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It is difficult to share twenty years of history in a few minutes. But what we would like to share today is the spirit and wonderful team work that existed in the creation of Alexsan.

How in the 80’s members of the Alexandra and Sandton communities joined together to create a place where learning and interaction could take place.

As many of you are aware Alexandra’s history started in 1912 but in 1986 when we first got together, 72 years later, no formal community centre had been built in a township that had been plagued with the uncertainty of relocation and forced removals.

But it was not just the Alexsan building. It was the energy and the spirit of hope that this project protected that later went on to inspire others in the formation of other centres nationally. How we took our ideas that we had incubated over the initial 10 years and shared these with national government assisting them in the formulation of policy on their national programme of multi-purpose centres.

We became particularly strong in encouraging people to work together to create services from which the community could benefit. By working with a variety of organisations we proved and created through synergy that the sum is worth more than the individual parts. Over the years we developed our project management skills and later took these skills from a local to provincial and then national level.

While I give an overview to our early years and general background I would like you all to recall some of your own recollections and use this little speech as a prompt to your own memories. We would like to recall these memories and include them in a book that we would like to leave with the community. We have provided pencils and paper and will also video the “Down Memory Lane?section of the programme.

Our early history and sequence of events taken from past minutes

Meetings started to take place between the Alexandra and Sandton community around mid-June of 1988. We do not have too much documented here so if any of you can remember we need your input.

On 4th December at Entokozweni a General Meeting was called to establish the AlexSan Mutual Development Association, that shortly thereafter became the Alexsan Kopano Association, that later became the Alexsan Kopano Educational Trust in 1990. Nunka Mkhalipe did the welcome address, with a prayer by Horace McBride and Chris Aitken stated the purpose of the meeting. Alina Serote gave the Alexandra perspective and the then mayor of Sandton Hazel Edges-Shochet gave the Sandton perspective. A constitution was adopted and the election of an Executive Committee took place.

The initial meetings were held in a variety of places. We have recorded 93, East Avenue, Atholl, St. John the Evangelist Church, the offices of the Alexandra council and finally, for several years thereafter, a more permanent and accessible venue was kindly offered at Nokhutula by Connie Mngomezulu. The meetings consisted of an executive committee and would include anyone who had an interest in the project. 

The 1987 year was spent doing initial research and establishing a direction for the organisation. In our first financial statement dated 20th July 1987 we reported receipts from donors and membership being R9,040.00. Our payments went into research and some letterheads leaving a balance of R7,699.63.

In the minutes of 10th June 1987 we were already talking about identifying a piece of land, drawing up plans and getting the 7 community disciplines to be represented on the committee to compete with each other and fund raise. 

July and August was taken up getting community consensus but by the end of August 1987 Steve Mashile, Sinah Gwebu, Jerry Setshedi, Sipho Zungu, Holly Luton-Nel, Hazel Edges and Chris Aitken were scheduled to meet the architect. By early October we had visited and reported back on two local community centres in Gauteng and through the kind assistance of Stocks and Stocks (organized by Hazel) we visited another site out of town. By the mid-October meeting we had set up the various sub committees that would work on the following:
  • A constitution for the Centre
  • Community Research
  • Fundraising and
  • The Building

It was also announced that funding had been obtained for a course for 20 community representatives that would take place during the following year in 1988 to cover fundraising, maintenance, management and organisation. Gill Fenwick was thanked for this valuable contribution.

By early November we were still trying to finalise the site and members were asked to phone Mr. Burger to affirm this. We selected a site in the middle of Alexandra, where we are today, as we felt this would be more accessible to the community of Alexandra.

In the 1988 year we focused on confirming the site, getting plans in position and starting the fundraising drive. At the first meeting in February Chris Aitken resigned due to work pressures and Holly was voted in as Chair.

At the 8th February meeting it was reported that the “site at the old stadium?was agreed upon, which once confirmed in writing, enabled us to move on the plans. 

By 9th March we were able to table Steve Burger’s letter confirming that the stadium site was confirmed. It was noted that some sort of building operations needed to be visible by September to show that we were serious. This in turn placed urgency on fundraising and in particular the fund raising number.

It was reported that all necessary fundraising documents would be with the Department by early March and the committee started to plan fund raising events such as Buy a Brick, Car Raffle, Rag Day, Music Festival, Membership, Jumble Sale, Tree Planting, Fun Run and Braai. We also had a Women Power committee. (The minutes here do not reflect any detail).

By April we received the plans for the Centre from the architect and they were presented to the committee together with costs to form the base of our fundraising drive. 

While we were waiting for our own fundraising number the Sandton Civic Foundation made us the kind offer to use theirs in the interim and we would like to thank Jill Oertel Hayes at this point, who did a great deal in assisting us in get our initial basics in place.

At the meeting of 10th August a fundraising launch was planned for 7th September. Funds had been received from FNB to make an audio visual and the bill board with its funding thermometer was nearing completion. 

At the September meeting it was recorded that a draft agreement to purchase Erf 69/7 Alexandra measuring 9880 for the sum of R1.00 sq meter from the City Council was accepted and signed by Sinah Selmolela and Gilbert Mogale to affect the sale and procure registration of the property in the name of Alex San Kopano.

At the November meeting it was reported that our application for fundraising had now moved to the Department of National Health for approval and the first substantial corporate cheque for R70,000 for the building had been received from JCI and was invested at Metboard.

In 1989 we needed to step up the fundraising pace. It was a year where our tenacity and hanging on to our goal would be tested.

By 1st February 1989 it was reported that Dave Jackson may be able to raise 75% of our total budget from a Church organisation in Germany. Holly was following up on a lead from Anglo American but that letters of support needed to be obtained from three people that were not either patrons or committee members.

At the meeting of 12th April 1989 (a year later) it was finally documented that a letter had been received dated 18th November 1988, informing us that we had obtained our own fundraising number.

However it was reported at the same meeting that our donor board and barometer erected on the site of the proposed community centre had been reported missing! Joseph Malebogo offered to clarify this and telephone Holly later in the evening. (It was never stated in the minutes what happened to the barometer but at the following meeting of 22nd May it was suggested that with our current donations this barometer should be painted, as in its present state it gave a discouraging impression. Perhaps it was later found after all!)

The Alex fundraising committee pushed on. During this time the corporate sector had received a number of presentations. Where smaller amounts had been received the larger donations had still not come in.

On 22nd May 1989 the meeting was advised that everything rested on the EZE Germany/SACC response. With their funding in place it would also mean that the conditions given by some local donors would also be met. The condition was that all required funds needed to be committed before each would release their funds.

This was a key time for us all where we were hoping above hope that the necessary funds would become available. At the time the Financial Statements as at 31st July 1989 reported an amount of R118,323.04 - hardly enough to build the centre we had planned.

In September the meeting was addressed by Dr. Gunther Augustine from EZE where all our pledged fundraising efforts to date were summerised. Donations in principle where pledged by Anglo American and Toyota but at this point the raising of funds locally was still slow. However there were other substantial pledges in the pipeline.

It was felt and later proved that once the centre was up and operating people would come forward with education contributions, but at this point the larger donation for the bricks and mortar phase of the project were needed.

Gunther Augustine from EZE Germany stated that from the time of submissions of funds to the time of approval would take until January next year. He was prepared to propose a donation of R4,6 million to the project. However he cautioned that where EZE was happy with the project in principle, no decision had been taken regarding their contribution. This was a nail biting time!

In 1990 things started to look up. But at this point I would like to thank those on the committee who hung in there during the 1989 months.

By January 1990 we received a copy of the pledge letters from Anglo American and Toyota South Africa with Nissan looking very positive. Two other local donors had our application coming up for discussion at their next meeting. Preliminary work by the architect Dennis Haarhoff was well advanced and would be completed within the next four weeks. The critical decider was the funding from Germany.

By the April we had heard that the Nissan contribution of R400,000 had been confirmed and we received the much awaited fax to state that the German government had approved our application!

At this point it meant that approximately R364,000 was all that was left to find to reach our target figure of R6,5 Million. Holly and Jerry Setshedi had liaised with the Kelloggs Foundation and were waiting a response. Colin Adcock had put in an offer that regardless of the Kelloggs decision he would somehow guarantee to find the balance of the money required in view of the EZE pledge. We could all then breathe a sigh of relief.

The rest of our history we will cover more quickly, but we have covered our initial years in reasonable detail to show the perseverance that the initial founder members showed and committed to a goal that they believed in. We would like this tenacity to be remembered during the times when you feel like giving up, when the odds appear too high. It is often in your darkest moment when that door of opportunity opens again. We believe you are never tested beyond that with which you can cope.

In 1990 the Alexsan Kopano Educational Trust was set up to receive the funds needed for the building. We were able to get back to an anxious Steve Burger who had been holding the land for us. We had to give back the tennis court land that was going to be converted into a car park. In exchange we did not have to upgrade the toilets at the stadium as the council was also planning an upgrade of the precinct.

Construction was rescheduled to start in July, the Read Organisation stated they would be happy to run the library for the centre and we could now start looking for future tenants. A Traditional Dance Competition was planned and new faces were welcomed onto the committee.

Nkele Ntingene reported that the four popular organisations were in full support of the centre and on the request of Obed Bapela letters were sent out to these organisations for representation on the committee.

By September 1990 we had received the final cheque from the Kelloggs Foundation, the building contract had been signed and Dave Jackson was appointed to generate the funds that would be required to keep the project functioning. 

We and you have stories to relate such as a truck losing its breaks on Selbourne and flattening the existing dilapidated soccer hut on site ?thus ending a dispute and enabling the contractors to get on site; the women’s committee who regularly prayed on site for the centre (where today we have the churches to keep up the tradition); Steve Mashile who had a gas canister fired into his office and Obed trying to hold back the army from doing a search of the centre during the ANC/IFP struggles in Alex; participation on the Peace Committee and coordinating the voter election training in Alex for our first 1994 elections; hosting two voter election halls at Alexsan, with a large part of the community creating long queues to especially vote here particularly the oldies; housing posters of all the political parties without interference and also the various party political rallies; housing the Alex Clinic during the fighting in Alex when people east of Eighth Avenue could not access the Clinic on First Avenue (this lead to a future long term relationship with the Clinic where a variety of health care facilities were offered to the community over the years).

We would like to acknowledge the many relationships and networking that took place to create the activities of the centre. One of the earliest was with the Read Organisation and their invaluable assistance in the setting up of the library; the bringing in of Kelly Personnel and Temp to assist with job search and training (and they are still with us today); working with a number of community organisations on the schools programme, that lead to Life Line opening a counselling office; welcoming a variety of organisations such as the Clinic to become tenants in order to offer the community a cross section of medical support services; being initially involved in the setting up of ALXFM community radio which then played a valuable role in getting information through to our community; and many more short term and long term developmental project partners.

One of our earliest community projects was getting the residents together for a “getting to know you?Open Day which hosted all the NGO’s operational in the area. Annual community events have included the annual Carols by Candlelight (where on the first occasion all the churches in the Ministers Fraternal participated by doing one of the readings) to the hosting the annual Youth Day. We have been visited by both local and international dignitaries and on the occasion of the visit from Princess Anne from United Kingdom, we invited a cross section of community organisations from education to business to showcase and participate in the day with us.

In addition to managing the centre we have run our own projects that have been many and varied over the years. In particular we have run education and careers guidance projects, set up computer studios, run an active youth project and through our library have run a variety of outreach programmes that for two years running we were presented with the Gauteng MEC’s Award for best outreach programmes.

Senior management has served on three national task teams, co-developed the Training for Employment Programme for UNESCO that has been circulated to centres nationally and chaired a Provincial Arts Organisation that has focused on getting 5 arts disciplines being Dance, Drama, Storytelling, Music and Visual Arts to 12 communities throughout Gauteng. 

The 90’s and early 2000 years was a particularly creative time at Alexsan, but as with all cycles in life one has to adapt to change. From approximately early 2001 international funding started to slow up and together with many other NGO’s we started to feel the pinch. The main area of concern was finding the funds to keep the physical centre going. The 2001 year was again a nail biting time for us. 

By mid-2001 Sisakele Nkosi stepped in and motivated meetings with the City of Johannesburg and Region 7 for which we thank you. During this period four of the senior city managers contributed a portion of their bonuses to help us keep going. By December our case had still not yet gone before council and we were starting to get desperate. Even the community rallied in and kept the Mayor’s fax line busy for nearly a morning with petitions to keep the Alexsan centre open. It was a quiet and depressing December.

The oldies came for their pension payouts in January but at the time we were not too sure if they would be there for February. 

We later heard that a Mayoral Committee meeting took place on 24th January 2002 and at the subsequent council meeting of 31st January, a conditional grant would be made available. We would like to thank the COJ for heeding this community’s call and assisting in keeping the centre open.

In return over this past period the Alexsan Kopano Educational Trust moved the centre into the Alexsan Kopano Trust where three Trustees stepped down to make way for Buta Rajah, Sinah Gwebu and Alen Grobbler from council to sit on the Kopano Trust Board. The Educational Trust will continue to handle national, provincial and local project work, but the day to day running of the building and library has now been taken over by the City of Johannesburg.

Community participation in the past has always been one of the strong points of Alexsan and community ownership over the years has ensured that this centre has been relative crime free and we hope that many have benefited in some way through Alexsan’s contribution over the years.

We would like to warmly thank all our funders and pledge donors who have supported and enabled us to carry out our work. Their names are reflected on the donor board we see here today. They too are very much part of our vibrant and special history.

We would like to thank our tenants who have supported the centre and took part in the concept of working together to create a service centre for the community. 

We would like to thank those who took advantage of our programmes and we hope that in some way they supported and encouraged you in your journey through life.

We would like to thank our founder members, trustees and members of staff who over the years have contributed to the Trust. It has been a mammoth task that no one individual could do alone. It was by each of us adding our light to this one common cause that we were able to achieve what we did, and we would like to acknowledge you all shortly for the role you have played at some point in the past twenty years during the certificate ceremony.

Finally I would like to thank my husband for supporting my marriage to Alex over the years, Felicia for looking after the house and Kenneth and Tebo for caring for my feathered and four legged friends in my absence.

And thank you all for sharing and being with us today.


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Page last updated: 06/01/2022 .

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