Letters from South Africa
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Date: 1 June, 2004


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Jacinta Fox, Christian Aid's southern Africa region communications and information officer, asked a number of the charity's partner organisations to reflect on the first ten years of democracy

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The New World Foundation (below)
Wola Nani
The DCC

Introduction to the NWF

The New World Foundation (NWF) was founded in 1980 and the aim was to have an umbrella body uniting a wide range of local church and community organisations. Christian Aid has supported NWF since 1998.

In the beginning its role was largely that of an anti-apartheid organisation in that they were mostly reacting to the crises of the time and trying to assist people where the state would not.

Their role has now shifted from providing welfare to that of community empowerment and capacity building through training and education.

The project aims to address the social and economic depravation in the Lavender Hill community. Lavender Hill is a particularly deprived area close to Cape Town with high levels of unemployment and violence. Violent gangs operate in the area and there are high levels of alcohol and drug abuse.

New World Foundation works towards the transformation of society, into one, which allows all people to take their rightful place, free from oppression, violence and poverty.

Activities

The main activities are entrepreneurial development/income generation and technical skills training; education and school readiness; empowerment of women and advice giving; empowerment of youth and general life skills training.

The target group is broad and covers most of the poor of Lavender Hill, which is most of the population, although there is a focus on women, pre-school children, youth and the aged.

As the HIV/AIDS epidemic spreads in South Africa it is beginning to have an impact on the New World Foundation. In response they are developing appropriate training materials and working with the churches to raise awareness of the disease.

Reflection by Jan de Waal of New World Foundation on ten years of democracy in South Africa

I remember the fear and hopelessness when I grew up in a very conservative white society, but I also remember the transition from that time in my life to a very productive time of hope and struggle with many others towards liberation and a new democracy irrespective of race, religion and gender.

Sadly, many of us from the struggle and many of the youth of today (children after the struggle) have forgotten to remember the dreams and ideals which were very important for many of us as guidelines during the struggle towards a new society of justice, peace and sharing of democracy.

The miracle of '94

One constant and larger than life reminder of the miracle of 1994 is the person of Nelson Mandela. Single handedly, he taught us the triumph of moderation over prejudice, of looking for a better and more inclusive way of thinking and acting, steering the new South Africa beyond racism and discrimination.

The Promised Land?

Have we reached the 'Promised Land' in the new South Africa? Unfortunately not, because more than 40 per cent of South Africans still live today in informal housing, in makeshift townships. Nearly 50 per cent of the population is unemployed and a huge fraction still live under the breadline. The largest portion of the marginalised and the poor (as it was also in the old South Africa) are women, who remain economically and socially subordinate, despite our progressive and well-praised constitution.

Rainbow of democracy

From the reflection of my own people during the struggle, experiencing the hope of a new dawn in 1994, seeing the significant emergence of a new black bourgeoisie. I still have lots of hope for South Africa and its rainbow democracy and people!

This reality would not have been possible without the solidarity and support of many people and organisations outside South Africa, like Christian Aid in our case.

Jan de Waal, New World Foundation, Lavender Hill,
Cape Town

An introduction to Wola Nani

Wola Nani, Xhosa for 'we embrace and develop one another', was established in 1994 as a non-profit organisation to help bring relief to the communities hardest hit by the HIV crisis.

Formed against a backdrop of economic curtailment on welfare spending and a huge increase in the number of HIV and AIDS cases, Wola Nani initiated programmes to help HIV-positive people in the local community cope with the emotional and financial strains brought about by HIV/AIDS.

As society's most vulnerable members, HIV is especially cruel to the poor. Khayelitsha, for example, a sprawling township 26km from Cape Town, has an HIV rate of 22 per cent, the highest rate in the Cape Flats.

Mothers

One in three mothers will pass on their infection to their baby - most will die in their first year with few surviving to the age of five. With health services already stretched to the limit and unemployment at nearly 50 per cent making extreme economic hardship a daily reality, Wola Nani is working to fill the gap that leaves people living with HIV/AIDS particularly exposed.

Focusing on the needs of HIV positive women and their children, Wola Nani's services aim to ease the burden of HIV by enabling people living with the virus to respond positively and attain the skills to develop their own coping strategies.

Historically disenfranchised, disempowered and marginalised, women bear the brunt of the national pandemic. They have little voice to articulate their needs or to claim the services on which their survival depends.

Through a counselling and case management approach, coupled with skills training and income generation opportunities, they can attain the necessary skills to help themselves achieve a better quality of life.

Support

Complementary holistic family and community support includes support groups, child health monitoring and day care, plus home based care to help families look after their loved ones living with the disease.

HIV/AIDS does not just touch individuals and families, it is a community issue. Only through education, awareness and understanding of HIV amongst the wider community can the culture of silence surrounding HIV be broken and the discrimination accompanying ignorance be eliminated.

Myths and misconceptions surrounding HIV and AIDS not only breed fear of, and stigma against, people living with HIV and their families, but play a fundamental role in accelerating the spread of the virus.

Outreach

Through Wola Nani's outreach programme of AIDS education workshops and awareness initiatives, staff work within the township communities to raise awareness, provide education and disseminate information.

In this way, Wola Nani works towards improving community acceptance of people with HIV and AIDS, combating discrimination and developing community based responses to prevention, support and care.

Wola Nani's focus on women and their children does not exclude men but has developed in response to where the need for the organisation's services is greatest. However, all HIV+ persons regardless of gender, race, age or religious belief are welcome.

Pat Francis of Wola Nani reflects on the new struggle in South Africa - HIV/AIDS

An emerging non-governmental organisation, Wola Nani sought to respond to the new challenge of HIV/AIDS. Yet with major social and cultural transformation underway after the arrival of democracy, HIV presented a problem few wanted, or were able, to comprehend.

An opportunity to focus on the escalating pandemic in its early stages was missed.

At this time, little was known about HIV and AIDS and how to cope with its demands. Wola Nani initiated many different projects attempting to do everything for everyone. However in time and after expansion, Wola Nani decided to hone down activities to concentrate support service delivery in conjunction with income generation opportunities within the Western Cape servicing those most vulnerable - essentially HIV positive women in the informal settlements.

Fear and denial - the ongoing struggle

Given the nature of HIV - its apparent random selection, the length of time from infection to illness, lack of a cure and predominant mode of transition, one could barely have designed a more dangerous recipe for fear and denial, stigma and discrimination.

And these factors, along with the search for a medical cure, define South Africa's ongoing struggle.

With the government's commitment to roll out antiretroviral drugs in the public health system, there is now hope for many of a longer and better life, and with this hope comes greater encouragement for individuals to come forward for HIV testing and support, and an opportunity to dispel the secrecy that surrounds the disease.

However, providing drugs to the many who need them is not without its difficulties and how effectively this challenge is met will determine the future for many South Africans.

One hopes it is a successful precursor to the administration of a cure for HIV/AIDS.

Pat Francis, Wola Nani, Cape Town

An introduction to the Diakonia Council of Churches and a reflection on its first ten years

2004 isn't only the 10th anniversary of South Africa's democracy, but also the 10th anniversary of the Diakonia Council of Churches - an amalgamation of what used to be known as Diakonia and the Durban and District Council of Churches.

This amalgamation led to a pooling of resources, a bigger staff, more member churches, an increase in local funding from 10 - 30% of our budget, all of which make the ecumenical movement in this region stronger and better equipped to meet the challenges of these ten years.

April 1994 was a euphoric time in South Africa, with our first democratic elections much more peaceful than anyone could have expected given the massive build-up of political violence in the preceding months.

Hard on the heels of the election came the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president - another remarkable event.

Political violence continued however to plague KwaZulu-Natal for some years after the elections, but a more tolerant political culture has gradually taken root as shown in the 2004 elections, though there is still a way to go.

Violence and abuse

Unfortunately, as so often happens in such situations, domestic violence and sexual abuse come strongly to the fore where the trauma of political violence hasn't been properly dealt with. The hundreds of stress and trauma counsellors we have trained around the province have made an important contribution to dealing with these problems and developing a lasting peace.

We have a national constitution that is the envy of many nations, and legislated apartheid is a thing of the past. However poverty and economic inequality stand out more starkly. We have had to face the challenges of a globalised economy, privatisation, growing unemployment, and an alarming increase in the gap between rich and poor, worsened by the ravages of HIV/AIDS.

Vigorous new Diakonia programmes on economic justice and HIV/AIDS (also 10 years old this year) have helped our member churches respond creatively.

Despite the remarkable progress made since 1994 and the overwhelming sense that the country is moving in the right direction, there is inevitably a sense of disappointment about promises from the elections of 1994 and 1999 not met and delivery not accomplished. A climate of recrimination has taken hold based on continuing racism and claims of racism.

Model

Our new Reconciliation Project is beginning to give the churches a model for addressing this problem.

Another joy has been guiding the Community Resource Centres to independence - both organisational and financial - over these ten years.

Despite many organisational developments our core purpose has remained unchanged. In fact, it dates right back to Diakonia's foundation in 1976.

We don't take over from our member churches responsibility for social issues. We demonstrate how this responsibility can be exercised - and then walk alongside our member churches as they take up this responsibility.

Our basic methodology for achieving this purpose has been sharpened in this last decade: exposure programmes for initial motivation; followed by linking the churches with replicable models which show how they can be involved.

Involvement

In the last few years we have borrowed from overseas partners a new way of intensifying congregational involvement - this is what we call a "social justice season" which provides short periods of intensive involvement in a particular issue.

The themes of these social justice seasons held in August in every second year saturate the life of participating congregations: worship, bible study, Sunday school, field visits all combining to make a powerful impact.

As we begin the second decade of our new democracy, and of the Diakonia Council of Churches, we realise the need to re-activate the prophetic voice that characterised our early years in the 1970s and 1980s. That will help our member churches to remain the conscience of the nation.

Paddy Kearney, Director, Diakonia Council of Churches, Durban

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