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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: May 2019

5 - Don't. Expose. Yourself: Papi Thetele


Papi Thetele runs the Katlehong AIDS Council, a community-based organisation that provides support to women and children affected by HIV/AIDS. After the xenophobic attacks in 2008, Thetele introduced dialogues around the topic into his winter school programme. His story was recorded in a dilapidated township school, on Johannesburg's city streets in between meetings with potential funders and outside his two-and- a- half- roomed Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) house in Katlehong township, south of Johannesburg.

Why I do community work? I do not know. It is something in me, I don't think I can explain it. I have tried to explain it to myself but I have no answer. I was born a leader, inspired by people like Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Steven Biko and Robert Sobukwe. I wanted to be like them. Maybe that explains why I am protective of everyone in the community. Community work chose me, I did not choose community work. As my mother would tell you, I was supposed to be a teacher!


In Thetele's class on a winter day in July.

‘Now guys, today we are going back to basics. Remember pkk! Phakamisa; Khomba; Khuluma! Raise your hand; Let me point to you; Speak!’


‘Today we are speaking about other people in the townships. We live with Somalians, Ethiopians, Ghanaians and Cameroonians in the township, yes?’


‘Is there anything different about these people?’

‘They take the body parts of young people and cut them up!’

‘Oh wow! Have you actually seen this?’

‘No, I heard about it.’

‘Do you know if it is a South African or a foreigner doing that?’


‘Is it true?’

‘Yes! Noooo! Yes? Nooooooo!!’

‘We need to investigate the facts before we say that is true. Okay, what else?’

‘They bring diseases like Ebola!’

‘Do you know anybody who has Ebola in the township?’


‘Then that's a myth.’

‘Foreigners are smelly!’

‘Point me to somebody who stays in the township who is not smelly! We've got people who are smoking nyaope in the township. They are more smelly than the Ghanaian people!