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.

modernizing traditional remedies

(photo: Traditional surgery, not in the sense of cutting people open – just means it is a place of traditional medicine practice.)

6 June 2008
There hasn’t been much that I have cared to write on for the past few days. I am building an HIV/AIDS curriculum for peer education from the Peace Corps Life Skills curriculum. The Peace Corps program is very good with excellent activities and info. The classes were supposed to start today, but will be pushed back a week because kids didn’t show up on time – so it became freedom of expression day with singing, drawing, and poetry reading. But I am excited to start and contribute to youth leadership development in such a critical and controversial subject.

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.

(photo: Traditional doctor’s office, 2 years of formal training)

Celumusa told us today that all the health clinics do is give out painkiller tablets for everything. She often just goes to the chemist (pharmacist) to tell them what is wrong and to get something that will actually help. I inquired about the herbalist and surgeon – same building that we passed in Zone 3 – Celumusa is skeptical of the herbalist. Today she returned from Sandonga with a paper flyer for a “traditional” healer who claims to help with 65 diseases including HIV/AIDS. Supposedly the South African government gives witch doctors certificates in the hopes of finding a cure for HIV/AIDS. Yet another example of their [the government’s] absurdity. Mr. Ndaba told us that Mbeki and Zuma are supposedly coming to Zonke for the upcoming elections. That should be interesting.

Reflections 6 July 2009:
This is a very different picture of traditional medicine than what I saw and studied in Ghana. Here traditional medicinal practice is more associated with the spirits and evil (muti in isiZulu) as opposed to healing processes that are trusted to work, like I saw in Ghana. There were plenty of stories about the frightening things that might happen to small children who upset a Sangoma (“witch” doctor), etc. However, I did see some traditional medicinal practices being employed by the grandmother (Goko) and mother. One such traditional remedy turned modern was using a ball of toothpaste or soap (inserted into the anus) to cleanse the body. Nothing like a little soap to clean out your system of sickness. Regardless of the views I received from neighbors and community members about traditional medicine and doctors there were plenty of locations to visit the practitioners of traditional medicine.

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?

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.”