7th

Knysna is a town of 73,000 situated on the southern tip of the African continent, 489 kilometres east of Cape Town. It is surrounded by hills overlooking the lagoon which opens to the Indian Ocean. Knysna is one of the most scenic places on earth, and where we devote much of each year. Approximately 21% of residents live in the town center, with the remaining 79% residing in suburbs established as Black townships and Coloured-areas during apartheid.

Destroyed township homes

On June 7th 2017, bush fires in the vicinity of Knysna exploded out of control. Fuelled by winds of 90-100 km per hour, with gusts to 110km, and following 12 months of drought, fires raged out of control for days. Ten thousand residents were evacuated, as was the public hospital.

Estimates vary, but reports suggest the loss of at least 458 formal homes, 30 guesthouses/ B & B’s, and 150 formal and informal dwellings in the townships. This does not include the hundreds of homes damaged, but not destroyed. Over 1,000 firefighters from across the country battled the flames and Knysna was declared a disaster area. At least 38% of destroyed and damaged homes/businesses were uninsured. Over 2,500 jobs were lost. Seven lives, including 2 firefighters, were lost.

Knysna – July 2017

Knysna Fires : Five factors that produced the Perfect Inferno
Mark Dixon – Garden Route Trail – June 23 2017

Referenced in literature and rarely seen, a thermal wave is a sine wave flow of super-heated air associated with a fire. 

Heat from the fire rises, while the wind blows it horizontally before it touches down and ignites a new fire and then again bounces off downwind. The wave length of this thermal wave can vary between 300m and 1000m allowing it to jump over valleys and rivers and resulting in the seemingly random effect of single houses exploding into flames while those around them are left unscathed.

The superheated air rises from the flames and moves laterally driven by the wind.  …the high temperature heats everything before it, be it trees or a structure, which then erupts into flame spontaneously before any flame reaches the area. When this wave descends on a structure…, it forces the roof down with immense pressure while the extreme heat melts glass and disintegrates bricks.

Eyewitness accounts of this leading edge of the thermal wave describe it as a rolling ‘tumbleweed’ flying through the air at between 100km/h and 110km/h. The area beneath the peak of the thermal wave has been described by Knysna Fire Chief Clinton Manual as … a smokeless zone of earie silence and no wind.

Knysna June 2017

The following video depicts the aftermath of the fires, interviews homeowners, and speaks to the rebuilding process which lies ahead.

Video: Ná die vlamme (Get The Flames):   Click Here to Watch

               

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Thank you for your continued support – Janet & Jim 

 

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from South Africa! December 25th is forecast to be sunny with a high of 23C here in Knysna.

DSCN8847

Knysna township

December is the month when many Xhosa boys return to the rural areas to be initiated into manhood. The boys are now starting to return to their homes in Knysna and for a period of 3-6 months are required to wear a jacket, buttoned shirt, hat, whenever they are in public.

Version 2

Simbulele (19 years old)

Simbulele is 19 years old and returned to his family’s village to commence the initiation tradition on November 27th. He completed his initiation on December 19th and is required to dress “like a man” for the next 3-6 months, including after he returns to school in a couple weeks to start grade 12.

DSCN8851

Knysna township

Thank you for following our blog and supporting our initiatives with disadvantaged youth in 2015. We have some new initiatives which commence when the schools re-open January 13th and look forward to telling you about these projects and a number of other developments in our next blog post.

In the meantime, we trust you are enjoying the holiday season with family and friends. All the best in 2016!

Janet & Jim

Road to freedom

Among the South African youth we know, few complain to us about their social or economic situations. When they do, their comments tend to be consistent with the following examples.

22 year-old college student spending the night at our home 2 years ago: “you see my people laughing, and dancing, but on the inside we are hurting. What we want are jobs”.

Plett Siba's photos_2012 02 25_0937_edited-1

youth in Kwanokuthula township (20 minutes from Knysna)

A few days ago, a 15 year-old we have known for 3 years conveyed the following to Jim on whatsapp:

“I wonder why people are so cruel…They say we (blacks) have been given freedom, that we are now free from the suffering, from the apartheid, but we are not, and we were never free, our people are still being treated like trash, the ones in power are still taking advantage of them, and the weak are powerless to fight back, as they are in need….I wish I had all the power to fight for our people and give them the freedom they were promised.

And the name “kaffer” (sic) that was used to discriminate blacks during the apartheid era is still being used….because I think the cruel, the powerful make the things they make because of they feel like they have everything they need and they don’t need other people, or because of they have never felt the pain us blacks felt back then and the pain we feel now.”

Plett Siba's photos_2012 02 25_0915

teen boy in Kwanokuthula township

The current population of South Africa is: Black 80%, White 8.5%, Coloured 8.5%, Indian or Asian 2.5%, Other 0.5

Cape Town Food Safari…watch this 2 minute video and try to convince us you can’t wait to experience beautiful South Africa!

Cape Town Food Safari video