Sunday 15 September 2013

The Department of Coffee, Western Cape

The view of Khaylistsha from the train station. The Department of Coffee is clearly visible (the big red building)

Travelling around South Africa can be rather frustrating as it seems like everyone is scared of being mugged, raped, hijacked, kidnapped or…. even murdered! Yes it’s a problem here, but it does feel like the whole security thing is a little too hyped up. Most of the people who advice against certain modes of transport or visits to “dodgier” parts of town tend to be the ones that rely on hear-say rather then actual experience to make their na├»ve judgments. I was told NEVER to get in the local minibus/taxis, but when asked if they’d even set foot in one, the reply was “No way!”. This segregation is what prevents and restricts the breakdown of social stigma. It’s not really spoken about, but there is still a great deal of racism in South Africa. I have seen it and experienced it. Some may sadly believe it’s part of daily life. Ultimately it is inhibiting the country from moving forward.

After the forced removal of 60,000 black and coloured residents from the inner city area of Cape Town in the 1970s, the evicted residents were forced to find elsewhere to settle. The black community moved to the numerous townships that surrounded the city. Since then, little has changed and the Western Cape still remains racially segregated twenty years after apartheid ended. Inner city Cape Town remains a predominantly “white area”, whilst the surrounding townships are nearly all “back areas”.  

Khayelitsha is one of these areas and is the largest and fastest growing township in the country. It has had a great deal of bad press recently as it remains the only township with a growing rate of violent crimes as well as being the township where Annie Dewani was murdered. The estimated population is 400,000 with less then 5% being over 50 year of age and around 40% being under the age of 19. The population is young and majority of the new residents are rural to urban migrants. Unsurprisingly, unemployment is considerably high bringing with it problems with drugs and alcohol abuse.

Tours around Khayelitsha and other townships are starting to pop up and are actually proving to be rather popular with “adventurous” tourists. Volunteers have also started to flock in to help out in township orphanages and schools. These initiatives only target the “foreign tourist” market though and does little to breakdown barriers with Cape Town residents.

Frustrated by the divide and the problems faced in their township, three young lads from Khayelitsha got together with the Ministry of Service Delivery to come up with a solution using the skills and resources they had available to them. Vuyile Msaku, Wongama Baleni, and Vusumzi Mamile set up the Department of Coffee as a way of regenerating their area. The concept is simply to have a hub where people from all backgrounds can meet over a coffee. Their slick look, strong brand identity and even stronger coffee has proven to be a success with both locals and Cape Townies alike. Based opposite Khaylitsha’s only train station and on the bottom floor of the VPUU (Violence Preventions Through Urban Upgrading) building, the boys are in an easily accessible location where they can target local businesses, anyone coming off the train, and most importantly youth seeking advice.

The prices at Department of Coffee are extremely reasonable (a cup of coffee in town = R22)

The guys are all professionally trained baristas who use only the finest arabica beans from Ethiopia which are roasted locally and ground freshly using only the best equipment. The menu is extensive, offering a variety of coffee, teas, hot chocolate and muffins. Currently they are trying out a range of “red” beverages, made from loose Rooibos leaves that are used in the same way as you would ground coffee. The outcome is surprisingly sweet and refreshing, proving popular with visitors.

Like most good coffee shops, the Department of Coffee deliver to local businesses, the local court house, local hospital, and even make special Muffin Runs to children’s homes where they hand out muffins bought with money donated by their customers. The best bit is, their products are modestly priced, making it affordable for the average Khaylitshan resident. As history has shown, the most successful enterprises are the ones that know their market inside out, including knowing how to price their products appropriately.

It seems like since they started a year ago Vuyile, Wongama, and Vusumzi have done some great things, and it doesn't seem like they want to stop. They have started to hold monthly CoffeeMobs which aims at bringing people from Cape Town to Khaylitsha via a free train service. The event includes local music artists, arts and crafts and of course great coffee. But more importantly it is a chance for the people of Khaylitsha and Cape Town to mingle over a shared appreciation for all things good. Last month a group of Cape Town cyclists decided to organise a bikeathon from the city to the coffee hub that helped raise money for regeneration projects in the township. Talking to Vuyile, I was told they were hoping to expand by opening another Department of Coffee where they would have a sit down service where they could also serve hot food.

The Department of Coffee, a growing franchise 

There’s no doubt that these guys are super ambitious and it’s rubbing off on the youth in Khaylitsha who have seen what can be accomplished with a bit of determination and the right guidance. The boys not only serve as amasszing baristas, they also offer advice and support for the youth of the township. We are reminded that when it comes to making a difference in the community, it is ultimately left up to the people of that community to make that change.

Cape Town has been named the Design Capital of the world 2013/14 and they are specifically looking for designs that solve social, cultural and environmental issues. I can’t think of a better nomination then the Department of Coffee. Their well thought out concept has been marketed incredibly well. Through the use of facebook, local media and most importantly word of mouth, the organisation has become something worth finding out about. This has attracted attention from coffee loving Cape Townies and from the local youth who so desperately need role models to look up to. The idea has been successful for it’s simplicity and effectiveness to focus on their main issue: “breaking down the wall between Cape Town and Khayelitsha.” Nothing can stop these guys and from the looks of it, the Department of Coffee is bound for great things. 

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