Sophumelela Drop-In Centre


After approaching the Community Convergence Workstream (CCW) on behalf of her social work students, part-time lecturer Ms Nozithembiso Makonxa-Nodonti wondered whether her own organization might be able to be assisted too. Her request to the CCW was shared with the Masks Project and with the SASOL-Innoventon Sanitizer Project, and in October 2020, Nelson Mandela University was able to hand over 161 litres of hand sanitiser and 68 masks to Sophumelela Drop-In Centre in Motherwell, Port Elizabeth.

Founded just over a year ago in October 2019, the centre has already filled an important gap in its local community, with a focus on after-school programmes. The centre assists children with homework, provides a meal a day, and organises various educational activities, recreational outings and holiday programmes. It also offers social work services and provides referrals to health care services. The centre’s vision is to see children and their families in the local community have their basic needs met, and this means going above and beyond their existing programmes at times to meet a need when it arises. Sometimes, the centre’s staff even find themselves washing the children’s clothes and collecting clothing items to distribute when there is a lack.
In addition to their main focus on after-school programmes, Sophumelela Drop-In Centre also recently began a soup kitchen and food gardening programme to serve families of the centre’s children, and the community at large.
The CCW’s coordinator, Nicole Collier-Naidoo, visited Nozithembiso Makonxa-Nodonti, the founder of the centre who, in addition to lecturing part-time at Nelson Mandela University, also works as a social worker, to find out more about the important work the centre is doing during this time.
According to Nozithembiso, due to lockdown, the centre was unable to continue with their usual programmes, and so they decided to start the soup kitchen in order to still serve the community in some way. Initially, they had planned that it would only operate over the short term, but while lockdown levels have decreased, the demand for the soup kitchen has not. 
The kitchen was originally operating for 5 days a week, but after a staff member contracted COVID-19, it was reduced to 3 days a week. However, the staff were soon informed that the community had still come looking for a meal on the days that they were not there. 
Nozithembiso also shared that at the moment, one of the centre’s biggest needs is for a computer. With a focus on empowering children with self-help skills, the aim is to build their computer literacy as soon as possible. At the same time, a computer will also provide a range of educational programmes and online activities for the students to learn from during their time at the centre. 
Another need they have is for more space. The centre is based in a small, rented building in the community, and sometimes the children have to use Nozithembiso’s office to do their work. The space is also not funded. While the centre has received a few donations from individuals, it has not been enough to cover the cost of rent, leaving Nozithembiso to cover it herself each month. 
Drop-in Centres like Sophumelela fill an important gap in their local communities, and even more so during times of crisis, and should be funded by the government. However, while Nozithembiso has applied for funding, and has already gone through an inspection – with those who completed it saying that they were happy – she is yet to receive a response about the outcome. 
Despite the lack of space and support, the centre has continued to provide crucial skills and services to families in Motherwell. And with social issues like unemployment and poverty at an all-time high as a result of COVID-19 and the laws around lockdown, Nozithembiso and her team have served as a stark example of what it looks like to step up and show up for your local community, when it matters most.