He’s on a mission to deal with township trauma – in a VW van

Words: Mooketsi Nthite
Photography: Onele Liwani

World Mental Health Day last October saw a slew of statistics revealed. Half a billion people globally suffer from depression and anxiety, costing the global economy more than a trillion US dollars each year. A study by the London School of Economics comparing eight middle-to-high income countries ranked South Africans as suffering the worst mental health in the group. It claimed that one in four South Africans suffer from mental issues, with only 15% seeking help.

All of this helps explain why 28 year old Banetsi Mphunga has been driving round the South African township of Khayelitsha in a VW van that he converted into a mobile counselling clinic. The man behind the Township Parents and Childrens Counselling Centre is known as the ‘kasie counsellor’ – kasie meaning township or ghetto – and he’s on a mission to bring mental health facilities to the hood.

When Amaphiko first featured Banetsi in 2015, the psychology graduate was rolling around Khayalitsha in an old-school VW Caravelle turned mobile shrink’s office. He spent his savings pimping out the van to make it more accessible, and used it to offer free counselling and life skills lesson to community members. Psychological services and clinics in Cape Town’s ghettos are practically non-existent. Eventually, his work formalised into the Township Parents and Childrens Counselling Centre which opened in June 2015.

The Caravelle, an iconic vehicle in SA’s urban township culture, has since broken down and is currently beyond his repair budget.

“That’s why I purchased a Nanana, that’s what we call the classic 1982 Mini Cooper here. I use it to pick up clients to drive back to my office for consultation, then shuttle them back to their desired drop off point afterwards.”

“I don’t intend on disposing the Caravelle because it’s still my trademark, I’m planning on finding a trailer specialist to custom convert the Caravelle into a caravan which we will pull around with a bakkie to our different locations.”

Financial constraits are behind his new #R10Challenge. It’s a micro crowdfunder which asks Khayelitsha residents to donate ten South African rand (70 US cents) a month to push forward his mental health mission. It’s a not insignificant ask in a community where few residents earn enough money to pay tax.

“In November we asked the community to donate R10 a month to raise funds so that I can tour Eastern Cape province providing mental health awareness campaigns to adults and school kids in 12 small towns and 60 rural villages,” says Mphunga.

The challenge caught the eye of local media and the centre now attracts around 90 individuals of all ages every week – even if the donations aren’t rolling in yet.

“Thanks to the publicity of the R10 Challenge, our social services taking place after school at our community centre now attract about 60 school kids a week.”

As well as supporting young people at their clinic Mphunga and his team of two psychosocial counsellors and two interns work directly with schools, giving psychological support to hundreds of students each month.

Next year Mphunga has an ambitious plan to take his mobile counselling centre on the road. “In March, I’ll be travelling from one end of Eastern Cape to the other, pulling a bright green ribbon – the international symbol of mental health – made of wood and weighing 20kg,” he says. “At each town I stop at I will talk about mental health and offer free consultations.”

And longer term? “My long term plan is to have ten mobile psychology clinics driven by registered councillors around SA, assisted by 20 psychosocial supporters. I’d also like one big bus that’ll be used as a clinic that roves around SA, and the construction of a rehab centre specifically for African language speaking people.”

Find out more about the #R10Challenge on Facebook.

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