vvocf education fund

17 June 2008
Sphe and Nhlanhla helped me learn some more Zulu today with even more Swahili similarities coming to light. The Bantu peoples spread from central to east and south Africa, thankfully they kept the same language structure and vocabulary similarities.

Today we began the VVOCF Education Fund! We had the idea of collecting the 5 cent pieces that everyone throws on the ground to be collected and used as a way to provide educational scholarships for the VVOCF students. The four teams will have a competition with the winner getting some prize determined later – the students in secondary will be able to apply for the scholarship later. This will be a way for the children to invest in their own education while providing ground to approach other investors overseas or in more wealthy neighborhoods/ SA businesses. Funding cannot solely come from the outside so this is a great start. “Our future is in our hands” education campaign begins today!

The on-the-ground of running a project and NPO is exciting and a great experience for me to see to be able to find out how SCOUT BANANA can be most helpful to our own projects later. Linking education with health development will be important. Giving youth a voice in-country is just as important as giving developed youth a voice to help other youth.

why there is no doctor: harsh realities in zonkizizwe (part 2) (11)

(photo: Zonke Testing Day banner on the back of a van used to transport people to the clinics)

While working in Zonke, a fact that shocked me was that an HIV-positive person can only access ARV treatment [for free, otherwise it is very expensive] if their CD4 count is below 200. This is official South African government policy and numerous studies have shown that accessing treatment earlier has greater long-term health benefits as ARVs are meant to be taken life-long. A World Health Organization (WHO) study in 2008 outlined four clinical stages of HIV progression. The WHO recommends that when a patient hits stage three with a CD4 count below 350, life-long ARV treatment should be started. Starting patients earlier negates complications later. However, in South Africa once the CD4 count goes above 200 again, treatment is stopped, which allows for greater complications and the need for new strains of ARVs. This year a push to increase the CD4 count threshold for treatment was rejected by the National Health Council on the grounds of affordability (85).

Prof Robin Wood, director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre at the University of Cape Town, is among the clinicians who have been calling for the South African government to raise the standard of treatment set out in its guidelines. However, he pointed out that better guidelines would be meaningless without improving the quality of care and access to services (86).

Professor Wood brings everything back to perspective. Anyone can call for greater access and more treatment, but if there is no distribution system for health services and care then what is the point. It would be like having a big supply of pizzas and no delivery drivers. This is the problem in many former “homelands,” townships, and informal settlements. There are inadequate or non-existent delivery systems for health services and treatment and so in areas where the HIV/AIDS crisis is most critical, there is no system to address the problem.

Today was the 2nd half of Prevention in the HIV/AIDS course. The kids are incredibly receptive with questions, comments, and the desire to learn more. We will be covering Treatment and resources this Friday. Celumusa did a great job of translating and really getting the course lessons through to the kids. Later in the evening she talked with us – her passion and drive to get people tested and aware and knowledgeable is amazing and so admirable with all she has been through. She is so excited about a Zonke testing day, the HIV/AIDS class, working with the staff and community to make more people talk and not be afraid to talk. Today she told the kids that she was HIV positive and they all did not believe her at all – they asked her to cross her heart that she was not lying. I could tell from the first class that the kids were learning much more than they had before beyond what HIV and AIDS stands for (87).

Much of the work at the center and the work that needs to happen in Zonke is HIV testing. Once tested you can learn how to take care of yourself, your children, and your community. When I asked Celumusa why people don’t test she said that people don’t know that they can live with HIV. So many people are involved in risky behaviors, she said, they have family members die from HIV/AIDS, but don’t test themselves. She also noted that pregnant mothers are tested and are given tablets, but not told their status. Testing is critical and we began working on this by planning a Zonke Testing Day for July 31st.

As I began organizing for the Testing Day, I came into contact with more of the health services available in Zonke. There are a number of traditional doctors and surgeries in Zonke. I can only imagine that this is because there is such a lack of other health services. Celumusa and others have bad perceptions of traditional medicine: evil, it kills people, and the traditional healers are crazy people. I was still having no luck finding any doctors, until I finally caught a traditional doctor in his office. He ran a clinic that was more Western than others and was supposedly trained by the government in traditional healing, but his office was empty every time I visited – no patients (88). Why are there no doctors?

Across the road from his office was a private clinic run by a group of Indian doctors. I also had a difficult time finding them, as did many Zonke residents. I was able to visit the private clinic only when Celumusa had to schedule an appointment for her baby. The private clinic had become her last option that she was sure to see a doctor. This says a lot for the health care system in Zonke (and other overcrowded settlements and townships left over from apartheid era) that the poor will pay to see a private doctor because the government health services are unreliable. Celumusa said they always give injections at the private clinic. Yet again I wonder about the quality of care. The clinics give painkiller tablets and the private clinics give injections (antibiotics?). If care is inadequate and access to ARV medication is beyond the ability of most, then the extended scenes of cemeteries become less shocking.

In the past 2 weeks, 3 people have passed because of HIV and AIDS that we have been directly informed of because the Buthelezi family has been close to the deceased – a father, an aunt, and a neighbor. Living in an HIV positive community is so different when you can fully understand the impact of just one life (89).

It was as if I had seen the walking dead. The prospect of death is so intertwined with life in Zonkizizwe that the author who wrote that South Africans attend more funerals than weddings was supported by my experiences this summer. The hardest hitting example was with the passing of the father of one of the families at the center. Three of the children attended the center. The oldest was 17 years old and was taking care of her frail father as he withered away, making sure her younger brother and sister were going to school, and attending school herself. This small family had already lost their mother to HIV/AIDS. The burden of disease was not met by the health care system or any the government response. The burden of disease rests completely on those who are affected and they do not have the resources to help themselves.

A critical aspect of combating the effects of HIV/AIDS in South Africa is education. As one of my goals over summer I developed an HIV/AIDS curriculum, based off of the Peace Corps Lifeskills curriculum, that the youth could share with the friends and families as peer educators. The spreading of knowledge is a powerful first step in giving people the resources they need to prevent HIV/AIDS. It is especially important when there exists no other means to access this information. The Zonkizizwe schools are under-funded and teachers are under-trained. This translates to the lack of a teacher for the Lifeskills curriculum and therefore the lack of knowledge on sexual health and HIV/AIDS. VVOCF is beginning to fulfill a service where the government is horribly failing.

All of our kids were tested, plus about 20 others. In all over 60 people tested. […] The community and guardian support was incredible. There were a few positives that we expected from already young mothers […] and unexpected bad news surprise […] Many good surprises came out of the day as we learned of many negative cases that were expected to confirm our worst nightmares (90).

Year – Number of HIV Tests (*from clinic 2)
2006 – 128
2007 – 246
2008 – 412

The success of solutions driven by citizens was best evidenced by the culmination of the HIV/AIDS peer education courses, health classes, and the death of a father in an area wide testing day. I had taken the lead in organizing the testing day with the clinics, MSU study abroad volunteers, and various local organizations. Because of the stigma attached and sensitivity of the issue I was a bit nervous when the day came. July 31st 2008, the first Zonke Testing Day was a day of success fueled by the youth at the center. And while the numbers of people testing have made steady increases, the reality remains that the majority of those who need treatment after testing will not have access. Many in the generation just older than these youth mocked or scoffed at the testing day, but our kids were set on it.

We really are building a new generation of freedom fighters – not afraid of stigma, talking about sex, ready to be tested, and not about to turn a blind to HIV/AIDS. These young people stood today with a powerful support base of each other evidenced by yesterday’s action and the larger community is taking notice. The youth continue to give me hope and pride in being allowed to take part in such a community action (91).

The realities of Zonkizizwe paint a vivid picture of the effects of apartheid on health care for the majority of the South African population. The health system operating in Zonke is the ground zero of the failures of post-apartheid government policy to address the far-reaching impact of HIV/AIDS.

85. “South Africa: Funding shortfall threatens treatment programme.” IRIN/PlusNews. 2 April 2009. http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportId=83762
86. Ibid.
87. Hill, Alex B. Journal Entry. 30 June 2008.
88. Ibid, 17 July 2008.
89. Ibid, 6 June 2008.
90. Ibid, 31 July 2008.
91. Ibid.

Coming next: Conclusion

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.

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)

the barking dogs

As well as posting sections of my research based on my experiences in South Africa I will also begin posting old journal entries from my time there to give some context with pictures included.

(photo: Zonkizizwe at sunset.)

15 May 2008
It is never quiet here. There is always noise during the day; children going to school, women cooking and cleaning, traffic outside, chickens, men arguing, whistling, people gambling, anything – and especially Zonke lights up after school and work; loud music, flying kites, children running around everywhere at the center, adults trying to relax with friends and relatives – and then there are the dogs. . . Oh the dogs, how they incessantly bark at night, a constant. If there are no other constants in South Africa, here it is: the dogs, searching and fighting for food scraps among the rubbish.

Today we went to Pretoria, administrative [Executive] capital of SA (South Africa) to take care of errands and pick up the long awaited NPO certificate for VVOCF. There have been many setback and long waits, but now it is here! Now officially an NPO, growing community connections, this center will be ready for the future!

In Pretoria we went to five different banks before finding one since arriving at the airport that does foreign exchange, however we forgot our passports! Is that really needed to change money? At any rate we are going to Alberton tomorrow where we can change money. So we were able to see much of Pretoria by walking from bank to bank. We stopped to have some pizza at a shady looking shop run by a white Afrikaner, but it was terrible (not even comparable to the delicious pizza of Ghana prepared by the Lebanese businesses) – better luck next time I hope.

Yesterday, one of the VVOCF staff members was able to tell us about growing up during apartheid, the political violence, and the divide of peoples in Zonkizizwe. We asked if he knew the toyi-toyi dance march from a song on the computer. He knew it well and remembered from there the divisiveness of the ANC, which was majority Xhosa people and the IFP, dominated by Zulu people. The violence between the groups was very intense in Zonke until just after 1996. He had to be dressed as a girl so that he would not be killed. Boys were expected to fight or be killed. He guessed that most of his family would be dead if the violence had not stopped when it did.

A few days ago ‘China’ (nickname of a volunteer at the center) was able to give me a near complete rundown of South African history in brief, he loves history and historic name dropping, but we have heard little of his own experiences. It is crazy to think about how those living now in Zonke around my age lived through apartheid and witnessed such terrible acts of violence.

I also 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 (we went to the Natal-Spruit Hospital to get ARVs for one), 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. My pen pal’s family has stopped coming to the center because they are so sick – I can only assume related to HIV/AIDS. We discovered the “2006-2008 Response Plan for HIV/AIDS” of the South African government. 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.

I have learned so much Zulu tonight. Again, I have been able to naturally pick up a language. I think this stems from my childhood of sound/ noise making. I can make a loud clicking sound from the roof of my mouth that no one I know can replicate. It turns out to be how you make one of the clicking syllables of Zulu.

First entry in this series:
what are we to do when our children are dying?

why there is no doctor: hiv/aids in south africa (6)

(photo: Local staff and interns at VVOCF in Zonkizizwe)

The first case of AIDS was diagnosed in South Africa in 1982 among the gay community (47). The apartheid government took minimal actions in response to the virus’ coming. This could be in part due to the violent political turmoil as well as discrimination against the gay community. In 1986 the AIDS Advisory Group was established to respond to the epidemic (48), but nothing of significance can be associated with the Group. HIV/AIDS quickly spread to the heterosexual populations and by 1990 antenatal tests showed that up to 120,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS (49).

It wasn’t until after apartheid laws were repealed that a government response was crafted. In 1992, the same year that a referendum was held on apartheid policies, Nelson Mandela addressed the National AIDS Convention of South Africa (NACOSA), which was to develop a national strategy to cope with the epidemic (50). The National Health Department reported in 1993 that HIV rates had increased by 60% in the last two years and this number was expected to double in the next year (51). This was the groundwork that apartheid had lain for the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in the next seven years.

The period from 1993-2003 marked the freedom of mobility of more people, which was evidenced by the increase in internal labor migration patterns as well as a severe increase in HIV prevalence. Seedat’s book is rightly named “crippling a nation” because when the government was stabilized and working to develop a response to the HIV/AIDS crisis it was already too late. The HIV/AIDS crisis was poised to take its toll from the detrimental apartheid policies that limited health services, medical training, forced mass migrations of people, and established environments prone to high-risk behaviors.

During this time period, a number of government actions were meant to stem the increasing prevalence rates. In 1994, the Ministry of Health adopted its first national AIDS strategy based off of NACOSA’s work (52). Unfortunately the plan was considered inadequate, poorly planned, and disorganized. In 1995, the International Conference for People Living with HIV and AIDS was held in South Africa and then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki acknowledged the seriousness of the epidemic (53). That same year the Ministry of Health announced that 850,000 people (2.1% of the population) were living with HIV (54). In 1998, The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) launched partly in response to the failures of the South African government to provide adequate resources to people affected by the crisis.

47. “HIV & AIDS in South Africa: The history of AIDS in South Africa.” Avert.
48. Ibid.
49. “HIV & AIDS in South Africa: The history of AIDS in South Africa.” Avert.
50. Ibid.
51. Ibid.
52. Ibid.
53. “HIV & AIDS in South Africa: The history of AIDS in South Africa.” Avert.
54. Ibid.

Coming next: Denial is the First Step

why are there no doctors?

(photo: empty waiting room at Zonke Clinic 2, no doctor)

Over the past 8 years Africa, international development, and health care have been the focus of my work and studies. Just last year (it’s been a year already?) I completed an internship in South Africa at a center for children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS called VVOCF (Vumundzuku-bya Vana ‘Our Children’s Future’). The internship was a completion of my ‘field experience’ requirement for my International Relations major at James Madison College and was supported by the Young People For internship program. The paper that I wrote as an investigation, analysis, and report has been by far my most rewarding piece of academic work, but also my most depressing.

To work with a community on difficult issues is one thing. To witness harsh realities while working within that community is another. But to know the historical and present reasons behind those issues and harsh realities is yet another – and it is painful only be able to watch. Sure you could argue that I and others spent time working with the community at VVOCF, but in truth all we can do as outsiders is watch. We will never live long-term in the community and we will never fully understand the issues that we study and claim to know so well.

My blogging well in South Africa took a hit because of the lack of internet access and since then has been limited to posts of some of my academic papers for classes. What will follow this post will be a series of posts copied and pasted from my final, field experience paper. I hope that it can be a resource for others. I also hope that it is a deeper look into an issue faced by a community with plenty of room for further research, learning and understanding.

There will be roughly a dozen posts on the health care system in South Africa: effects of apartheid, impacts of HIV/AIDS, issues in Zonkizizwe specifically, and conclusions. Be sure to check back later today for the first post.

community organizing as an outsider

Previous posting and following day’s entries: eruptions from fault lines: race is class

19 May 2008

Nothing seems weird to me (as many might think it should). As I look out across the settlement, across rows of RDP housing and sheet metal ‘peoples’ housing, across the open hazy sky dotted by tall, almost prison-like lights, across a silence broken only by crickets, the occasional rooster and the fighting dogs – nothing seems odd or out of place. Nothing screams at me, “you should not be here!” Yet again I feel “at home” in an African community abroad, and I can’t help but ponder, why? Is my family and home so bad? Is the USA so undesirable? Is there a welcoming atmosphere here that I am overtaken? The question remains unanswered, but will gain an answer as I open dialogue with my family when I return.

the dilemma of organizing
The difficulties of community organizing as an American ‘developed’ worlder: when is it ok to step in on community decision making? when is it ok to correct obvious, but mis-taught information – and how do you approach the correcting process? when is ti too over-reaching to make suggestions and execute programs? Evaluate!

We went to the library today – very nicely built, small inside, very slow internet, very very slow. . .

Vumundzuku-bya Vana ‘Our Children’s Future’
the children are the future and they are the only ones to hold the key, but there are many needed, required, to fashion such a key that will unlock the great, looming, double oak doors of the positive future if nothing else than there is love and those who pass will know the love of their friends, family, and community, but there is a greater purpose and potential here, one that cannot pass unmolded, the challenges are many, the obstacles great but no challenge is insurmountable without a helping hand, the hands in need are many – the hands held too few.

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.

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.”