By Heather Cameron
On 15 December 2013, while sitting with his family on a hillside in Qunu, watching former President Mandela’s funeral play out on the big screen, David Greybe decided it was time to return to South Africa for good. “It was there at that time that I finally decided it was time to return and put my shoulder to the democratic wheel.”
Greybe, a political activist and former journalist, was born and raised in South Africa but left for the United Kingdom in 1983 where he was granted political asylum. He returned from exile in 1990 and covered the political transition as a journalist for the next 10 years. In 2001 he went back to the United Kingdom where he worked for the next 12 years. He eventually ended up as editor of an international NGO, Local First. Greybe described Local First as a development approach that looks first for the capacity within countries before bringing in external expertise and resources, recognises that much of this capacity is found outside central government, and understands that local people need to lead their own development.
Greybe came home to South Africa in 2014. “I wanted to come back to the Eastern Cape because it’s such a beleaguered province. There’s such terrible inequality and poverty.” Greybe explained.
After speaking to friends in the area, he decided on Grahamstown specifically. He arrived in February of this year where he witnessed the Human Chain event held across the city on the 21st .
Greybe spent that afternoon in the Cathedral of St Michael and St George listening to the Bishop of Grahamstown, Ebenezer Ntlali, Mayor Zamuxolo Peter and Vice-Chancellor Saleem Badat discuss the importance of the wider Grahamstown community working together.
“I was very impressed by Saleem. So much so that I emailed him saying that I had returned to South Africa and wanted to know if he perhaps had any suggestions of who I should speak to,” shared Greybe. Badat put him in contact with Di Hornby the Director of the Rhodes University Community Engagement Office (RUCE).
Now, six months later, after assistance from Hornby, Greybe finds himself working as co-coordinator of the Assumption Development Centre (ADC) in Joza. The idea for the ADC was born two years ago when the Assumption Sisters in Grahamstown decided to revisit the purpose of the Assumption Clinic in the centre of Joza. They arranged for a development practitioner to conduct research into the views of the people of Joza. After interviewing 950 people from the area, the overwhelming opinion was that the biggest problem was unemployment. “All the social ills stem from this, and the answer lies in skills training and entrepreneurship development,” said Greybe, “so from the voice of the people of Joza, the ADC was born.”
The centre is a small business hub which was established at the beginning of 2014 with the aim of providing skills training and supporting local entrepreneurs through training, tutoring and mentoring. Various small businesses in the area make use of the ADC’s resources and workshops to help further their business ventures and ensure that they are successful in the long run.
Greybe has a long history of working to help the community through both journalism and community engagement. He studied journalism and politics at Rhodes University and in 1983 Greybe went into political exile, first in the United Kingdom, then The Netherlands and later Zimbabwe. He returned in 1990 once the ANC and other affected parties had been unbanned, where he continued his journalistic work by covering the political transition for both SAPA and Business Day.
“It was life changing. I covered the violence, the entire multi-party negotiations, South Africa’s first democratic elections and then post ’94 I spent six years in Cape Town covering the first democratic parliament.”
Back in 1992/93 while working for SAPA, Greybe was one of a handful of journalists who accompanied Mandela, then leader of the ANC, on trips overseas. Greybe describes how, no matter what country Mandela found himself in, he would always take a morning walk. “On the odd occasion he would invite me and a few other journalists along and we got the chance to chat. That was special,” Greybe reminisced fondly. Mandela’s selflessness played a major role in inspiring Greybe to help address the inequality that still plagues this country today.
In 2000, after 20 years in the field, Greybe decided to leave journalism. “I looked around the newsroom and I saw a lot of worn out and burnt out journalists so I thought I better get out before that happens to me.”
After over a decade of working overseas, Greybe is back in Grahamstown actively working to help better the community.
According to Greybe, the development of the ADC faces the challenge of bringing Grahamstown business on board to provide mentoring and apprenticeships to Joza locals. Failure on the part of the Makana Municipality to come through on promises is another problem. “They told us that they were going to fund a Seda (Small Enterprise Development Agency) post to deal with the administrative side of developing small businesses in Joza, but every time we enquire they tell us next month – yet nothing has materialised so far.”
Despite the challenges, Greybe is positive about the ADC’s future. Helping people recognise their potential and unlock their creativity make the hardships worthwhile for Greybe, “The determination and enthusiasm of people in Joza is humbling. Absolutely so.”
David Greybe: in his own words
- How long have you lived in Grahamstown?
I lived in Grahamstown when I studied at Rhodes University in the late 70’s and early 80’s majoring in journalism and politics. I returned at the beginning of this year to help turn things around as I want to be part of the solution.
- What has kept you busy over the past few years?
I spent the last 12 years in the United Kingdom, most recently as the editor for the Local First NGO. This year, it has been working at the Assumption Development Centre (ADC) as a coordinator, helping to establish it with my colleague Masonwabe Nduna.
- What motivated you to get involved in community issues?
The incredible inequality and unemployment prevalent in the Eastern Cape and, more specifically, in Grahamstown.
- How do you think others can get involved similarly?
People can get involved by identifying local NGO’s that are operating in their areas; volunteerism is key.
- How would you describe an active citizen?
An active citizen is someone who believes in community through actions that uplift the community.
- How would you describe yourself in one word?
- Who/what inspires you?
My mother who started her working life as a social worker and always put others first, and Madiba as there is no greater example of being selfless than him.
- What’s your keep-awake issue in respect to public life in Makana?
The inequality in Grahamstown and the abject poverty that people have to contend with every day. Another huge issue is the lack of a greater involvement in the wider community by white residents. I find it unacceptable.
- Best decision you’ve ever made relating to this issue?
Working with the ADC to help uplift the Joza community.
- What’s one thing about you that only a few people know?
That I spent seven years in political exile.