Bulembu: Service Day 1


Our first day started with a morning devotional at 0730, followed by a large and hearty breakfast. Served at a buffet, the kids immediately sucked up all the pancakes. Elizabeth brought me a large bowl of granola, dried fruit, and yogurt–more than I wanted to eat–but I didn’t want to be rude and send back uneaten food. Then some more pancakes appeared, and so I had a couple of them on top of the bowl of straw. Most of our ICC folks had already left the room when the Lodge staff began bringing out large dishes with a pair of poached eggs, a large sausage, and a small slice of cooked tomato. It seemed rude not to at least attempt to eat the surprise main course, so Elizabeth and I were pretty well fed before starting work.


We walked down a steep road, past some of the larger houses in Bulembu (left over from the mining company), and past the terminus of a non-functioning cable car. Built by the Germans in 1939, it is the longest cable car system in existence, stretching all the way to Piggs Peak. It was used to haul bulk material to the mine. Bulembu is filled with the remnants of its mining heritage, some of which have been repurposed, but much of which is mouldering away.

The Enduduzweni Community Care Centre is located in a valley in the center of Bulembu. It provides a safe and nurturing environment for dozens of pre-schoolers whose parents (most only have one) work in Bulembu. The children vary widely in their circumstances. Without this service, many of the 2-4 year olds would end up staying at home by themselves, usually with very little to eat.  In the afternoon, a number of elementary school kids come to the centre, and some teenagers are learning to use computers and are gaining typing skills.

Remembering what a treat it was for the Gypsy children in Romania to get their pictures taken, I’d volunteered to take photos of the kids at Bulembu, and Michelle Loubser had worked out a couple of picture frame decorating projects that the children could do. I wanted to make sure that everything was working fine, so as soon as I arrived at the EnduduZweni Care Centre, I fired up Lee Anne’s multi-function printer (after some struggle with extension cords and electrical adaptors), plugged my laptop into a South African power adaptor, turned it on, and plugged the printer into a USB port. The drivers I’d loaded before I left home worked perfectly, and I was soon able to print onto an A4 sheet of paper. 35 minutes and a reboot later, I was finally able to print onto 13x18cm photo paper, and I announced that I was ready to print, and ready to take portraits of the kids.

Group 1

I scouted around for a location, and found a bright but shady spot on the back wall of the center, which was a long veranda looking out onto a soccer pitch and a huge mountain of mine tailings. It took me about 5 minutes to figure out the right settings for my DSLR and the on-camera flash with a Demb Diffuser. then the staff brought the kids out one at a time to stand in front of my dark red wall.. Over the next half hour, I took 90 pictures in my improvised studio. I spent most of the rest of the afternoon trying to print them back out, eventually ending up with 77 9x13cm prints to fit into the frames that the kids had decorated.

I also created a second studio for a group of older kids who come to the centre in the afternoons to spend time working on the PCs and learning to type. Elizabeth suggested that green might make for a better color, so we carried out a green board to another long porch. The older kids had a little more attitude than the younger ones, and I spent a wild 25 minutes taking 65 more portraits.

Group 2

The rest of the ICC crew was even busier than I was, replacing a sink and a set of doors in the toilets, replacing and puttying dozens of windows, and painting the outside of the children’s center. Our folks also worked on the crafts with the Bulembu kids, and played games with them. More on that to follow.

The GoogleEarth map below shows the Lodge at the west and the steep walk down the town’s main street to The Enduduzweni Community Care Centre.  Use the mouse to scroll down to the huge pile of mine tailings  (try using the buttons in upper left to zoom in).

One Response to “Bulembu: Service Day 1”

  1. shaun Says:

    An interesting post, which brings back many memories for me. I was fortunate to have worked at Bulembu between 1992 and 2000, just before the closure of HVL Asbestos – the then owners of the operation. A couple of the people shown in the photographs worked in my department. I do certainly have very dear memories of the people and the “Village”. I was last there 2 years ago, and will certainly return again only to go down the nostalgic path and visit those that I know and had the pleasure of working with. A point of correction though, the Cable Way runs to Barberton and not Piggs Peak1