Story Tent Videos

The Story Tent short films were made especially for the conference “Towards Carnegie3: Strategies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality in South Africa”, held at the University of Cape Town. A tent was set up in Tembisa for a week with permission from local leaders, and residents were invited to come tell their stories, which was then filmed. Over 70 people came and the final selection of stories provides a remarkable insight into what it means to be living under conditions of great poverty in South Africa.


“I usually go to the river where some men sell meat. I take the rotten meat which they’ve left there. … I can’t even go home and face my children.”

Simon Mabiya is an unemployed man from Jane Furse, a small rural town in Limpopo province, South Africa.  He is struggling to care for his children after his wife left him for his best friend, and all he can think about is to take revenge. (6’02”)


“I was very happy because I loved livestock. I still love it. But I can’t farm anymore because the rats eat the chickens.”

An elderly woman, Dokas Tlale, describes her attempts to farm with ducks, chickens, doves and vegetables, but these are continuously killed by rats that are plaguing the informal settlement where she lives. (5’21”)

My uncle walks free

“My grandma said if we wanted to continue living there, we shouldn’t report the rape.”

Mbali Ndwandwe was raped by her uncle as a young girl, but reporting him would have meant that she and her brother could no longer live with her grandmother while her mother worked elsewhere. They never returned to the family home after their mother managed to move them from there, and the uncle was never charged. (3’11”)


“I ended up turning to alcohol to cope. I wrote most of my final exams drunk.”

Makhosalithi Mkhize got into an alcohol-induced argument with his brothers. A stone fight ensued, and he accidently injured his nephew with a stone. Makhosalithi was arrested and had to appear in court while he was writing his final school exams. (6’19”)


“I was praying, praying, praying… asking God that this baby shouldn’t die because he’s still young, he didn’t see the world outside.”

Goma Princess Masimphiwe lost the father of her son shortly before the boy was born. When the infant fell very ill a few months later, her attempts to get help took her from the doctor to a traditional healer and then the priest. (8’58”)

Wet cats and crying chickens

“If you asked me to come to your house to clean dog poo, I’d come, because my stomach is empty.”

Noni Nochifefe ran away from home as a young boy because of hunger and beatings. In the city, he struggles to make a living on piecemeal jobs of gardening, feeding chickens, and doing laundry for residents in his community. (5’28”)

Good times and bad

“I can’t even take him to the doctor because the doctor they referred me to are specialists and I can’t afford that.”

Onica and Haketini Malete are a couple who are struggling after he fell ill and has been unable to work since. She looks after him regardless and their love remains strong, even though his family says she bewitched him to get sick. (5’46”)

Story Tent montage

“Fight up until you win. You march towards your goal up until you reach it. Who are going to be reaching your goal? It’s you…”

Snippets of Tembisa residents’ stories of living in poverty and inequality in South Africa, and their resilience to create a better life.

Voices: South Africa – Why Poverty?

These Tembisa Story Tent stories were collated for the Why Poverty? series by STEPS. The Why Poverty? series is a project of The Why, an NGO that initiates, produces and distributes cross-media projects about key global issues to ensure that all people have free access to independent journalism. Previous projects have included Why Democracy?, Why Poverty?, Why Women? and World Stories.