when not in southern africa. . .

I will now begin filling in the gaps from my summer travels. I was only able to post four times during my three months in southern Africa.

My travels began in South Africa;s largest city, Johannesburg and took me to a community development project (which became an official non-profit organization (NPO) this summer) in an informal settlement known as Zonkizizwe. Shortened to Zonke, the settlement was started during the apartheid years as a place for people commuting to live closer to their mostly inadequate jobs as farm hands, domestic workers, miners, and other menial jobs. The settlement is surrounded by farmland from which it owes its birth. The former Afrikaner farmland now houses close between 150,000 – 200,000 people (estimates are not clear). There are now other Zonkizizwe areas known as extensions. Where I was is called Zonkizizwe Proper as opposed to the five other extensions just nearby.

Zonke was a flash point of much police violence related to forced eviction from the settlement and inter-ethnic violence related to pitting African peoples against each other to keep the unrest away from the apartheid regime. As a result of this politics is a much deferred subject in the settlement and many people will tell you that they will have nothing to do with politics. South African apartheid police supported Zulu warriors, as members of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), to attack settlement dwellers and take their homes and possessions. If you ask people on either side, the victim and attacker are always switched and just goes to show the ruthless nature of the apartheid government at the time.

As a direct result of the intense fighting, violence, and death witnessed by the residents of Zonke, the community came together during the xenophobic attacks to say that they would not tolerate any violence when they, as youth and young adults, had seen so much violence already. Zonkizizwe means “all the nations” in Zulu and was a term that held true when times got rough around the country and just 10 kilmetres away in nearby Thokoza (Tokoza).

As an African Studies major specializing in international development it was very interesting and powerful to be able to work directly with people on the ground in Africa and see the various stages of ‘development’ within an informal settlement becoming formalized with the new change of government pursuing liberal democracy. As part of the formalizing Zonke has a taxi rank, a new Library, and a new Secondary school. There are a few sections of paved road and street lights also present in the settlement. There is also a large police station (some things left over from the apartheid regime still remain – the overlarge and ineffective police force is just one example). Two health clinics exist in Zonke, however health care is extremely inadequate. I never saw a doctor, nurses and specialists without formal training often diagnosed patients and supplied them with a simple blue painkiller tablet (pill) for most ailments. There will be much more on this subject later. A large administrative center also existed with a Social Development office responsible for dispersing grants from the government and helping with social services. This administrative center used to be the South African police staging area during apartheid, utilized to execute raids on the undesired informal settlement.

The majority of my time was spent at a center for children and youth affected by HIV and AIDS. Most of the children had already lost either one or both of their parents to HIV/AIDS. Many were now living as orphans in child-headed households where their eldest sibling is now in charge or they live with guardians, some so indifferent it seemed that they wouldn’t care if the child died tomorrow. The center was a place where kids could be kids and try not to worry about running a house, taking care of a sick family member, and a place to learn and grow. I ran after school programs with the local staff of the NPO and two other students. The staff was so dedicated and passionate about their work that it was easy to get just as invested in the children of the center. I was able to get excellent workouts from lifting kids all day, up and down, spinning, throwing, catching, chasing, etc. . . whew children. We worked with ages 3 to 21 so I now feel more than ready when I have kids myself. Our programs included arts and self expression, writing, English, homework help, sports and fitness, health, HIV/AIDS, and anything else we could think of to do with kids. Never have I seen such difficult circumstances pushed aside with such desire and hope, that often the resilience of the children made me forget how hard their lives were – with an empty house, a new child, no food to eat, an abusive guardian, a dead parent. . .

I spent some time in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho and learn much from local people and Peace Corps volunteers. I also spent a week in Mozambique visiting a friend finishing a year in Peace Corps where I met many great Mocambicans, international development and aid workers, went to some great beaches, and tried out some Portuguese. There will be many insights and reflections on my experiences in these countries as well.

I saw many things that are difficult to articulate into words, I heard so many stories that I feel it is not my place to repeat, I experienced so much that I will not be able to share for the simple fact that I, myself, can not yet understand. I feel like I left South Africa with many things hanging and left undone, what was most painfully left hanging was my heart. . .

Be sure to check the highlighted dates to be sure to follow my travels in southern Africa over the past three months.

Check out the few posts from South Africa:
what are we to do when our children are dying? (before leaving)
ten hours from amsterdam
a first glimpse: zonke
eruptions from fault lines: race is class
hangin in joburg

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