The Cape Flats Youth project came about thanks to Operation Dagsværk (OD). For the past twenty-seven years, high school students in Denmark have given a day of their education to raise funds for educational projects in the developing world. Representatives of Operation Dagsværk visited South Africa in 2005 and based on their research, consultative meetings and observations decided to spend the funds they raised to benefit youth on the Cape Flats. Africa Kontakt administered the funds over the three-year period from 2008 to 2010 and served as a communication link between Operation Dagsværk and partner organisations.

Originally eight non-governmental organisations (NGO) working with vulnerable youth in Cape Town were identified as recipients of project funds. Over the three-year period this number was reduced to six. They include Workers World Media Productions (WWMP), Molo Songololo, the Young Women’s Chapter of the New Women’s Movement (NWM), Hands On, Youth4Change (Y4C) and Human Rights Media Centre (HRMC).

The HRMC’s project is called Our stories – by us and for us all and it involved the training of young people to play a role in the production of a book of life stories of youth living on the Cape Flats. The exhibition component of the project would be drawn from these narratives and would provide and additional medium to reach audiences.

In 2008, the HRMC designed and coordinated a five-month long Oral History and Creative Documentation Training Course involving nine participants drawn from the partner organisations. The trainees all successfully completed the course equipping them to be the primary oral history interviewers for this book and in 2009 further educational opportunities in specialised media were extended to the course participants. This enabled them to play a role in the production of both the book and exhibition.


Back row: Andiswa Magazi, Althia Lewis, Phumla Matshaya, Marliska 'Penny' Tobias, Saania Laarney. Front row: Alexis Smith, Shirley Gunn, Conor Ralphs, Ursula Bushula. Photograph by Theophellus Yanta.

Connor Ralphs was employed as the project coordinator from 2008 – 2009. Irma Titus was employed as the project coordinator from November 2009 - November 2010 with Haroon Gunn-Salie responsible for creative media. From November 2010 till present Cara-Lee Arendse has been employed as the project coordinator and she also co-edited the book with Shirley Gunn.

Most of the interviews were done in early 2010. When the interviews were recorded and the editing process began, life continued for the youth and significant updates needed to be included in the stories. The first and fourth edits were returned to storytellers to identify gaps and consider ethics of revealing certain details which they may later regret. All of the storytellers signed consent on the final edit of their stories in November 2010.

Edge of the Table

is a collection of life stories of fourteen young people living on the Cape Flats. The 354 page book is designed to entice reluctant readers and is punctuated with over one hundred photographs and illustrations. From their earliest memories of childhood homes, family, friends, schooling and work, to their individual experiences of poverty, substance abuse and violence, the storytellers convey not only the experiences they have had but how these are understood and accepted as normative, and part of life. Interviewed by their peers and edited in the first person the voices of the storytellers are fresh and free of sentiment allowing the reader an understanding of the storyteller’s characters and not just the events which frame their lives. This book reveals the many issues underlying the struggles faced by Cape Flats youth today. It also reflects the legacy of apartheid on the current generation of youth and the urgent need for the South African government and civil society to prioritise youth. The reader will learn of the many ways that youth adapt and survive on the margins of the Flats, abandoned and forgotten on the edge of the Table.

  • Introduction – Cara-Lee Arendse, Shirley Gunn, Haroon Gunn-Salie, Rosa Hagedorn and Lunga Guza
  • Still kicking – Noel Van Niekerk
  • Never give up – Neziswa Vava
  • Thanks to them – Lunga Guza
  • Maak die beste van die slegste – Robyn Marais
  • Bread on the table – Jean-Pierre Isaacs
  • Gone but not forgotten – Walter Chinyanga
  • Take your time young girl – Carmenita Van Harte
  • Stand up, stand out! – Mario Van Niekerk
  • Choices we make – Marliska ‘Penny’ Tobias
  • Loxion mover – Mabhuti Bobo
  • What I went through – Andiwsa Magazi
  • I and I – Leighlan Theunissen
  • Finding my little space in the sun – Bonita Blankenberg
  • Hard to believe – Sisa Nobanda
Back row - Andiswa Magazi, Carmenita Van arte with baby Tiffany, Cara-Lee Arendse and Leighlan Theunissen. Middle row - Robyn Marais with Ethan, Irma Titus, Marliska Tobias, Shirley Gunn, Neziswa Vava and Jean-Pierre Isaacs. Front row - Lunga Guza, Dathini Mzayiya and Haroon Gunn-Salie.


‘From where I come from, everyone has a story and everyone comes from heartache’. Mario’s words powerfully prefigure the contents of these fourteen life narratives by young people on the Cape Flats. Behind the beauty of the Mother City lies the harsh reality of poverty and young people’s struggles to hold to their ideals in contexts that undercut them. Children learn young about violence, death, addiction and the failures of social institutions to care. Their encounters with life’s rawness force them constantly to refashion relationships that matter.

From the stories, it’s clear that state institutions and families fail children. Interventions that matter come from NGOs and faith-based interventions, and from young people’s efforts to secure their tenuous worlds. Almost all of the young people report on the absence of fathers and father-figures in their lives, and on the vulnerabilities of their mothers and mother-figures. Few have lived continuously in one place; most report having shifted all over the Cape Flats and beyond, with consequent breaks in their experiences of schooling and friendship networks. Some children find in gang structures the sense of belonging, respect and excitement that school, family and other networks do not offer. Many were introduced to hard drugs while still young, usually by peers. Those who have managed to resist or reform write of the difficulties of staying outside drug-related activities which structure the local economy of their worlds. Young people reflect unflinchingly on the fractured nature of their lives, on the processes that make for vulnerability, and on their efforts to hold together relationships that matter.

This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to know how we are failing our youth, and how they understand that failure.

Fiona Ross, Associate Professor in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town

This is the most authentic account of young South Africans’ life experience I have ever read. Fourteen extremely courageous young men and women let you under their skin. They tell their stories about growing up on the Cape Flats with wit, feeling and huge integrity. Because the stories are recorded by their own peers, the voices remain fresh and free of sentimentality.

If you want a glimpse into the world of South African youth, then read this book.

Jette Kristiansen, journalist


The creation of an exhibition that complemented these stories was included in HRMC’s original project proposal to Operation Dagsværk. Haroon Gunn-Salie, HRMC media officer, is the curator of the exhibition and a sculpture student at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Michaelis School of Fine Art under Jane Alexander and Gavin Younge. This arrangement was progressive because it is unusual for the university to allow students to exhibit work that is already owned by a person or organisation. With their input Haroon first created nine life-sized installations with accompanying narrative texts and photographs that illustrate turning points in the storyteller’s lives. There was a process of consultation around the creation of the installations and they were exhibited for marking on 9 November 2010 at Hiddingh Campus. A further five installations were then created for the launch of Edge of the Table on 11 December 2010.

view Exhibition PDF

Potential hosts may contact the Human Rights Media Centre.

Edge of the Table – fourteen Cape Flats youths tell their life stories was launched along with its exhibition on 11 December 2010 in Claremont, Cape Town. Drawing the crowds from the surrounds of the building and into the exhibition space was a wonderfully moving and expressive performance art piece. Performed by Luvo Tamba and Thumeka Mzayiya, graduates of the two-year UCT's Magnet Theatre training program, the performance comprised of song and dance and, like the exhibition installations, was designed to complement and highlight significant occurrences within the stories. This beautiful display ended dramatically when the performers ran into the exhibition space, inviting the public to enter the space by following them.

Luvo Tamba and Thumeka Mzayiya performing for the crowd at the launch of Edge of the Table.

Co-editor Cara-Lee Arendse welcomed the crowd and Haroon Gunn-Salie, the curator of the exhibition, introduced the storytellers who were present. Seven of the storytellers explained, in their own words, the significance of the installations to their lives and stories. Comrade Father Michael Weeder, Dean elect of St Georges Cathedral and a heritage activist, was the keynote speaker and closed off the speeches for the day.

Edge of the Table - Fourteen Cape Flats Youths tell their life stories and its exhibition is the result of three years of hard work. The Human Rights Media Centre does not plan to stop with the production of a book and exhibition. 2011 will see community book launches, public discussions and conversations about the many issues raised so honestly by the fourteen storytellers in Edge of the Table. Other mediums will be explored to further these stories and their impact and young storytellers will continue to be a part of that process.

Ongoing work

On 21 March 2011, HRMC in partnership with the District Six Museum launched the Edge of the Table exhibition at the District Six Museum's Homecoming Centre in Cape Town. The opening event attended by over two hundred people comprised a book launch, performance and exhibition tour.

The event was kicked off by the Edge of the Table performance by Luvo Tamba and Thumeka Mzayiya. Bonita Bennet, District Six Museum director, and Shirley Gunn welcomed the guests. Judge Siraj Desai was the keynote speaker. Shirley Gunn, Cara-Lee Arendse and Haroon Gunn Salie guided the guests through the exhibition space, contextualising the installations with Bonita Blankenberg, Mabhuti Bobo, Lunga Guza, Sisa Nobanda and Marliska Tobias sharing their stories.

From 21 March to 21 April, HRMC facilitated a Know your Rights school programme in the exhibition space. 554 learners from ten Cape Flats’ schools participated in the school programme facilitated by Cara-Lee Arendse and Shirley Gunn with the assistance of the exhibition guides, Mabhuti Bobo and Sisa Nobanda. This programme was funded by the Foundation for Human Rights.

The next book launch with facilitated discussion and contributors Carmenita Van Harte, Lunga Guza, Noel Van Niekerk and Mabhuti Bobo sharing their stories, was held on 22 March 2011 at the Book Lounge.

A community book launch took place on Youth Day, 16 June 2011, at the Retreat Library. The event included a book launch, performance and facilitated discussion. Two of the contributors, Carmenita Van Harte and Marliska Tobias, addressed the guests. Youth4Change donated R2000 towards the cost of books.

Article published in the Southern Mail on 22 June 2011

On 4 July 2011, HRMC launched Edge of the Table at the National Arts Festival’s Wordfest in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. Five contributors, Mabhuti Bobo, Sisa Nobanda, Marliska Tobias, Carmenita Van Harte and Neziswa Vava travelled to Grahamstown with Cara-Lee Arendse, Shirley Gunn and Haroon Gunn Salie. We installed a small exhibition at the book launch venue comprised of seven bodymaps. The Art and Culture Trust funded this activity.

HRMC is exploring partnerships and funding possibilities to take books and the Edge of the Table exhibition to Denmark.