Cape Town - Mama Victoria Mpambani is an extraordinary woman, in every sense. Her day starts before most of the city awakes from its slumber, as hundreds of children from New Crossroads file past her door in Moletsane Street, dropping off their lunchboxes.
She runs a daycare centre that caters for 25 toddlers.
And every day she commutes to The Service Dining Rooms to collect food to feed other needy mouths in her community.
“It costs about R100 a day on transport from Khayelitsha and back every day.”
Mama Victoria dishes food from Masooda Petersen’s kitchen into recycled 20l plastic oil vats. She puts the six vats, filled to the brim with soya mince, rice, pasta and soup, on a trolley and wheels them to the taxi rank at Cape Town station.
She is accompanied by a homeless volunteer who helps her load the food and carry the two massive plastic bags bursting with bread and rolls.
“I wasn’t raised to take care only of myself. I didn’t grow up with my mother. I grew up with my father’s family. And they taught me you must look after everyone around you. We’re a community.”
Mama Victoria then pays for as many seats as it takes in the taxi to carry the food and makes the trek back to New Crossroads. Once there, another volunteer, an unemployed man, helps her cart the food to her home.
She diligently portions out the food into the lunchboxes stacked high on her countertops and kitchen table.
“I don’t know, more than a hundred at least,” she laughs, explaining how many children drop their lunchboxes off for her to fill.
Mama Victoria’s laugh could power a nuclear reactor. It’s deep and infectious. Her entire body jiggles as she belts out peals of hearty laughter.
“I invited the councillor to come and see how many dishes I have to wash. You see this?” she motions to a stack of dishes in the sink and the pots of her own food she has on the stove. “I will only get done with this late tonight.
“I said to him, ‘come, come and see what we do here’. They must come and see so they can get the community involved.”
Mama Victoria sings as she dances across her kitchen floor. The cacophony in the house is overwhelming.
Children shrieking as they play, dogs barking in the yard and on the street and the bustle of township life.
“We ran out of food today,” she says with a warm chuckle, “but even my own children know God will provide.
“There’s not one single night I go to bed with nothing.”
This is the fifth year she has been running an informal feeding scheme and she receives no funding. The mothers who leave their children to be looked after pay what they can, but Mama Victoria turns no one away.
“The old people, we take them food too. They get their treatments at the clinic, but they go home to empty pantries. How can you take these pills on an empty stomach?”
She also tries to reach out to homeless people who roam the streets of Crossroads.
“They take drugs. They smoke weed or this tik and it ruins their lives. I try to help them also. You must eat, because otherwise you will waste away. That is not for me to let happen in God’s creation. We are all people. We must look out for each other. That is why God put us here.”
Mama Victoria pauses to greet a man who has come in for a plate of food.
“Molo, malume (good day, uncle),” she greets him respectfully with a deep nod of her head.
“I tell the guys on the streets, you weren’t created to just ask for things. I wasn’t raised like that. When you want something you must just ask. Hayibo! You must stop standing around and you must find work. You can’t just stand around doing nothing. You must work for what you want.”
This could be anything, Mama Victoria says. She recalls a time, many years ago, when she was down on her luck, unemployed and facing eviction.
She sold second-hand clothing and shoes to get by.
“You have hands and your health. You do what you can.
“That time, I was down, down, down. But I went around collecting old things people didn’t want anymore. I stood on the side of the road, trying to sell these things. When I was hungry, I knew where to look and ask. And people wanted to help because they saw I was trying to get by, I’m not just begging and asking for things I don’t deserve.”
Mama Victoria sees what she does as a way of giving back for those years when her community supported her.
“I must do this,” she belts out a deep, chesty laugh. “Mnass, I’m not an angel. I’m just a person like all the other people.
“And people need people and people must help people.”