New Horizons was the first so-called “Coloured Township” created in Plettenberg Bay in 1967, seventeen years after the promulgation of the Group Areas Act in South Africa. The 2011 census counted a total of 9,869 inhabitants and 3,234 households in New Horizons – but these numbers will have grown significantly since; the most recent voters’ roll for New Horizons already lists close to 14.000 names.

Here is how Leigh Dunn, our New Horizons “In-Charge” describes the area where he himself was born and raised. Leigh’s family has lived in New Horizons for three generations, and Leigh has also written a fascinating account of how New Horizons developed over the years for a presentation which he gave to the local oral history group – I’m hoping to persuade him to make that public at some stage.

“New Horizons is a vast and diverse community, from the affluent homes visible from the N2, to “Die Gaaitjie”, “SASSA Park”, “The Compound”, and even as far as “Pinetrees” and “The Transit Camp”, the residents of New Horizons are made up of all walks of life. Plett’s icon hobo “Freekie” hails from New Horizons too, and so do people of all races and nationalities.

There are various pre-schools and crèches in New Horizons, 1122 registered learners at its Formosa Primary School, 1312 learners at their Plett Secondary school, and “Die Sterreweg” Daycare Center in Keurbooms Road in New Horizons for children with special needs.

The established and registered soup kitchens in New Horizons are:

  1. Building The Walls NPO with Elaine Paulse as contact person at 5700 corner of Saringa and Koraalboom Roads;
  2. New Horizons Care Group NPO with Toekie Spies as contact person at 131 Pine Road;
  3. Vukani Nutritional Center with Yvonne as contact person at 10454 Kershout Road / Pinetrees or “Die Gaaitjie” area;
  4. Masizame Drop In Shelter with Nosi as contact person at 12 Keurboom Road;
  5. New Horizons Pensioners Club with Maria Pienaar as contact person at the New Horizons Sportsgounds;
  6. The SA National Tuberculosis Association NPO with Elsabe Clarke as contact person in Salie Street;
  7. House of Hope with Wanda Jonkerman as contact person at 5759 Piesangrivier Street.

These kitchens provide a total of more than 3 000 to over 4 000 meals to the needy on a weekly basis, and many people in the area have their own veggie gardens already, seeing that it is our ultimate goal to encourage our community to become independent, self-sufficient and sustainable on the long run.”

Leigh Dunn

On 21 July 2020 I joined Leigh for a visit of four of the seven soup kitchens. We started at the New Horizons Care Group, a NPO (non-profit organisation) which is managed by Toeki Spies (it is located at no.2 on the map below.)

Toeki is in her seventies and still very much a hands-on person. She started her soup kitchen in 2011 already – so in her experience the need for meals to feed the many people without an income is anything but new, nor is it specific to the COVID pandemic. Moreover,Toeki argues that poverty, the high unemployment rate, drug abuse and a sense of despair and hopelessness are the main underlying factors of what she refers to as “social decay”. These are the issues that need to be dealt with in order to improve people’s lives long-term.

The New Horizons Care Group managed by Toeki currently serves about 120 meals per week, but equally important, this is also a distribution hub for four other soup kitchens which prepare another 800 meals per week. And so Toeki’s house was a hive of activity when we were there, with loads of food parcels and two huge pots of pre-cooked soup (which Leigh had collected at LM restaurant) being offloaded there.

Our second stop was at the Building The Walls (no. 1 on the map) centre where Elaine Paulse runs an impeccable ‘tight ship’, as you can see from the first photograph: no fooling around with this lady!

This is the longest standing NPO in the area and was established by Elaine and Richard Paulse in 2005 already. The two have a passion for helping the unfortunate and disadvantaged people within their community and started with a small Soup kitchen from a church called “Gospel Park“. Their initiative grew so fast that they had to register the organisation as a Non-Profit Organization in 2006, for the purpose of community upliftment. Today Building The Walls is much more than a soup kitchen; it is a centre that engages in a number of activities revolving around community upliftment – visit their website to find out more about their projects including Food Parcel, Clothing and Blanket Distribution, Aftercare Programs, Veggie Garden and Needlework Projects.

Building The Walls serves as a central donations distribution hub for all 7 wards in Bitou. One of the aspects that sets this initiative aside from others is the overall focus on combining organisational sustainability with a holistic approach in upliftment work. For example, individuals wishing to collect meals must first submit an application including an affidavit, an ID copy, proof of address and other documents. The application is then vetted by a selection committee which also takes into account direct referals from clinics, the police, child welfare and churches. Once granted the support is then normally limited to three months (a re-application is possible after 6 months) because the aim is to enable people to “stand on their own feet”, rather than to make them dependant on the scheme. This is also the reason why the distribution of soup kitchen meals goes hand in hand with a motivational talk. To build their capacity to support needy people psychologically Elaine and her team regularly engage in training programs, such as the NACOSA “stigma and discrimination reduction program”. But probably the most unique feature of Building The Walls is that – it asks recipients for a once-off contribution of R20 per head towards administrative costs!

“After running entirely for free for 14 years we simply ran out of money – we rely on two main private sponsors, and the only contribution we have received from government today has been a single R 15.000 donation. We were very afraid to start asking for a service fee, but eventually in September 2019 we simply had no choice. And to our amazement people had absolutely no problem with this – in fact some of them said ‘Why didn’t you start asking much earlier? We’ve been waiting for you to do so for ages!’ “, Elaine told me.

And I guess there is an important lesson for us to be learnt here: Making a symbolic contribution helps the recipient to maintain their sense of dignity. And a R 20 registration fee is symbolic, considering the cost of providing meals to a person for a three month period! The same applies to the R 40 per month which Building The Walls charges for supplying one of the smaller satellite soup kitchens with one of 500 monthly food parcels containing R 600 worth of groceries each.

The House of Hope run by Wanda Jonkerman was our third stop (no. 7 on the map). This soup kitchen was orginally started as a satellite of Toekis’ New Horizons Care Group; it now serves meals to a minimum of 80 people a day. We came just in time to watch Wanda and her team making the final preparations for dishing out soup and pap to a long line of children who were patiently waiting on the street. And I must say – it smealt delicious! Pity I had forgotten to bring my bakkie with me… Picture yourself standing in the queue, with a hungry tummy. You’re three or four or five years old and you’ve waited since daybreak for this, your only meal. Will you behave as disciplined as these children do? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing’s for sure: once you have that bowl in hand your smile will be as big as theirs:

Our final stop on this tour was at the house of Elseby Clark, the Chairperson of SANTA who runs one of the vegetable garden projects (located at no.6 on the map above.) The garden was started in 2017 by the Building the Walls initiative and its produce – spinach, cabbages, chillies, celery, carrots, pumpkins, garlic etc.- is used in the soup kitchens.

Twice a week four to five people come from the soup kitchen to help with gardening, and Elseby does the watering and looking after regularly. It is an impressive example of what looks like something not too difficult to achieve in other places – many of the stands seem to be big enough, so lack of ground is not the problem. So what is?

Tools and skills are. This garden, too, was made possible by two corporate donors who helped with fencing material and seeds, and there was also some skills coaching for the first year. But to this date Elseby has no hosepipe and no wheel barrow; she makes her own compost. And as I said good bye and drove out of New Horizons I had before my eye the 30 odd bags of high-quality compost one of my neighbours recently had delivered to maintain their front garden, not to mention the two truckloads of compost and close to 100m of hosepipe that I purchased when we started our own. My conclusioopn? We need a plan!

Thanks, Leigh, for taking me on this tour and for supplying me with information and personal accounts of the history of New Horizons! What strruck me most about the place was the sense of pride and dignity which the ladies running the soup kitchens and other projects have and at the same time instill in others, in those in need in particular by treating them with human respect. Oh, and what really caught me off-guard was Jason, the young man (Toekie’s son, I believe?) who delivers produce and soup to the various kitchens in his fancy blue Golf. A souped-up one, of course!

Chris Meister