a day wasted on the youth

15 June 2008
There is a sort of perpetual dance party on the weekends. Many people remain drunk off of the South African Breweries – remnant of apartheid appeasement of township and settlement peoples – and they blast their old tunes and techno beats to the high heavens and well into the late hours of the night. Is this their escape? Is this the real South Africa? Where the people are, is the real South Africa – not Sandton, Florida, or Alberton – but the townships, the majorities, the people that make South Africa; in their miseries, poverty, diseases, lack of family, absence of hope and utter lose for future dreams attained – the real South Africa resides with these people who have yet to realize and actualize their potential with support from uncorrupt (transparent) organizations that can give them and their children the resources to overcome, but never forget.

16 June 2008
The day rings hollow for the busloads of excited school children and township youth as ANC propaganda is spoken and popular music performed for unattentive throngs of young people with a new freedom and privilege to throw away. Politics is wasteful when it is departed from the masses and cannot compose a meaningful message to the future of the country – the youth!

Township youth are bussed in from all over. Politicians speak of real multiracial unity, but we are the only white people in the entire stadium. Speeches talk of 1976 and the youth movement, but there is no real remembrance or understanding of the past events inspired by youth. It has become less a national holiday and more a day wasted on youth, who are unguided in their development. ANC politicians talk of “all to the polls” but there is no real attempt to register youth and get them active in the governmental process. The youth were there for the pop music show as opposed to the meaning of June 16th 1976, those who died, or what it represented for their country. It is a day that has become a market opportunity for many to sell food, clothes, candies, and anything else. It is a day that has become more of an excuse than anything. An excuse for youth to skip school, to leave home, to do things their parents may not approve of, to hear popular music. An excuse for the government to feign caring about the youth, to spout their slogans, and to give lip service to their ideals. An excuse for many to forget the past and waste the future.

Reflections: 17 July 2009
The day rang hollow for me and my understanding of South Africa history, present, and future. Everything I wrote I still believe, especially now with the World Cup coming ever closer, I can only see it as another wasted opportunity. The government scrambles to hide its poor and failed systems, workers have to strike to get a fair wage, politicians have a field day with what this all means for South Africa, but again it is the masses; the majority of the population that suffers or is forgotten.

“It is best to rely on the freely given support of the people”
Nelson Mandela

With Mandela Day being today, Madiba’s 91st birthday, the world recognizing the imprint that one man left on his country and the entire world community. The problem, much like last year’s Mandela Day, was that it was a publicity event. Yes, it was a time to honor a great man and inspire others to action, but it was as if he was begin used, ushered around to coordinate yet another large money making event. Let’s not forget what Mandela did for so many people, let’s not forget those still in so much need across South Africa, the continent of Africa, and the world.

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why there is no doctor: harsh realities in zonkizizwe (part 1) (10)


(photo: Clinic #1 in Zonkizizwe, serving zones 1-4)

From May to August of 2008, I interned with an organization called Vumundzuku-bya Vana ‘Our Children’s Future’ (VVOCF). The organization is located in Zonkizizwe (Zonke), an informal settlement south of Johannesburg closest to Germiston. The informal settlement is best described as a peri-urban area much like a shantytown with convenience stores. Some live at a lesser degree of poverty than others, but everyone is impacted by HIV/AIDS.

I […] learned more about the extent of HIV/AIDS in Zonke. The intern coordinator reminded us that the statistic of students at MSU that have an STD is 1 in 4. We are only lucky that HIV/AIDS did not enter the mainstream population. Here in Zonke 1 in 4 people is HIV positive. The family at the center is more so affected by HIV/AIDS and now they work to care for children who come the center affected by the virus. There is still a very high stigma and a terribly ineffective ARV program. Many people refuse to get tested or even consider the idea. Each child at the center either has HIV […] has lost parents from AIDS or related illnesses or has not yet been tested to know. There are many who should be tested, but are not. […] It has come to my attention that much of what the government does here looks good on paper and on banners, but there is a huge, massive disconnect in implementation (78).

Zonkizizwe is a snapshot of post-apartheid health care development failures. It was founded when a group of displaced people set up shacks on a farmer’s land so that they could live closer to potential places of work. Many times the South African government tried to remove them, but they kept rebuilding. This is a story different than that of the Black townships or Bantustan “homelands.” Zonkizizwe was an area not meant to be inhabited by anyone, let alone poor Blacks. Understandably the story of health care here is one of an even greater lack of access. Informal settlements had no budgets of their own to even attempt to build their own health infrastructure and even if they did it would likely have been destroyed during forced removals. Under apartheid, health services would have been incredibly difficult to come by.

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 (79).

My goals as an intern with VVOCF were HIV/AIDS education, HIV/AIDS peer educator training, and assistance with nonprofit organizational development. I was very glad to be able to focus my strengths and interests in the work I did. I also worked to formulate a rough community health assessment based on my interactions with people at the VVOCF center, neighbors, visits to the clinics, and interactions with Zonkizizwe residents.

Now Zonkizizwe has two primary health care clinics to serve its roughly 250,000 people. Health services are all free through government funding, including immunizations and treatments. However, the issue does not become access to treatments, but rather quality of care. The director of VVOCF, Celumusa, said that all the health clinics do is give out painkiller tablets for everything (80). She said she often just goes to the chemist [pharmacist] to tell them what is wrong and get something that will actually help. This appears to be a direct outcome of apartheid health policy. The lack of trained medical professionals, notably doctors, leaves local health workers with no better option than handing out painkillers. Quite possibly the training of these health workers remains inadequate as well. Zonke is an area much in need of the RDP’s action, but all that can be seen here are RDP building supplies for new houses.

“You can see people die, sitting at Natal-spruit.” – Celumusa (81)

The closest hospital to Zonke is in Natal-spruit, about a 30-40 minute taxi ride away. If you live in Zonke, this is the closest place to get ARV medications since the clinics are “not certified” yet to distribute (82). There is another hospital nearby, but the taxi fare is more costly and it takes longer to get there. Residents of Zonke don’t necessarily have the time or money to take a day to travel to the hospital even if it is critical to their health. Those who go to Natal-spruit notice a different level of care. People die waiting, people in great pain are not attended, people in need of good health care cannot access it. At Heidelberg I was told the staff rush to help you and are much more caring (83). The Natal-spruit hospital is set to be closed soon and a new hospital will be built in Extension 6, which is in Sandonga, much closer to Zonke. Maybe with this new hospital the level of care and access to care will increase, especially in regards to ARVs accessibility.

Notes:
78. Hill, Alex B. Journal Entry. 15 May 2008.
79. Ibid, 13 May 2008.
80. Ibid, 6 June 2008.
81. Ibid, 29 May 2008.
82. Ibid, 10 June 2008.
83. Ibid.

Coming next: Harsh Realities in Zonkizizwe (part 2)

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.

Notes:
23. “Forced removals” South Africa: Overcoming apartheid, building democracy. MSU African Studies Center.
http://www.overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/multimedia.php?id=5
24. Ibid.
25. “Forced removals” South Africa: Overcoming apartheid, building democracy. MSU African Studies Center.
http://www.overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/multimedia.php?id=5
26. “The uprooting of millions, forced removals.” For their Triumphs’ and Tears. ANC, 1983.
http://www.anc.org.za/books/triumphs_part1.html#3back1
27. “Forced removals” South Africa: Overcoming apartheid, building democracy. MSU African Studies Center.
http://www.overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/multimedia.php?id=5
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

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

hangin’ in joburg

If you have been following this blog, I apologize for the extended interruption. The last post that I wrote was on the xenophobic violence, I was not a victim of that, no worries. The place where I am staying has very sporadic and unreliable internet, so my blogging and picture posting has been slowed because of that.

Short update: The xenophobia was near where I was staying (10km away), but never reached Zonkizizwe. I am still doing great and working hard at the VVOCF center for HIV/AIDS affected children. Yesterday was Zonke Testing Day, which was a huge success. Tomorrow I am leaving early in the morning to visit a Peace Corps friend in Mozambique.

Be sure to check back in later to read about the many adventures, success, and difficulties of my summer along with all the great pictures. My time in southern Africa is almost over as my flight leaves on the 10th of August. Sizobonana,

– Alex

a first glimpse: zonke

The next few entries will be a bit back logged since I have now been in South Africa for over 2 weeks. Many of the next entries will deal with issues and topic areas that I have encountered as opposed to the day to day happenings

We woke up at 9am the next day to find our car nicely cooled down. I slept like a rock that night off the plane. We missed the breakfast at City Lodge and headed to Zonkiziwe. Rachel’s left-side driving is getting better. We were able to see more of Joburg in the light. It is like many African capital cities that I have visited – except wild driving is to a minimum (only on the shoulders), traffic lights work and road signs are followed, and there is the ever-present distinct smell of burning oil and gas. There were even police watching for speeders.

The informal settlements outside of Johannesburg are numerous and scenes from the Tsotsi movie were replicated in reality in an expansive wonder before my eyes. The South Africa seen by the majority of the population was nothing incredibly beautiful to behold – or was it? This would be my home for the next 3 months.

We finally found the correct, rock strewn street and arrived at the center. We met the director, Celumusa (Nomusa to those who cannot pronounce the click) and Phindile, China, and a whole group of excited youngsters. My introduction to the children was a lifting workout that included spinning one after another. China, not his real name, was very knowledgable and loved history. He likes to assert his dominance in repeating little remembered names and dates. We also later went shopping at a shopping center, very developed, but happened to almost take the wrong lane into head-on traffic.

It seems pictures will not work here either, wait a little bit longer.

Pictures Update: 29 December 2008
Sorry this is update is so late in coming, enjoy the newly posted pictures.

ten hours from amsterdam

We finally arrived in South Africa after the 10 hours flight from Amsterdam, the longest flight in my entire life. At theJohannesburg airport the customs and immigration procedures were possibly the quickest and esiest that I ahve ever experienced. Unfortunately the exchange banks were out of Rand at the airport and we decided to take care of that later. We had no problems working with the white Afrikaner rental employees, until we had loaded all of our luggage into the new Ford focus and realized that for some reason the car was not picking up speed like a regualar car. As soon as you took your foot off the gass it would stop completely. After driving a ways on R24 towards our hostel for the night we stopped at a red light. When we stopped a plume of horrendous rubber smelling smoke engulfed the car from behind. What was burning rubber? We soon realized that we had been driving with the parking brake on! Quickly release, we were well on our way.

We stayed at City Lodge, a very plush, under-construction hotel in the Johannesburg area. As far as I was able to see in the night Joburg is a large industrialized city like any other – the only difference may be the strret signs, languages spoken, and the zebra striped curbs. I have much more to write about the first week here and pictures to add – the internet at the Zonkizizwe library is extremely slow and I hope to find a faster connection soon! All is well in South Africa, check back for more updates.