steel villages and concrete fences

13 May 2008

Everyone waves from their steel-corrugated shacks, children smile and get excited, parents and elders are welcoming – looking out over the shanty town roof tops that extend as far as the eye can see in each direction you can’t help but wonder that within this poverty and desolation mixed with laughter and happiness – what potential can be harnessed, what community action can be inspired to make South Africa’s future brighter by and for those who live here.

The government built lavatories and sinks for the informal settlement so sanitation is good. They provide building materials for brick houses through the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), but where are the education improvements? the health support? the food subsidies? A government can’t do it all and so places like VVOCF exist!

This all made me think more about the African health worker crisis as I see the direct result of it, the effectiveness of government funded health care, and the access to nutritional information and education.

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

your energy is not your own

Earlier this month I wrote about how South Africa’s war into Mozambique has contributed to Mozambique checking in at one of the poorest countries in the world. It seems that the apartheid past is still too close at hand to allow Mozambique ample space to regain its footing.

Mozambique is supposedly going to increase energy supplies to South Africa to aid in its electricity shortages. What? Mozambique is going to aid South Africa when Mozambique is facing energy shortages of its own and has South Africa to thank for its apartheid debt? What I later read was that 75% of the energy produced by Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa Dam is already sold to South Africa. The reason for the increase is because the Dam recently received refurbishment that has increased production.

Disturbingly, in later research it came to light that the Cahora Bassa Dam was a joint project of Electricity Supply Commission (ESCOM, as it was known prior to 1987), latterly Eskom, Johannesburg, South Africa and Hidroelectrica de Cahora Bassa (HCB), a firm owned 82% by the government of Portugal and 18% by Mozambique. So it is not the government of Mozambique swaying to its former apartheid aggressor, it is the economic interest of two major energy companies one owned by South Africa and the other controlled by Portugal. Where is the voice of the Mozambican people? Why can they not benefit from the very energy that they produce? The answer to that question is all too easily given from the previous statement. The Eskom company is also known by its Afrikans name: Elektrisiteitsvoorsieningskommissie. Now we have arrived at the conclusion that an Afrikans company operating out of South Africa with a known past of the apartheid government decimating the Mozambican population. Did this company gain its assets on the river during the apartheid fueled war with Mozambique? Is the company now profiting from the current and war-time suffering of the Mozambican people? All signs point to yes in both questions. Apartheid is still alive and well in the energy industry of southern Africa.

An apartheid era company and the Portuguese, former colonial power, lay claim to the energy supply of southern Africa, Mozambique remains pushed aside, and South Africa gains from the increase in energy where I am sure the wealthy benefit the most. Resources need to rest in the hands of the people, so that the benefit lays in the homes of the people. We who would claim to support and promote democracy need to remember that the Greek, “demos” (prefix of democracy) means ‘the people’ or ‘the poor.’ Those who face the harshest challenges should receive the greatest benefit.

what apartheid has done with affordable transportation

A week of riots and clashes sparked in the capital as the government attempted to raise fuel prices by 50%. Mozambique is often unheard of in international news, but a week of violent riots in Maputo leaving 100 injured and four dead were enough to bring the world’s poorest country to the headlines. The fuel price jump was proposed as a response to the 14% rise in diesel fuel costs. Food prices have also experienced an increase due to the rise in fuel costs. The reason that riots erupted was not only because of rising fuel costs, but mainly because of the low wages that people in Mozambique make. The more interesting question may be why is Mozambique so poor and why would the government seek a 50% increase in price to meet the demand?

Mozambique is moderately large country on the East coast of Africa. With a history of Portuguese colonial rule, civil war, effects of apartheid, and a wide-reaching famine, Mozambique has had great difficulty in bringing its people out of desperate poverty. Mozambique gained independence in 1975, but was quickly pulled into war against white rule in Rhodesia and South Africa. The apartheid government of South Africa not only oppressed its own people, it engaged in near full-scale war with Angola and Mozambique as well as raiding and blockading Lesotho, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. “This was a war against ordinary people, in which schools and health posts were primary targets and civilians were massacred on buses and trains. At least two million Mozambicans and Angolans died in the war South Africa waged against them; millions more had to flee their homes.” writes Action for Southern Africa and the World Development Movement in an Africa Action Report.

A generation of children never received education because schools were destroyed, mothers and children died because health services were devastated, and now the region cannot rebuild because they are asked to pay again for the injustices of the apartheid regime through debts. The war waged by the South African apartheid government made Mozambique one of the poorest countries in the world. Over one million people died between 1977 and 1992, the economy was destroyed along with the countryside, and the country was left with a legacy of landmines. The South African government supported a rebel group called RENAMO. RENAMO or Mozambican National Resistance was formed after independence as an anti-communist conservative political party. It fought against the FRELIMO (Mozambican Liberation Front) and the Zimbabwean government of Robert Mugabe which was overthrowing the white Rhodesian rule. RENAMO received support from South Africa as well as the Central Intelligence Organization of Rhodesia and the CIA of the United States. RENAMO was known for its widespread brutality and human rights abuses. It was instrumental in destroying the economy of Mozambique and ensuring that a southern African country under black rule could not be stable.

The US and South African backed RENAMO insurgency destroyed the basic infrastructure and industry of Mozambique. With this extreme loss of income Mozambique was forced to turn to the IMF and World Bank in order to create the infrastructure destroyed by apartheid. “Mozambique has been forced to delay universal primary education until 2010 because it has to repay the apartheid-caused debt.” notes the Africa Action Report. This debt cause by apartheid South Africa is easily deemed odious. Meaning the debts imposed were against the interests of the local populace, and as such should be written off as unlawful under international law.

On top of the apartheid debt and lack of infrastructure, in 2001 Mozambique experienced terrible flooding that has threatened nearly a quarter of the country with death by famine. Again in 2007 terrible flooding forced almost 60,000 people to be evacuated from the Zambezi River Valley. It was said to have been worse that the flooding in 2001. Roads were destroyed, bridges washed away, hundreds of homes disappeared under water – this on top of apartheid debt and a landmine scarred countryside. There is hope for Mozambique. Tourism is increasing and international investment is at a high, but at what cost? The government of Mozambique needs to ensure that it does not sell out its future in investment schemes that will rob indigenous peoples of their lands and leave the country empty of resources.

Mozambique has suffered and is still suffering from the white empowered South African apartheid government system backed by none other than the United States of America. If you would like to understand the current rioting in the capital of Maputo, you need only look back to apartheid to recognize why the 170th of 175 countries listed on the development index sits right next to the richest country in all of Africa.