Papi Thetele
AGE WHEN INTERVIEWED: 48
BORN: Carletonville, South Africa
INTERVIEWED IN: Katlehong, South Africa
PHOTOGRAPHED BY: Oupa Nkosi

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 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!

      As part of the winter school programme we talk about xenophobia and how it impacts our community. In our classes, the kids come up with all sorts of myths about foreigners. Some very extreme. But everybody in the township thinks about foreigners in these extreme ways. There are a lot of misconceptions and myths. So, in the winter school, we look closely at the issue and we dismantle the myths.