Preserving our rural heritage


Words & Photos: Philén Naidu

Thirteen years after making the decision to give up everything and pursue the call of my heart, I overcame my first major hurdle of self-doubt, to release my debut book, My Life My Africa, in March 2013. The moment I released the book, however, I knew that the journey was far from over and that I was now required to use the knowledge I had gained to give back.

Then came a trip to the rural outskirts of the Eastern Cape to visit friends, Theo and Debby Potgieter, at the Qolora Education Centre, which is not far from the Kei Mouth. Upon arrival, all energy seemed geared to get me to meet visionary Principal Sizo Butshingi, of Isolomzi Senior Secondary School, who has managed to lead the school into the Eastern Cape's top-ten performing schools, with a 75% pass rate.

It took a suicidal ride on a bicycle, tied behind a motorbike, to travel a 10 km stretch in approximately one hour. A wipe out, grazed arm, and cracked rib later, I arrived. I was astounded to find what I did: a school with an ethos that reminded me of my days at Michaelhouse, one of Africa's most prestigious private schools. Manners, discipline, school pride, commitment, and an infectious positive energy was all that was needed to ignite the flame that now leads to this next stage of my journey.

“What would it look like, if I passed on all my knowledge and skills, as an author/storyteller to these learners?” I thought. “What would it look like, if we managed to equip and empower these youth to share their stories of THEIR Africa, the Africa we don't get to hear about, but which still holds the timeless truths of African culture that we need to protect, the African culture that still believes in nurturing the land, the land that we have fought so hard to defend, but which we seem to be losing to rapid urbanisation and rural depopulation?”

I put the idea to Principal Butshingi, and it didn't take long before I received an official invitation, and the idea for the My Life My Africa Creative Dojo was born. The Creative Dojo – 'where Legend is inspired, nurtured and released'.

So, it is ALL SYSTEMS GO! Early in 2014, I will relocate from Johannesburg into the rural outskirts of the Eastern Cape, to begin the foundation year of this pilot project.

Is there a way that we can share the stories from the grass roots of South Africa, to bring awareness to the rest of the country – the rest of the world – of how precious our rural land and communities are? Is there a way that we can equip our rural youth, who are majority orphaned and living in child-headed households, to earn a gentle income through storytelling – short stories, books and documentaries – which they can then use to fund their tertiary education? Is there a way? I don't know. It is only time that will reveal all things.

My father always taught me: 'If you can dream it, you can be it; and if you believe it, you will achieve it.' And through my 13-year adventure in writing my book, together with the 5 years it took to set up the My Life My Africa Children's Foundation in the Zandspruit Informal Settlement, I know that every man reaches his destination, if he just keeps walking.

So, all I can do, is just keep walking. I know that I am not called to do this alone. I know that I will need all the support I can get from fellow South Africans, in every sector across the board. I also know that, together, we are unbreakable. In the end, Ubuntu wins. Game on!


Philén Naidu is an author, social change entrepreneur, and youth empowerment igniter. If you would like to help him or get involved with his My Life My Africa Children's Foundation, visit or contact him on