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

eruptions from the fault lines: race is class

What follows below is a chronology of my journal entries leading up to and during the violence. My thoughts and analysis will be limited by internet cafe time

“The greatest legacy of apartheid is the enduring poverty. And the vexing reality that lives just beyond view is this: apartheid lives on in South Africa. It endures in the profound contradictions of the white wealth and black poverty […]” (16)
– David Goodman in Fault Lines: Journeys into the New South Africa

Economic power and privilege still only reside in the white suburbs of South Africa: Sandton, Alberton, Greater Johannesburg, etc. Mandela came to power by political concessions, but not economic privilege – apartheid lives on. Why is it that the countries of great leaders fall into such contradiction. Mandela’s rainbow nation – trapped in pseudo-apartheid, Nkrumah’s Ghana in the throughs of neo-colonialism. . .

18 May 2008
We left for Florida at around 1pm. No this is not the Florida of beaches, spring breaks gone wrong, palm trees, or tropical weather accompanied by ocean spray – this was the Florida of South Africa, a former white-only suburb now mixed with multicultural paradox. We went to visit with Pat and Sharon who used to work with the VVOCF Center and who Rachel, our intern coordinator, stayed with last year. They left the Center under confusing and troubled circumstances – with white South African fervor and knowledge of systems and black South African desire and quest for understanding conflicting on constant miscommunication. At any rate it was very interesting to see a former white-only area. With the gated houses that are common of many elite and wealthy communities in Uganda, Ghana, and South Africa that I have seen. On our way we passed the cushioned suburbia of Alberton yet again nestled neatly in the foothills without a view of the townships or informal settlements to taint the eye. I can’t help thinking – Is this South Africa? – with the supermarkets, sprawling malls, and neatly divided rows of red brick roofs and the beauty of modern Dutch architecture all packed into the pockets far from the reality of oppression and poverty of another South Africa. The collision of “first” and “third” world landscapes and lives is something to write more on later.

(Pat and Sharon talked with us about many things, but what I will write here is relevant to this entry.) They talked of the growing violence and offered to be our escape route if we ever needed to get out of Zonke. The recent violence in Alexandra and xenophobia spreading to other settlements. Thokoza just down the road is on of the latest flashpoints in a travel advisory email that Rachel received today.In today’s City Press there was an excellent article on the violence in Alexandra and what that means for African unity. Here are some quotes from Ngila Michael Muendane’s article:

“Constitutions can be written over-night, but mindsets can linger for generations unless there is a programme to educate the public.”

“The anger of Africans against one another is caused by two factors, namely low self-esteem and perceived deprivation.”

“Taking the spirit of African renissance to the grassroots is what it is all about.”

Muendane made sure to note the history of dividing African people in colonial times and during the apartheid of South Africa into Bantustans which then later pitted ANC against IFP, Zulu against Xhosa.

I feel no threat from the violence in Alex. (My name was used as the short version for Alexandra, the newspaper headlines where worrisome: “Alex has disgraced Africa” – crap what did I do?)

20 May 2008
The violence is no longer just so far away in Alexandra and nearby Thokoza. It is much closer. The students at the center held a debate on Friday about whether Zimbabwean immigrants should be allowed into South Africa. It was very heated on Friday and was decided that it would be formally debated on Monday. Some of the community volunteers (China and Mr. Idaba) were coaches for the teams and gave too much of their personal opinions. Today we found out that one of the girls at the center is Shonga, from Zimbabwe, and felt threatened by the debate. Especially with the recent violence directed against Zimbabweans I am not surprised. The girl’s aunt had confronted the parents of students who had made comments about not allowing Zimbabweans and the center was blamed for promoting the troubling conflict. The center must be seen as inviting and inclusinve for everyone and so this is an issue we will address asap. The violence is now spreading to the center of Joburg and in other settlements – expected to hit Cape Town area soon. Celumusa talked about what that it could happen here, even though the community held a meeting saying that there would be no tolerance for violence. It is still a near possibility.

At the debate, they asked my opinion. Reluctantly , I prefaced by saying that I was not a South African and I was no where in any position that should influence their thoughts. I said that Zimbabweans should be allowed and related it back to the issue in the US with the Mexico border. Granted South Africa needs to develop an immigration policy because as of now there is none. The European/ imperialist imposed borders, the colonial divide and conquer methods, and the need for accepting societies have led to this – eruptions from fault lines. Nigerians are also much despised here because they are often drug-runners – but again, as in Ghana, generalizations are made.

I am still not afraid, but worried of what I might experience. I am not a target because I am not taking jobs, or money, or housing, but a mob mentality is far from predictable in a land devastated by foreign controls.

Later on 20 May 2008
Exacerbated conditions of poverty pit African against African in overblown, colonial ethnic divisions that a new government has called a rainbow, but has failed to deliver on its widesweeping promises. Language of oppressors is turned by the oppressed against the oppressed when a classic Romeo & Juliet dramatic conflict is taken too far. Whether called upon or not, a pox will befall all houses involved. A pox has already plagued and now is grown into new strains that infect the already colonized minds of those oppressed.

The people at the center have already seen so much violence. Bongani is five years older than me and has told us his story – he has seen so much violence. All I can think about constantly is how as a child growing up, I knew nothing of the struggle in South Africa. I grew up carefree – everyone I meet here around my age grew up0 in conflict and violence.

21 May 2008

the power is out
i know only one rout
i hear children cough
sickness wearing cutoffs
dogs bark in the street
i can hear a drumbeat
accompanied by horns
i hope the streets – not adorned
with the xeno violence(ts)
spurred by past and non-repents
boiling over to town
where no one holds crown
as “all the nations” converse
of a tolerance perverse
a whistle breaks the night air
as at the full moon, i stare
holding witness to fire
if a situation so dire
as the minds conflated
are not soon deflated
a witness i will be
to death upwards of three

dog, drum, whistle, and trombone
tension grows that i do not condone
zonkizizwe now a freeway
for all peoples and times
who compose many rhymes
of their homes and history
wrought with death and misery
a time like this is telling
of a new constitution spelling
rights and freedoms with letters
when clamped still remain the fetters
of three hundred and fifty years
of sadistic white men’s careers
bent on separation and greed
there is now such a need
to turn the power on –
so that the division may be gone
from this country of contradiction
mixed in violence and conviction
of a founded, free, and failed peoples
grasping tightly now to steeples
that will give them life after
or so says the pastor
but heaven and hell are now
if you just read the Tao (Dow)
Jones is falling fast
as the chills of the past
haunt the night of regrets
while placing our bets
a hand descends upon yours
before taking the tours
you fall hard and WHACK,
through the fingers and cracks
the invisible hand
can no longer stand
without a body and mind
that is conscious and kind
recognizing the truth
bearing forth from its roots
the Power is ON

– Alex B. Hill (21 May 2008)
As township violence grows, informal settlements banish their brothers – 30,000 & kill those undesired (30+), I pray nothing happens in Zonke.

The above poem was written a few nights after the xenophobic violence spilled over into a settlement down the road, Thokoza, and other larger areas, greater Johannesburg and Durban. I could hear drums, and horns, and whistles and I was not sure why else a commotion was growing into the night, but I was worried that this signaled the entrance of others into Zonkizizwe who were determined to kick-out all foreigners. Zonkizizwe had become a place for all people to live. Many foreigners fled to ZOnkizizwe because they had heard that it was safe and no violence would be tolerated in Zonke. Others from nearby said, if Zonke people do not kick-out foreigners, then we will go to Zonke.

I have heard and know so many personal stories and problems, but it is not my place to sit here and repeat them. A child that nearly became a failure from family neglect and stigma, a woman wracked with passion facing community neglect, young adults up against every kind of unknown anmd unseen danger. Is this South Africa? Can hope really spring from so much pain?

The violence is worrisome, but if nothing happens here tonight then the worst is past. There is much noise tonight (in poem) and so I am troubled – all should be well. Sixteen areas are affected now including a home burning in Durban. I can only think back to reading Fault Lines, which highlighted glaring contradictions in the “new” South Africa. The author assessed that much needed to change when writing in 1997 if this “new” rainbow nation was to take hold and be successful.

The current violence is a direct result of the “new” South African government’s failure to deliver on promises and assist people in recognizing that a 350 year evil takes more than 10 years to reverse. History can only truly be flipped on its head by your elementary and high school textbooks that fail to teach you the truths of slavery, the horrendous extermination of indigenous peoples of america and the blaring evil that was apartheid with US support. We claim to know and study history, but what do we really know? Who is teaching you history? (His)story – who’s story are you learning? What story will you hold on to and teach your children? His, hers, or yours?

22 May 2008
The Sowetan
“The struggle for the few resources among the poor is a cause for hatred.”

“Mbeki deploys army to quell violence – People have realised that they cannot eat votes, live in votes, or wear votes.”