Yesterday was the day we all went on exposure visits to areas surrounding Durban. I went to Inanda, where local women started support groups for the community, and later youth support groups also formed. This project was initiated by the Diakonia Council of Churches; there are approximately 5 support groups of 100 people each.
Our bus was quite late, so we had some fun at the Glenmore Pastoral Centre before leaving.
This took forever to assemble, but I think it’s pretty cool:
We headed off to Inanda, traveling into rural Kwazulu Natal, where we would meet those involved with the support groups.
On our way, we stopped by a large dam that had been build by the Afrikaan population 20 years previously. In order to build the dam, 500 families (representing approximately 5000 people) were forcibly displaced. This includes the family of one of the participants in the Youth for Eco-Justice program. The land they lived on is now under water. 20 years on, they are still waiting for compensation.
We all got out to see the dam and started taking pictures with each other and the scenery around us. I didn’t think about this at the time, but now that I see the photos, I realize how odd (and even awful) it was to essentially turn a human rights situation into a tourist stop. It’s not what any of us consciously did, but we were there to see the dam, and photos like the one above, while very nice, were perhaps inappropriate at the time.
On this visit, it was also evident that racial tensions are still part of the narrative of South Africa. As one unemployed youth said, “I’ve never seen a white person give me a salary.”
We arrived at a public building where the support groups meet. It was in Emaphephetheni and also housed a clinic, which was built in 2003. Previously, there was no clinic for the residents in this area.
The women we met with talked about the community garden they plant seasonally, taking many of the vegetables to those who are sick with HIV/AIDS. We were unable to visit the garden due to flooding on the roads from the intense rain two days previously. It made me wonder how often this happens, and what that means for the food supply.
HIV/AIDS is a big problem in South Africa. This was not helped by the South African government’s denial, until 2009, about the disease. Until then, the Health Minister publicly said that drinking lots of water and eating beet root could treat HIV/AIDS, while the former President said to take a shower.
In Emaphephetheni, the clinic there can give out ARVs, but couldn’t in the past. We were told that many people in this area don’t come to the clinic if they are HIV+ (or suspect that they are) because of a lack of education around the issue, denial of their status, and stigmatization. In some cases, people refuse to go to their local clinic but will go elsewhere so that no one in their community knows that they are HIV+. However, while it is good that they are getting treatment, traveling so far poses its own problems.
We were told that the biggest problem here is unemployment. And since the population is relatively poor, youth don’t have the option of going to university – “We just sit at home doing nothing.”
Also, people in the area don’t really know about COP 17. In its abstract form, COP 17 doesn’t appear to affect these people and their lives. We were told that the support groups try to break it down for the local people, by explaining the links between the changes in local weather conditions and the larger problem of global warming and climate change.
I asked about violence against women and whether the support groups deal with that. There have been studies showing that rape is correlated with HIV/AIDS contraction; rape is generally more violent than consensual sex, which makes HIV/AIDS more likely to be transmitted through blood and tearing. While not commenting specifically on this correlation, the women we met with did say that they have had Stress and Trauma sessions, which were very intense but helpful for the women involved.
There are also community health workers, and condoms are distributed freely by the government and are not opposed by churches. This was surprising to me, since I’ve dealt with the Catholic Church’s position on condoms in the past (in the Canadian context), and personally feel that I would never work for an organization that refuses to use condoms in its HIV/AIDS prevention program. But, it makes sense in an area (Kwazulu Natal) where the HIV/AIDS rate is 65%. However, the government condoms are not exactly good, as a I was told, because they are stapled to the information paper, rendering them pretty much ineffective. And, the empowerment of women and girls is a huge issue that is being addressed so that they can insist on using a condom.
It was a lot to take in, but was a great day. We spent the rest of the day at the beach, having some R&R and checking out the grassroots environmental projects along the water.
In other news, check out an interview with Bill Phipps, former UCC Moderator, about his fast for Durban.