why there is no doctor: cleaning black spots off of a white land? (3)

Forcing people to live in separate racial areas of South Africa was the driving piece of apartheid’s “separate development” policy. The pockets of the Black population that lived among and near White city centers were called “Black spots” and the government actively worked to clean them out. During the 1950s and 1960s the first “forced removals” occurred after the passing of the Group Areas Act established these racial areas. More than 860,000 people were forcibly removed as a way to divide and control racially separate communities as resistance grew towards apartheid policies (23). Sophiatown of Johannesburg and District Six of Cape Town are just two examples of vibrant multi-racial communities that were destroyed by South African government bulldozers once they were deemed “White” areas (24).

Between 1960 and 1983, over 3.5 million South Africans were forcibly removed (25) and until 1984 another 1.7 million were under threat of removal (26). Blacks were removed to distant segregated townships, sometimes 30 kilometers away from places of employment in the central towns and cities (27). As a result ‘informal settlements’ formed as shantytowns closer to places of work, but many were destroyed. Farm laborers were also displaced by mechanized agricultural. As a result farm laborers were segregated into desperately poor and overcrowded rural areas and were not permitted to travel to towns to find new jobs (28).

Removals represented the “essential tool” for apartheid to work. Creation of the Bantustans stripped Black South Africans of all legal rights in South Africa and their welfare was no longer the problem of the South African government. Hundreds of thousands of other Blacks were dispossessed of land and homes where they had lived for generations in these “Black spots” now designated as part of “White” South Africa. Entire townships were destroyed and their residents removed to just inside the borders of Bantustans where they now faced long commutes to their jobs (29).

In other words, removal of people is not simply a physical act; it is part of a process and a strategy that seeks to push increasing numbers of South Africa’s people into ever more remote and inhospitable areas where, broken and fragmented by the experience of removal and all that it means, people are left to exist under conditions of increasing apathy and powerlessness (30).

One UN report on the forced removals noted, “that the demolition was executed in total disregard for the health and well-being of every individual concerned, in the most inhumane manner” (31). The forced removals created poverty situations where the infertile Bantustan lands had to sustain an overcrowded population. This policy of removal, coupled with the apartheid policies on health services in Bantustans and for Black medical training, shows the dire health effects on the Black population. These terrible health conditions later translate into environments easily susceptible to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

23. “Forced removals” South Africa: Overcoming apartheid, building democracy. MSU African Studies Center.
24. Ibid.
25. “Forced removals” South Africa: Overcoming apartheid, building democracy. MSU African Studies Center.
26. “The uprooting of millions, forced removals.” For their Triumphs’ and Tears. ANC, 1983.
27. “Forced removals” South Africa: Overcoming apartheid, building democracy. MSU African Studies Center.
28. Ibid.
29. Ibid.
30. J Yawitch, Betterment. “The myth of homeland agriculture” SAIRR: Johannesburg, 1981, p.86.
31. ‘Forced removals in South Africa 1977-1978’, paper prepared by IDAF for the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid, No. 44/78, Oct. 1978, p.9.

Coming next: High-Risk Migration Patterns

why there is no doctor: introduction to an epidemic (1)

Subtitle: The Impact of HIV/AIDS in the Post-Apartheid Health Care System of South Africa

Introduction to an Epidemic

Everyone in the car remained silent as we passed a sea of gravestones on the way to Zonkizizwe, an informal settlement south of Johannesburg (1). The cemetery seemed to extend for miles. This was the reality of HIV/AIDS in the peri-urban, informal settlements. It is a reality that is not far departed from scenes in rural homelands as well as the urban townships of South Africa. I was not new to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but I was new to the experiences of those living in an informal settlement under apartheid, struggling with the crippling impact of HIV in an area where I never even saw a doctor. Why were there no doctors?

It is estimated that one in five South Africans aged 15-49 are infected with HIV. Since the last UNAIDS report in 2008, 5.7 million people are living with HIV in South Africa and 1000 people die everyday from HIV/AIDS related causes (2). The cause of death for 71% of people aged 15-49 is now AIDS (3). Some people have even noted that South Africans spend more time at funerals than they do at weddings. There are an estimated 1,400,000 orphans as a result of HIV/AIDS (4). The numbers of those infected does not reflect the real impact of disease because the impact of HIV/AIDS extends further into families, friends, and communities.

Life expectancy has fallen considerably in South Africa as the prevalence of HIV/AIDS spread rapidly from 1990-2003 (5). This time period is marked by violent, but positive changes in government rule and policy. The first case of AIDS in South Africa was diagnosed in 1982 among the gay population, so why was the most rapid spread during this time period (6)? Many experts and professionals posit that this rapid spread of HIV and the lack of a response to the epidemic in South Africa is due to the political turmoil of the 1980s into the 1990s. However, this represents a failure to look deeper into the history of South Africa and its health care systems.

While violent conflict had a direct effect on the response to HIV/AIDS in South Africa, a number of other factors with greater impacts based in apartheid policy led to the rapid spread and limited possibility for a comprehensive government response even if there were an absence of violence. South Africa has a difficult history of formulating a response to HIV/AIDS: from apartheid health policy to AIDS denial, from a failed treatment program to the absence of doctors and adequate health infrastructures.

In the March 2009 elections, health was a driving factor for many voters and appeared on many political party platforms. The African National Congress (ANC) ran with promises to cut HIV infections by 50%, launch a National Health Insurance program, and ensure decent wages for health workers (7). With such a far-reaching crisis at hand, politicians must formulate a better, more comprehensive plan to address the effects of apartheid history combined with the current strains on the health care system if they are to effectively combat HIV/AIDS. Why has the response to HIV/AIDS been so poor? Why was HIV able to spread so quickly in South Africa? Why is there no comprehensive treatment program? Why are there no doctors?

1. Personal account of Alex B. Hill who interned at Vumundzuku-bya Vana ‘Our Children’s Future’ in Zonkizizwe (Proper), South Africa from May-August 2008.
2. UNAIDS 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic http://www.unaids.org/en/KnowledgeCentre/HIVData/GlobalReport/2008/
3. Centre for Actuarial Research, South African Medical Research Council and Actuarial Society of South Africa (2006, November), ‘The Demographic Impact of HIV/AIDS in South Africa – National and Provincial Indicators for 2006’
4. HIV & AIDS in South Africa: The history of AIDS in South Africa
5. UNAIDS 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, Chapter 4: The impact of AIDS on people and societies
6. HIV & AIDS in South Africa: The history of AIDS in South Africa
7. Cullinana, Kerry. “Healthy election promises.” 31 March 2009

Coming next: The Health System via Apartheid