GIRLS DANCE THE TROUBLES AWAY
ON any weekday the sound of traditional isiXhosa singing can be heard coming from a backyard garage in Mandela Park near the Uxolo High School in Cape Town's Khayelitsha.
Almost 30 girls show up every day at Priscilla Baleni's house after school to cram into her garage and spend the afternoon singing, dancing, and discussing their rights.
The youngest is just six years old and the oldest girls are in Grade 12.
Baleni, a grandmother and social worker, formed the USinako Dance Group last year when she started working mornings only.
She noticed that in the afternoons many girls wandered about the streets looking for something to do and decided to come up with a way to protect them from crime.
The group, which receives no funding and which the girls join for free, provides space for them to talk about their rights, child abuse and life skills for an hour every day after the singing and dancing sessions. They also put on their own plays.
"They come every day, sometimes even on weekends. Even if I am busy with housework they turn up and start dancing," Baleni said.
"Their parents are very keen because they now know exactly where they are between 3pm and 5pm each day. It is our way of protecting them from crime," Baleni told Sowetan.
Belinda Mafu helps out with the project and says the group has become an aftercare centre for girls who would otherwise be home alone or getting into trouble.
"There are no activities at the Khayelitsha schools, so the kids are left on their own while their parents are at work. The group has become their aftercare centre," Mafu said.
By three o'clock in the afternoon the nearby school is deserted. There is no sign of any aftercare facility or extramural activities.
It is easy to understand why, during apartheid, residents of the Crossroads township mounted a campaign against being forcibly removed to Khayelitsha.
Despite being the fastest-growing township in the country, Khayelitsha is still a place forgotten by the government. An overgrown, empty patch of land is the only open space around, but with no facilities or playground equipment it is unsuitable for young people as a recreation area.
Nine-year-old Amanda Mathambo told Sowetan that she loved going to Baleni's garage every day.
"Before I was just playing outside in the afternoons. Now I am learning to dance properly," 11-year-old Nosiphiwe Blou said.
"I am so excited now because I like being with a lot of girls in the afternoons," said 10-year-old Nobantu Mtshengu.
Teenager Anna Dlakavu said she also appreciated the group "because it makes us not to go out and do wrong things. Before this, I used to watch TV and play with friends".
Baleni, who lives with her seven grandchildren, said she was training the 10 to 14-year-old girls to be peer educators to the younger ones.
Even if she doesn't get any funding, she said she would expand the project to accommodate any girl who neededs a safe place to go to in the afternoons.