To remain active, stay connected!

Name: Dikatso Malapile

Province: Gauteng

Dikatso describes herself as a young, energetic networker and change driver full of passion for what she does. She says she is not easily broken and is persistent when it comes to things that matter the most.

Why did you decide to be part of the ACTIVATE! Network?

I decided to be part of the network because I saw how Activate empowers and equips young people to drive change in their communities by following the proper channels. I knew that it would give me the right foundation for the projects I’m working on.

What did you enjoy the most about training?

I enjoyed the discussions because at that point in time having different points of views broadened my mind even more and I also enjoyed module 2 when we were doing project planning.

How has training helped you or changed your perspective?

Training helped me realise that my voice matters!! It also showed me that I have always had what it takes to bring about the change I desire in my community, the only thing that was needed was to be pointed in the right direction of how to get things done.

What do you think the role of the youth is in developing the country?

It is evident that when it comes to the youth, we have to push harder in order for people to take us seriously. I picked up that we don’t necessary have to use violence to get heard, if we all connect to each other we can all use the different resources we have to develop our country.

What is your field of interest?

At the moment I am interested in empowering the youth, but mostly substance abusers as I believe that most of them are lost and they need someone to bring about what they think they are not capable of doing anymore. 

I started a fundraising campaign called “The vision,” with indiegogo. It would be great if Activate along with other Activators helped spread the word to help us raise funds for the rehab center. If anyone can help even if its not in the form of money please contact me: malapiledikatso@gmail.com 

How are you driving change in your community?

At the moment I am trying to raise funds so that I can have a rehabilitation center built in my community, and I am also working with other Activators on different projects.

Now that you have completed training, how do you plan to keep active in the network?   

The only way to keep active is to keep connected, every time an Activator has an event it is important to attend because even in such events one gets to meet new people who might help with what I’m working on so to remain active one needs to stay connected and up to date. 

What are your plans for next year?

Hopefully I will have the land by then so by next year I’ll be working on getting the center up and going.

How will you be involving the network in your plans?

We’ll be having fund raising events so that’s when we’ll be involving the network because we’ll need different materials for example posters by Activate! It will be really helpful for us.

The math conundrum

South Africa’s performance in terms of its mathematics and science education is poor, according to results by the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness report. The report for 2015/16 painted a depressing picture, with South Africa placed at 138 out of 140 countries.

One would expect the government to improve the quality of our mathematics and science education after such an embarrassing report, but what shocked many South Africans this past week was the Department of Education excusing grade 7 to 9 learners that had obtained 20% in mathematics, lower than the pass mark of 40%.

“There are learners who are passing all their subjects, six of their seven subjects but failing mathematics. And consequently, particularly in grade 9, they fail their standard because mathematics has now become a compulsory pass subject,” said Western Cape Education head Brian Schreuder in an interview with Eyewitness News.

Schreuder went on to say that those learners who pass everything except mathematics will be condoned so that they can continue into FET or grade 10 but not be permitted to take mathematics as a subject unless they take mathematics literacy.

Are we ignoring the importance of Mathematics in a child’s life and making decisions for them that will affect their life forever?

Large companies like Investec funds projects like Pro-Maths that focus on assisting high school learners with mathematics and science. SAICA has also taken it upon itself to improve the maths and science crisis by starting the Maths and Science Academy for Alexandra Schools.

A group of 10 students from the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS), myself included, started the “I love my Maths Campaign” in August 2015 to respond to the crisis by collecting and donating scientific calculators and Mathematical sets to township schools in order to assist the learners performance. Many organisations and individuals have taken it upon themselves to lend a hand in improving mathematics and science in South Africa.

All these efforts surely show that we acknowledge the level of difficulty and importance of mathematics, and that is why a pass mark of 20% is insulting.

As someone who enjoyed mathematics, a subject that allowed me to travel to different places for Olympiads and other learning experiences, I want other kids to share the same experiences. I remember travelling to Johannesburg for the first time in the year 2010 as a grade 10 learner to meet other learners from the rest of South Africa purely because of doing well in mathematics.

By condoning these learners to the next grade, we are ignoring all the factors that might have led to the subject fail and assuming that the subject is too difficult for them. Giving these learners a second chance at passing the subject could open a lot of doors for them in the future – doors they never thought existed.

According to Livestrong.com, “Math teaches logic and order. You can expect a mathematical equation to have a predictable outcome, and precise steps must be followed to attain that result. The discipline of mind that children develop in math class can carry over into everyday life. Companies know this, as some businesses will hire math majors based on the presumption that students who are good at math have learned how to think.”

If we are saying that the 80% of the mathematics work that a learner has failed isn’t important, how do we even begin to improve our world ranking to a better and less depressing position? How do we encourage learners to try and work hard in mathematics if they know that they will be condoned anyway?

Photo credit: northernnatalcourier.co.za

Ubuntu, a tool for social change.

To belong to a community and to live your life in communion with others is the first step of a successful call for social change. We live in a world where people are members of a community but they have nothing in common with the community except the fact that they share the same geographical location. This is solely because they exclude themselves from the day-to-day challenges of the community in question.

 By excluding themselves I mean that they do not participate in activities of the community that are aimed at improving the lives of the members of the community like imbizos, ward meetings about safety, dialogues between local government and residents, etc.

 According to the Oxford dictionary, the word “community” means “a group of people who have something in common i.e stay in the same area.”  And the word “communion” means “the sharing and exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially on a mental or spiritual level/shared participation in mental or spiritual experience.”

 Therefore it is important for Activators to not only belong to a certain community, but firstly to live in communion with the community so that he/she can be psychologically and spiritually connected with his/her community for the driving of social change.

 There’s an English proverb that says, “no man is an island.”  This demonstrates that you have to share common problems with those you live with and strive to find common solutions collectively. In Tswana, we usually say “metse go sha e e mabapi” this means that if my house catches a fire, it is the responsibility of my neighbours to help me extinguish the fire.  If not so the same fire is going to spread to the nearby houses which belong to them.

In South Africa, we have what we call “Ubuntu,” a Zulu word meaning humanity. Usually in Zulu this means “umuntu, ngumuntu, ngabantu” which basically means that you are nothing without other people.

The main purpose of Ubuntu is to ensure that we live our lives in communion with other people.  As an Activator the main question becomes, “How can I use Ubuntu as a tool for social change?”

Easy, firstly strive to be in communion with your community, by this I’m not saying you should demand to be accepted by your community, but rather I am saying accept your community first, and then they will accept you too.  Once you’ve entered in communion with your community, you then start being the change you want to see.  The next question can be “how do I become the change I want to see?”  Well you can be the change you want to see by being the moral agent of change.

By being the moral agent of change I mean that you have to walk the talk and talk the walk.  Saint Francis of Assisi once said, “If you want to do great things, start by doing small things.”  By this I mean you have to touch the lives of the people in your community by performing little acts of kindness depending on the social change you want to see.

Community building depends on the way you conduct yourself in your community and character formation depends on how your community conducts themselves.  This means that who you are defines the community you come from, and the way your community conducts itself defines who you are. In other words your action influences/contributes to the kind of community you want to see and the actions of your community influences the kind of a person you are.

This means that if we can contribute positively to the lives of those who are in community with us by teaching them how to practise Ubuntu through practising it first ourselves, they too will be inspired to carry on doing good to others and by so doing they will be spreading the spirit of Ubuntu.

In closing I’d like to say, start by doing what’s necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible – St Francis of Assisi.

Photo credit: nicework.co.za

Changing perspectives through writing

Name: Ramadimetja Makgeru

Province: Gauteng

Ramadimetja describes herself as a young vibrant female who is passionate about social development. She loves writing, solving problems and assisting others. She asserts that she will drive change in whatever space you put her in. 

Why did you decide to be part of the ACTIVATE! Network?

It’s very rare to meet young people who are passionate about social development and driving change in society, so I knew that the only way to meet a group of young people as passionate about social development as me was to join the Activate! Network.

What did you enjoy the most about training?

I enjoyed meeting young leaders who all had a story to tell. We were all from various backgrounds, so there was always something new to learn from just listening to someone else. We shared tips and strategies on how to improve our different projects.

How has training helped you or changed your perspective?

It has opened my eyes to a lot of things I wasn’t aware of. It taught me the importance of politics and why I must be an active citizen. I also learnt new skills that will help me in any project I am involved in.

What do you think the role of the youth is in developing the country?

The role of the youth is to create a new future in which generations that follow will be able to live freely.

What is your field of interest?

Entrepreneurship and community development are my main areas of focus. I love working with people and finding solutions to problems that are faced by communities daily.

How are you driving change in your community/How would you like to drive change in your community?

The issue of young school girls not having the financial means to access sanitary pads is very close to my heart. I collect and donate sanitary pads to schools in my home village of Mohlaletse, GaSekhukhune.

Through my company, Competent Creations, I plan to donate menstrual cups (a more sustainable period management tool) to these girls. We are still in talks with a potential client that manufactures them. 

I would like sanitary towel donations from anyone who can support my initiative and any entrepreneurs who need assistance with setting up a company can contact me or my company directly from our website (www.competentcreations.co.za).

Now that you have completed training, how do you plan to keep active in the network?

My love for community service is mostly seen through my blog, changeholic.wordpress.com, where I profile young people that are making active changes in society. So, I plan to keep active in the network by hopefully becoming a writer for Activate and covering the stories of activators on the activate website.

What are your plans for next year?

I will be continuing my community projects, better equipped of course, but I will be putting a lot of energy into my small start-up Competent Creations Agency (Pty) Ltd (www.competentcreations.co.za). I have applied for the Switch programme, and other incubation programmes as well, to enable me to grow as an entrepreneur and hopefully have a stable business by the end of 2017.

I also want to grow as a writer, so I will be taking up a lot of writing opportunities out there.

How will you be involving the network in your plans?

I want to travel around South Africa, meeting different Activators and telling their stories to the world through writing. Even if I don’t get a chance to do that through Activate, I will be sharing their stories on my own blog (I have already started!)

Children bear the scars of abuse

About 39% of women and children have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime according to the Western Cape Gender Based Violence indications. Most of the violence is believed to have occurred in places of safety like in their homes and communities. Violence against women and children in South Africa is among the highest in the world, and the perpetrators are mostly known members of the community.

More in particular, domestic abuse impacts the lives of children in a number of ways. Some of the most widely reported ways include: witnessing the abuse of their mother, being directly abused themselves, and being a pawn in the abuse.

Research has furthermore revealed that 86% of children were either in the same or adjoining room during an incident of domestic abuse, 73% saw their mothers being violently assaulted, and 10% had witnessed sexual violence.

Children living under these dire situations have to carry the burden of witnessing violent acts on a daily basis. This could mean hearing threats or arguments from another room. Children may also observe the aftermath of physical abuse such as bruises, tears, blood, broken items, tension and fearfulness.  

The impact of child abuse

Adams Tucker, child and clinical psychologist says: “Because children are unable to fully understand or explain the impact of abuse, professionals usually rely on the development of symptomatic behaviours to signal underlying emotional difficulties. The most common problems exhibited by child victims include effective disorders, anxiety and fear.”

Tucker adds that: “Physical abuse may result in a number of biological consequences, including death, brain damage, mental retardation, learning disabilities and sensory deficits. It is estimated that between 25 and 30 percent of abused children who survive the abusive conditions have brain damage or neurological dysfunction resulting directly from physical trauma.”

The impact of trauma

Tucker also defined trauma as an emotional shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to an individual’s psychological development. He says: “Trauma also refers to overwhelming, uncontrollable experiences that psychologically impact victims by creating in them feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, loss of safety and loss of control. Although other emotional reactions may be seen, these are the states most likely to be present and to be uncovered by a psychologist.”

Research has suggested that the impact of trauma on a child may have lifelong psychobiological consequences, depending on the developmental stage of the child at the time of trauma, his/her coping abilities and the meaning of the event to the child.

Children who grow up in abusive homes are expected to keep the family secret, sometimes not even talking to each other about the abuse. The innocent souls can pretend so well and look fine, but deep down they are affected and going home from school is no longer a happy feeling anymore. If one is lucky enough to go hang with others, they are usually the last ones to leave the mall to return home.

Long term effects of witnessing abuse

Whether or not children are physically abused, they often suffer emotional and psychological trauma from living in homes where their fathers abuse their mothers. The sad reality about all this is that, these children in most common cases are denied the kind of home life that fosters healthy development. This however has the potential to carry on with their lives and usually making life very much difficult for them. Some grow up not realising it is important to love others and be loved as well. In many cases most of these victims do not last long in relationships when they are old, and those that do, also tend to practice the violence they had to endure while growing up on their life time partners. In some extreme cases, others lose the meaning and value of life.

In an interview conducted with the Western Cape MEC for Community Safety, Dan Plato spokesperson, Ewald Botha says: “Everyone deserves to feel safe from abuse, violence and crime. Everyone deserves to want to get the best out of life opportunities, development and success, which includes women and children as equally deserving.”

Botha added: “Where there is abuse, there is fear and there is a need to replace the fear with a feeling of safety.”

“The Department of Community Safety in the Western Cape is implementing a comprehensive 16 Days of Activism Campaign that will increase awareness and strengthen efforts towards reducing violence against women and children through various activities around the theme : SPEAK OUT- SILENCE TO STRENGH,” added Botha.

“We need this safe space for all of us not only during the period of 16 Days of Activism against no violence against women and children, but every single day going forward.”

“We are all here to say there is help, change is possible- it can be better. We are here to support women and children in particular who face abuse, to work with men and boys to change the current culture of violence that exists in some families and communities, and to ask the courts to deliver strong sentences against perpetrators found guilty of violence against women and more especially children,” concluded Botha.

Let us be the change that we want to see. The problem these women and children, and in some cases young men face cannot be ignored and we, collectively, have to address them. 

Photo credit: Renegadebroadcasting.com

The math conundrum

Ramadimetja Makgeru

South Africa’s performance in terms of its mathematics and science education is poor, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness report. The report for 2015/16 painted a depressing picture, with South Africa placed at 138 out of 140 countries.

One would expect the government to improve the quality of our Mathematics and Science education after such an embarrassing report, but what shocked many South Africans this past week was the Department of Education progressing grade 7 to 9 learners that had obtained 20% in Mathematics, which is 50% lower than the pass mark of 40%.

“There are learners who are passing all their subjects, six of their seven subjects but failing mathematics. And consequently, particularly in grade 9, they fail their standard because mathematics has now become a compulsory pass subject,” said Western Cape Education head Brian Schreuder (ewn.co.za).

Schreuder went on to say that those learners who pass everything except mathematics will condoned so that they can continue into the FET or grade 10 but not be permitted to take mathematics as a subject unless they take mathematics literacy.

Are we ignoring the importance of Mathematics in a child’s life and making decisions for them that will affect their life forever?

Per research on an article on Livestrong.com, “Math teaches logic and order. You can expect a mathematical equation to have a predictable outcome, and precise steps must be followed to attain that result. The discipline of mind that children develop in math class can carry over into everyday life. Companies know this, as some businesses will hire math majors based on the presumption that students who are good at math have learned how to think.”

If we are saying that the 80% of the Mathematics work that a learner has failed isn’t important, how do we even begin to improve our world ranking to a better and less depressing position? How do we encourage learners to try and work hard in Mathematics if they know that they will be condoned anyway?

 

 

Taking the road less travelled

Name: Vanessa Van Wyk

Province: Northern-Cape

Vanessa describes herself as an artist and creator who is passionate about the development of people and has a stubborn faith in the good. She shares some words of wisdom from Plato: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” 

Why did you decide to be part of the ACTIVATE! Network?

I decided to join the network to gain knowledge and insight. Also to empower myself by investing time and effort in educating myself so that I can be useful to other people and be the change I want to see in this vulnerable world full of broken people.

What did you enjoy the most about training?

The manner in which the programme is designed is done in such a way to help us discover and acknowledge the greatness within ourselves that we sometimes doubt so much. The support and encouragement from likeminded individuals, but most of all gaining family. 

How has training helped you or changed your perspective?

Training helped me a great deal. Not only by inspiring and motivating me, but also by equipping me with more confidence and activating the will to carry on no matter how tough situations may seem.

It changed my perspective about myself and the people around me for the good and with the result, I embrace my visions and dreams of a better country.

What do you think the role of the youth is in developing the country?

The role of the youth is to take the road less travelled and leave a blueprint in the country that will inspire the next generation and make them feel proud to travel on the road that was paved and carved out for them.

What is your field of interest?

Arts & Culture

Youth Development

Community Development

Skills Development

Public & Motivational Speaking

How are you driving change in your community community?

I am currently busy motivating the youth to visualise the future they want and strive to make it a reality. I also have an Anti-Bully Campaign running.

The real change I want to drive is winning the battle against the “small town mentality” which is the greatest barrier and the reason why people resist change.

Now that you have completed training, how do you plan to keep active in the network?

Participating in network activities and keeping the network informed about my progress.

What are your plans for next year?

My vision for next year is to register my own multi-purpose business and improve the projects I am currently busy with. I also hope to obtain an accredited Skills Development Facilitators qualification.

 

 

 

Striving to increase the pass rate in Limpopo schools

Name: Initia Mogoswana
Province: Limpopo province

Initia describes herself as an author and Activator willing to give people a helping hand for a sustainable future. She aspires to be the CEO of her own company and enjoys working with young people who want to unite South Africa. 

Why did you decide to be part of the ACTIVATE! Network?

I was introduced to Activate! by one of the Activators who gave me sufficient information on what Activate is and what it comprises of. I wanted to know more. Since Activate is a great youth-led initiative that can drive change in South Africa, I thought I can use Activate as a great ladder to drive change in my community.

What did you enjoy the most about training?

Connecting with other Activators across all nine provinces and sharing useful skills that empowers us and our communities. Also being in contact with other young people who are like-minded to drive change in South Africa.

How has training helped you or changed your perspective?

Through the network, I have met many inspirational young people. I have also discovered different ways of thinking. Activate training helped me in driving change by giving me information on how to start an organisation. Activate has opened my potential as a young and vibrant person.

What do you think the role of the youth is in developing the country?

Passing on knowledge to the upcoming generation and reminding them to take charge of their communities while encouraging them to talk about issues they are facing in their communities.

What is your field of interest?

NPO, Education. I am an Activator who lives in an impoverished community and our schools are currently experiencing high failure rates and low pass rates in final exams.

 How are you driving change in your community?

I would like to establish a youth development centre that will work with school teachers and other youth with a strong focus on developing the community. I will also host dialogues and career guidance workshops and assist learners with school work. I will also conduct fitness classes to ensure that our future generation lives a healthy lifestyle.

Now that you have completed training, how do you plan to keep active in the network?

Simply by continuing what I do best and finding a funder for my organisation. Hosting dialogues and giving motivational talks to school learners.

What are your plans for next year?

My plans for next year include establishing a youth center that will not only be assisting learners with school work, but a youth center that will also be mentoring learners as well.

How will you be involving the network in your plans?

I want Activate! Network to assist in tackling these issues and provide me with all that is necessary to make this organisation work.

 

A filmmaker upskilling his community

Name: Andries Lankey Manong

Province: Limpopo

Film-maker, Andries Manong describes himself as an inspired, nourished writer. He is an exceptional musician from production to performance. He is currently producing a film entitled: Life of yester-today.

Why did you decide to be part of the ACTIVATE! Network?

I am involved in community development so Activate was interesting to me to develop a set of skills I needed to do what I am already doing effectively and efficiently

What did you enjoy the most about training?

Finding myself, knowing my character and leadership skills.

How has training helped you or changed your perspective?

I got to learn more about resources, of people or material that surrounds me and how I can utilise it to aid my course. E.g. using social media as a platform to challenge or resolve issues.

As a young man who has gone through the programme, it would greatly benefit other South African youth to share the same experience and look at life through the Activate programme. Your change will surely cause a ripple effect.

What do you think the role of the youth is in developing the country?

South Africa is a very resourceful country but it lacks skills. I feel it is imperative for every South African youth to acquire a set of skills and tools that they can use to change their lives and the life of our economy.

What is your field of interest?

Art, music, film and sport, but I am an entrepreneur as well in Gridwallz production as the director. I work with artists everyday which is fascinating and my network is growing daily.

How are you driving change in your community?

I have started a film production company that helps people who are interested in acting and working behind the scenes in the film industry. This gives them a chance to learn a new set of skills. I also have a soccer team competing around my neighbourhood and hope to get them registered for the Polokwane Football Association League in 2017/18.

Now that you have completed training, how do you plan to keep active in the network?

I plan on attending seminars, catching up and meeting with other activators to see what they are doing and how I can help. I will also rely on help from other Activators, especially in the field of music, film and events that I will be organising.

What are your plans for next year?

Next year I will continue my journey and shoot more films around my area. I also wish to produce one big budget film of which the prospects are looking good.

How will you be involving the network in your plans?

By spreading the word, launching the films, getting dialogues about the contents of the films I write.

The lack of reproductive justice as a form of violence

This journey takes us back to an untold portion of our apartheid history, where access to abortion services was restricted and not encouraged. This was not a pro-life initiative, no. This was a pro-WHITE life initiative because as much as abortion was restrictively legal, white women were not encouraged to have abortions as the aim was for them to procreate and “catch-up” with the population of black people in this country as they were (and still are) the minority. It was a form of population control and that, amongst many other factors, was a loud middle finger to black lives. More specifically, the lives of black womxn.

Around that time, abortion was legal but inaccessible (Abortion and Sterilization Act No 2, 1974), and approximately 1000 generally white woman got access on condition of suicide or rape and Black women died approximately 429 deaths annually.

Fast forward to 2016, where abortion laws and fertility planning policies are as liberal as the feeling of an actual orgasm, we still see a large number of black womxn dying from sceptic abortion, still having little to no say regarding their own fertility, experiencing extreme violence by an unjust health system and still becoming infected with HIV. The sad part is that because of these factors in womxn’s reproductive lives, money is not spent improving the health system for poor black people, but rather spent on research studies for biomedical technologies that seek to bring in a lot of money to big pharmaceuticals. This further disregards black womxn’s agency and takes very little interest in fertility management and bodily autonomy for black womxn. Worst of all, the same black womxn whose lives don’t matter, are the same black bodies that are used to test the effectiveness of these new interventions. So yeah, turns out black womxn make great test tubes, right?

Interestingly, most studies around adolescent girls and young womxn (AGYW) in areas most affected by unintended/unsupportable pregnancy or HIV, the context focuses only on their behaviour and lifestyle choice (e.g. early sexual debut considered to be one of the key drivers of teen pregnancy), so-called “ignorance” and lack of adherence, and not necessarily looking at the availability of resources, information and education around consent and bodily autonomy. It amazes me how we are quick to run to poor areas with “high rates of xyz” and examine why there is such, but not look comparatively at privileged areas with “low rates of xyz” and understand what they are getting right if the issue at hand is a problem to begin with. We seek to find symptoms of problems, but not examine the core of the problem.

About a week ago, I walked out during a presentation of the National Report on Teenage Pregnancy. I felt that more than anything, this was a blame-and-shame game and not really probing around factors affecting young womxn’s knowledge of their options and actually accessing them. We need to know what is happening in young people’s lives but how we ask those questions and how we analyse the data and present the findings needs to lose the judgement.  It’s one thing to know you have the right to choose and decide, it’s another thing to actually access those resources. There is no choice without justice.

It is absolutely disheartening to find oneself around big tables at conferences, sharing a panel with other incredible black womxn who are there as ‘living proof’ that the Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PreP)or the dapirivine ring works well and that when womxn are actually adherent, it could prove reduction or prevention. These researchers fly all the way, leaving humans their countries, and they target black womxn from townships and poorer areas to be their research subjects. Yes that is true, we are the bodies for lots of American PhDs, the US being the largest health donor funder in South Africa.

It’s not hard for one to find themselves in these trial studies too. The fact that there’s usually some small stipend that one is offered, that could influence one’s decision to take part in the study purely due to the small financial gain.  These are things we don’t think about. In most cases, the excuse that is given when these research studies are being done is that “it is so that womxn can take charge of their own bodies.” Young black womxn are still struggling to access the right kind of contraception that suits their bodies.  Black womxn are still being raped and brutally murdered and no one gives a rat’s ass about that. Black womxn still don’t have knowledge about and access to the female condom, and yet we preach “taking charge” when the overall system is spitting in our faces. We don’t need pills and rings alone to take charge, we need an overall supportive system and approach which responds to our needs, agency and rights!

I recently read an article around research being done on male contraception, and of the 72 men who were part of the research study, about 20 experienced side effects. The 20 resulted in the research being HALTED! Yay patriarchy, right? Because no one cares one bit about the fact that Depo-Provera, which is one of the most dispensed forms of contraception amongst black womxn, may be contributing to the risks of HIV infection amongst these womxn. We don’t care, right? We’ll just say there’s “increasing concern” and maybe we’ll do another study to actually see whether that’s true, but they can just slowly die so long. Yeah thanks America and Pfiser.

All in all, violence goes far beyond what we know it to be. Being black is hard, but being black, poor with a vagina is a recipe for overall systematic oppression, especially regarding fertility and reproductive justice.

#WeAreNotTestTubes #ReproductiveJustice

No land, no police station.

When the Minister of Police, Nkosinathi Nhleko released the crime stats for 2016, it was a narrative of nightmarish proportions in which only the perpetrator would score. Overall figures indicate that the murder rate increased by 4.9%, car hi-jacking increased by 14.3% and robbery increased by 2.7%. 

A further revelation made was that Nyanga, one of the oldest black townships in Cape Town, was the most likely place for murder to take place. For five years now, Nyanga has maintained the ghastly reputation of being the murder capital of the country, yet curiously, the area only has one police station servicing the community.

It seems crazy that an area like Nyanga, densely populated with an unemployment rate of 70%, on the verge of self-destruction has never before garnered sufficient attention to solve what has overtime become an untameable situation. The urgency of the establishment of a new police station in Nyanga has reached fever pitch and cannot be overstated.

Following this stomach-churning revelation, community member and Activist, Nelisa Nqulana initiated a petition to build another police station in Nyanga. Violence is normal in Nyanga, local pathways to criminality make it easy for crimes to occur without consequence. 22.5% of crimes occurred in the Western Cape, approximately 490 383 crimes. Out of this, almost 300 murders occurred in Nyanga.

Last week, a dialogue hosted by Liverty Africa at the Zolani Centre in Nyanga revealed that a police station could only be built once land became available. “The first thing is to secure a land site, so I cannot tell you how long that will take. There is a priority list for the entire country where police stations are needed. Once you are on the list, maybe they can push you up, but for now, I cannot say when we will be getting a new police station because we’re still looking for land,” said Nyanga Cluster Commander Memela.

“We’re the murder capital of the whole country, so my assumption is that we should be number one on the priority list, right?” asked Nelisa. The Commander maintained that for Nyanga to qualify to be on the priority list land must be available. “If you have land, then they will start taking about building a police station,” he said.

During the dialogue, the Western Cape Police Ombudsman disclosed that they received 86 complaints from their offices, but emphasised that the community of Nyanga has a role to play: “The role of the community is to work with the police. People should report crime and actively participate in crime eradication measures because criminals are opportunistic, so if the community is not participating in crime fighting mechanisms then crime will rise,” said Ombudsman representative.

“We will continue with the petition, there are young people out there collecting signatures because we still feel it is a worthy cause to pursue. The State does have a responsibility to provide the facility, and as a community member, the Constitution guarantees me that you have a responsibility. Saying a piece of land is preventing a second police station is not enough. For the sake of building trust it would be great if we could engage more,” said Nelisa.

Sign the petition to build another police station in Nyanga

Photo credit: eNCA

No more labels!

Feminism is not a fight waged to fight against men, it is rather a struggle against patriarchy that does not only negatively affect the female populace, but our counterparts the male populace as well. How many times do we hear people say feminists are people fighting against men? Subsequently, men consciously aid themselves with weapons against “feminism.” Every time I ask myself why should we be fighting over positions and abilities? Since when do we have to compete for life just because we have different genitalia?

The person who said we should compete has truly misled us, they made us fight in our households and fight over everything. I believe this: if a women is capable or has the ability to cook, clean, take care of kids, and do laundry then she should do so willingly! Not forced to do it. The same goes for men, if you can open a door for me in your car, pay for bills, clean the yard, paint the walls and lift 250kg bag, then do it without feeling obliged to do it because you are a man. We should do away with thinking that people were meant for certain jobs because of their sexes, men and women were born to co-exist, live together in peace and harmony, no one should bully the other and no one should feel bullied by the other. Let’s start to write a different narrative about men and women, we cannot be having bed time stories of abuse, hate and envy for our generations, let’s start practicing love without these labels and start co-existing. 

Photo credit: genderspectrum.weebly.com

LESBIAN, NOT A MAN!

There are so many misconceptions about lesbians, especially butches. We are seen to be tough, almost built like men really, but what people tend to forget is that we are women, we cry, feel pain, are scared of spiders and rats, basically, we are women too. From the few conversations I’ve had with women, even Fem lesbians, the assumptions is that you cannot cry as a butch lesbian. I still don’t understand why these labels exist, but when you cry, you are seen as weak, like a cry-baby. We cannot be afraid of anything, that is seen as simply too girly.

It is seen as a taboo to be pregnant, like one has committed a crime, once again people forget that we are women first. Why should I be discriminated against for embracing my ability to add to the 7.5 billion people that exist in the world? “Ha ke fane ka kuku mahala” that means I am not going to sleep with you for free, literally meaning I am dating you because of what I stand to gain. This comes back to heterosexual relationships, where the man is expected to “becha” the woman. Why do women feel entitled to receive money every month? Lesbians are seen as men and expected to behave and act like them. We don’t exist with copious amounts of testosterone, please keep that in mind. If society as a whole could shift their mind-set and have a better understanding of who we are, that we are not defined by the “manly” clothes we wear or the “trimmed haircuts” we have, only then will society see us as women.

Men greet us with “hola,” “heita” or “sho” which is associated with how guys greet each other, however, the straight girl next to us receives a “hello” or “hi.” Again, this illustrates just how “manly” we are expected to be. The world celebrates who we sleep with and not who we are. Lesbians are women, it is that simple!

Photo credit: Lesbian Pride

HIV/AIDS, a disease of the mind

As Thursday 01 December 2016 marks the commemoration of World Aids Day, at the end of the year in 2007, there were 33.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS, however, stigma and discrimination played a significant role in the development and maintenance of the HIV epidemic.

Although we still have questions about HIV till this very moment, researchers have learned a lot, enough to know that people who are HIV- positive aren’t dangerous, different or doomed. In many societies these people are often seen as shameful. In most cases, the infection is often associated with minority groups or with homosexuality. Also, in some societies HIV/AIDS is seen as a result of personal responsibility.

It is well documented that people living with HIV and AIDS experience stigma and discrimination on a daily basis. This impact however goes beyond individuals infected with HIV to reach broadly into society, disrupting the functioning of communities and complicating prevention and treatment of HIV.

Meanwhile, also fear and discrimination limits the possibility of disclosure even to important sources of support such as family and friends.

Luxolo Mlambo (not his real name), 32 years old from the Eastern Cape, got diagnosed with HIV at the early age of 24. He is a community care-giver at a local primary health care facility in Ndevana village, just 5km outside King Williams Town.

“At the time I was diagnosed with HIV in July, 16 2008, I never thought I would ever forgive myself for being so reckless and selfish. The stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV/AIDS bear is immense. This had the potential to shut down my dreams of becoming a teacher. However, I believe what was meant to happen eventually took its course and the sad part is, I was the victim,” explains Mlambo.

He added: “The only reason it took me so long to accept my condition at the time was how people reacted to people living with HIV. Society, more especially in our communities, people tend to quickly give you a funny name when they learn that you are infected by the disease. Disclosing my own status was not a tarred road experience, with six weeks of procrastinating accompanied by fear and regret, it became the worst thing in my life. Having grown up in a Christian family where free lessons and constant reminders about using a condom were taught.”

Making the epidemic invisible, a prime impact of discrimination is that it pushes the epidemic underground, forcing people who have contracted HIV, and anything else associated with the disease, into hiding. An acknowledgement of HIV becomes difficult if not impossible.

“Fortunately I was surprised by how my loved ones reacted to my disclosure which made me realise that there’s more to life than living with HIV. As I could not continue with my dream of becoming a teacher at the time, due to depression and anxiety, and almost giving up on life, I made a vow to myself that I will become what I envy to be, even if that means I conduct educational classes in my back room at home.”

“In 2012, as I came to terms with the disease, I was fortunate to become a Community Care-giver where I was trained to inform and educate others living with HIV. My dream of teaching became a reality once again. Also, rendering counselling services to people who were like me, made me realise that my problems were not superior nor less from any of the people I had to deal with on a day to day basis,” adds Mlambo.

“There are many of us living with this disease and yet we are pursuing our childhood dreams daily. Through care-giving, I have saved more than hundred hopeless HIV-positive souls, and today some of these people are living the life they had desired even before contracting HIV/AIDS through my teachings and wellness programmes.”

“No one can tell my story other than myself. I was not born HIV positive, but I was mentally delayed by stigma and discrimination from society at large in attempting to achieve my dreams. I believed I was going to die soon, because my mind was telling me so. HIV/AIDS is not a disability, but a mental disease that seeks to make you believe that IT IS OVER, when it’s actually not,” concludes Mlambo.

South Africa has made significant and laudable progress in the past few years. Till today, nearly more than 1-million South Africans are receiving antiretroviral treatment, and new surveillance data indicate declining prevalence among children and youth, as well as higher rates of condom use.

The next challenge is to ensure that people know their HIV status; too few South Africans possess this critical information. Despite this challenge, South Africa has the potential to reach more of its citizens through enrolment of accessible treatment.   

Photo credit: www.cabsa.org.za

Focusing on LGBTI Youth in Hammanskraal

Name: Happy Phaleng

Province: Hammanskraal, Gauteng

Happy describes himself as an active citizen of high note and a June 2016 Lead SA hero.

Why did you decide to be part of the ACTIVATE! Network?

I simply wanted to drive change in a collective effort with fellow young leaders of South Africa.

What did you enjoy the most about training?

Youth making local government work

How has training helped you or changed your perspective?

It has actually made me aware that somebody somewhere is doing something, therefore I should be bright in my own corner and together we can achieve a lot.

What do you think the role of the youth is in developing the country?

It’s a very critical role, youth participation is important across all sectors

What is your field of interest?

My field of interest is community development, human rights and human sexuality.

How are you driving change in your community?

I am currently running a social safe space for LGBTI Youth in hammanskraal which is focused on empowering and informing the LGBTI youth on Human Rights and opportunities for jobs and educational development.

Now that you have completed training, how do you plan to keep active in the network?

I will be working and collaborating with most if not all activators in Gauteng and nation wide

What are your plans for next year?

Next year I will be having or expanding social safe spaces to other communities in Gauteng

How will you be involving the network in your plans?

I will need them or challenge them to help at least 3 LGBTI youth in their community

PrEP as HIV Prevention: An Intersectional Lens On Access

A reflection from the 2016 International AIDS conference

It is the year 2016 and we are reflecting on the progress made on HIV/AIDS globally and nationally. More significantly, South Africa hosted the International AIDS conference for the second time this year (the first having been in 2000, around the time when Thabo Mbeki raised a question of whether or not HIV causes AIDS, and I was still finding my way out of primary school, and bombarded with the “AIDS KILLS!” stigmatised messaging on billboards). Now we’re here, and it is quite interesting how the conversation has changed since then, and maybe how one may argue that the prospect of “Getting to Zero” should not be lost.

According to the UNAIDS 2016 GAP report, there are 7 million people living with HIV in SA, and we are leading in HIV rates globally. To address this, the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) Global AIDS Response Report (2015) tells us that the government invests approximately 1.5 billion annually to its HIV/AIDS programmes. The question is, where are the gaps in HIV prevention? Studies are being done, solutions are put forward, but the pace of eradicating the virus is not very impressive. So, the focus of this article will mainly be on Adolescent Girls and Young Womxn (AGYW), and the prevention approaches thereof.

A 2012 survey found HIV prevalence among South African womxn was nearly twice as high as men. Rates of new infections among womxn aged 15-24 were more than four times greater than that of men the same age, and this age group accounted for 25% of new infections in South Africa (South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, 2012). However, if you unpack the demographics attached to these numbers, you will note that it is predominantly black humans in poor communities that are mostly infected and affected. I echo the words of Charlize Theron on her opening speech at the conference, when she said: “The real reason we haven’t beaten the epidemic boils down to one simple fact: We value some lives more than others. We value men more than womxn. Straight love more than gay love. White skin more than black skin. The rich more than the poor. Adults more than adolescents.” So, I see these dynamics being overlooked even in the attempts to prevent HIV.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)

I was very involved in conversations around rolling out PrEP to AGYW in SA during the conference, and my main role was to discuss some of the factors to consider when rolling out this drug.

PrEP is an ARV, but it serves as a prevention drug, which means it is usually taken by “at-risk” humans such as sex workers, Men who have Sex with Men (MSM), and based on the stats, AGYW. It comes in three forms: an injectable, the pill or the vaginal ring. Now a lot of trial studies have been done over the last couple of years with young womxn, with the aim to find out whether AGYW like this PrEP, issues around adherence etc.

I have interacted with people running with these studies and big organisations working on biomedical technologies, and I’ve met some of the participants of the study (all of them black womxn). What are some of the factors to consider when rolling out PrEP to AGYW?  I have listed a couple below:

1. Acknowledging that women, particularly young women, have sex and they enjoy it!

I was workshopping a policy brief by Catriona McLeod and Jonathan Glover on Comprehensive Sexuality Education- zooming in on the Life Orientation subject in schools. One of the key themes that came up in the research was messages of disease, danger, and damage when it comes to adolescent sexuality education. There is this problematisation and pathologising of young people’s sexuality- and this builds on the stigma around having sex, which affects communication on prevention and fuels a particular attitude amongst parents, healthcare workers and teachers, which in turn affects access. So, if we want to reach out to young people regarding safe sex, we must acknowledge that they are having sex for pleasure and that really it is ok!

   2. “We’re doing it to empower womxn” statement must stop!

We know that there’s money going into this, and although there might be an element of positivity, let us not fool ourselves by telling each other that we want to empower womxn and for them to take control and not rely on someone else for their protection. We are not being realistic because we DO have such an approach already, and that is the FEMALE CONDOM! We hear very little to none about it, some womxn don’t even know it exists and some are freaked out by it- because it was never normalised! There is very little knowledge around it and very limited access. If we are going to use black bodies for these trial studies, we need to make damn sure that these services are available for these women post these studies!!!! With friendly services that cater to intersectional aspects of womxn’s lives and also recognises this as their basic human right! The vaginal ring is inserted the same way as a female condom, so what makes it better??

  3. Access!

Many young women struggle to access Sexual and Reproductive Health Services like the pill, abortion, etc. How will they easily access another pill (PrEP truvada) or the ring (dapirivine) as those too, are telling of the fact that they are having sex and they want to take charge of their bodies? Therefore, one needs to ask themselves that as well. Young girls are being chased away from clinics when they visit wearing their school uniform, and yet clinics close early so they cannot go home, change and go back. Those are factors we HAVE to consider.

4. Training of healthcare workers & Teachers

There is a huge challenge in communicating with young people around their sexual health. “Youth-Friendly Services” is just a buzzword to look good. Some of the healthcare workers and teachers themselves are womxn and experience some form of oppression of lack of autonomy around their bodies if one zooms into their narratives. They are socialised in a particular way, and have fears that they transfer into the AGYW they work with. They become gatekeepers and barriers to access and indirect agents of patriarchy, but really that has to do more with the bigger societal challenges which can sometimes put too much pressure on them as well. So sensitising them around sexualities and gender as well as understanding their narrative is very important.

5. On the issue of gender

There is a strong need for support structures for women in SRHR and HIV prevention. The pill alone will not remedy an unjust system. If I decide to take PrEP, I tick all boxes of privilege from where I’m standing in this context. I am educated and knowledge on the issue, I have access and it will be a choice that I make on the grounds of undisputed autonomy. Now, a 16-year-old lesbian womxn from a violent community who takes PrEP because of fears of being raped for who she is needs a different kind of attention. There is more support needed and for her it’s not choice, it is lack of justice! How will she be supported? If we are in the same waiting room, it would be stupid to address us in the same manner!

All in all, the efforts are impressive, but we are dealing with more than that. We need to have an intersectional lens at all times! We need a reproductive justice approach! Working in silos is pushing us back and it is very selfish!

Like they say “World AIDS DAY goes beyond, far beyond, December 1”.