Malema’s optimism and teachers disappearing

Media Headliner and unchallenged ANCYL president Julius Malema, speaking at the ANC Youth League’s elective conference this weekend, said that teachers must be well paid but shouldn’t be allowed to strike as they fall under essential services, according to an article in the Daily Maverick written by Political Guru Stephen Grootes.

Here in rural Zululand Malema’s comment that teachers shouldn’t strike is perhaps a bit optimistic. How about they just show up for work the rest of the year? When I worked at a rural primary school many years ago as an overwhelmed naive Umlungu (white person) in rural Zululand, the principal more often than not closed the school after first break, at ten ‘o clock and teachers sat around in the dust under a large tree talking.

I am back in the middle of nowhere in “deep rural“ Zululand and that principal is still working at that little red and white school years later- probably doing as little as she did before. The debate about whether teachers can strike or not or if politicians will stand up to the South African Democratic Teacher’s Union once and for all, is irrelevant when non Unionised teachers don’t even turn up for school here half the time.

Teachers at many rural schools are not qualified and many are writing Unisa (correspondence) exams. So the teachers get a day off to travel to the city to write the exam, a day for the exam and one to travel back home. A Peace Corps volunteer from America, working at two local rural Zululand schools, told me that a teacher hadn’t been at school for an entire month because of how many exams she has had to do.

Local Grade 12 learner Ketiwe who attends Ingwavuma’s Isecelosethu High School, which has a pretty bad rep here, says teachers miss classes often. After teachers have missed school, they return saying, “Good morning class, sorry I wasn’t here yesterday, but let’s continue where we left off.”
She says at least one of her seven subject teachers will be off every couple of days.

But it gets worse, because the curriculum keeps changing and teachers need training, they have frequent workshops with the Department of Education and all these workshops take place during school hours. A British teacher, Henry Thoulson who went to one of the best Universities in the world: St Andrews University in Edinburgh now teaches at a local poor primary school, without water, while his wife is working as a doctor at Mosveld hospital. He says the school is always short staffed because the teachers keep attending compulsory workshops. He says there is always a teacher or two missing work and the kids are left to their own devices. In fact since he spent the year at the school, more parents have sent their children to the school. His biggest complaint after the disappearance of the teachers is that there is no water at the school when there are pipes running to it and that the school children don’t wash their hands after going to the toilet. Then they eat lunch. There is no toilet paper either.

It blows my mind that the teachers go to Department of Education workshops in Jozini or Manguzi during work hours and so there are always shortages of staff at schools and unattended kids. So Malema, before politicians face off Sadtu in a debate over whether teacher’s have the right to strike or not, lets ask the KwaZulu Natal Education Department why they schedule teachers’ training days during school time?

Read about the dodgy textbooks at these schools here:

The reference about Malema comes from this article:

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The man who cut off his hand, allegedly, and other tales…

Mielies kept inside

Mielies kept inside

Mielies stored for food.

Mielies stored for food.

Mielie Grinder

Mielie Grinder

Dr Heese loves to tell the story of the man with no hand who came to apply to the rural KwaZulu-Natal hospital for a Disability Grant. He told Dr Heese, superintendent of Mosveld hospital, that his hand had been cut off by his father in a fight. But, says Dr Heese, the man had no defensive wounds and it was a clean cut and it was too late to re-attach the hand. So now that man gets a disability grant of about R1000 a month. Dr Heese is convinced he cut off his own hand.

Many people here in this poor community, Ingwavuma, try to get a disability grant when the doctors assess if they qualify. This bothers Dr Heese, no end, because he says people are trying to buck the system. He calls it “milking the white cow”. I asked two Mosveld health-care workers, who come from this desperately poor community, what they think about returning home as paid professionals. They both complained that relatives tried to pressure them to sign off disability grants to people who didn’t qualify.

Dr Heese spends hours hunched over his computer with his data at night, recording which community members get grants from which doctors and which don’t. He says the system is so vague, despite Dept of Social Welfare Guidelines and needs to be standardised. For example, because there is no water and the women and children have to walk miles carrying heavy water buckets, they get Osteo Arthritis in their knees or backs at young ages. Then they try and apply for a disability grant. Some succeed depending on how kind the doctor signing off the disability grant feels and some fail because OA in one’s knees is technically not a disability. This is according to Dr Heese’s data. Although walking for water and farming is a physical way of life so OA could be a disability, argues the local physiotherapist who hails from the area. Each hospital in this rural area has a different way of signing off disability grants making it a rather unclear system.

My dad has OA in his knee but that’s from running the Comrades and many other races, not fetching water and so I don’t think he would quite fit the grant profile. Especially as he is still speed walking for fun and had an MRI to diagnose the OA, which means he is not poor enough. Actually my grandfather has had Arthritis for years and he is still working at 82.

But let me introduce you to Nosipho (not her real name) and her family who live in Ingwavuma in a small concrete house that her dad built using money from a DG grant. It has a sandy dirt yard, a small vegetable garden and no water or electricity. Nosipho is 19 and has a 13-month-old child who has fluffy hair from malnutrition. She is still trying to finish school.

Outside Nosipho’s house there is big corrugated iron home-made box to store old dry mielies (corn on the cob) harvested in summer. Iron sheets are lying over the mielies to try and protect them from wandering donkeys. When there is no food her mother or her sister will grind those emaciated pale yellow mielies with an old fashioned rusty metal grinder and later make porridge with them. I cannot believe that people eat those dry mielies, that look like they should only be African style eco-decorations. I don’t think donkeys would eat them, seriously. No wonder Nosipho’s sister’s four-year old kid has a big belly- a typical sign of malnourishment.

Nosipho is 19. Her sister is 23. Her little brother with squint eyes is actually her dead sister’s child and he is about 13. Nosipho, her mom, skinny dad, child, older sister and her two kids and the seriously squint one all live off her dad’s disability grant. Her dad can’t see well so he gets a disability grant. That is R1080 a month

On one hand disability grants encourage fake disabilities like OA and self mutilation. On the other hand they keep families like Nosipho’s family alive and provide money for the simplest of things like school pens (read my other blog on pens) or more important things like grey concrete houses. There are no jobs, water for veggies gardens is scarce and it doesn’t rain in winter and Nosipho’s neighbours kept killing her mother’s chickens and eating them. So what else would the family live off if it weren’t for her dad’s eye problems?

PS: They will get child grants soon as Nosipho and her sister have finally applied for ID books after their mother got one recently.

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Children sleep on this bed on the concrete floor of Ingwavuma house.

Children sleep on this bed on the concrete floor of Ingwavuma house.

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Pens that go missing in Rural Zululand

If Nosipho lost a pen as a child, she would be beaten.

Nosipho’s one year old baby with fluffy hair, a sign of malnourishment, was sucking her mom’s school pens. We were sitting in their concrete house in rural Zululand after climbing a steep, sandy path past bushes to get inside. The small house has grey concrete walls, grey concrete floors, a grey corrugated iron ceiling and a little kitchen table with four chairs. There are no mats, carpets, tiles, pictures or cushions. Inside were two beds although four adults live there and four children do too.

I thought the little 13 month old child had my pen in her mouth too, so I made some silly remark about how I always lose pens… because I always lose pens. I even had to pay a security guard for his pen when I arrived at a story to report for EWN without one. He charged me 10 Rand.

So Nosipho told me the story about how when she was a child her parents would give her a pen for school and tell her you she could only have a new one when the pen was finished. She had to keep her pen and then take it to her mom when it was dry and empty and then she would get a new one. If she lost her pen, she would be beaten, she says.

That is poverty.

Have I ever in all my many years actually finished a pen? Have you?

Nosipho's house in Ingwavuma, KZN, near Swaziland

Nosipho’s house in Ingwavuma, KZN, near Swaziland

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A Swiss nurse, An Afrikaans doctor and their family in Zululand.

Imagine a Swiss nurse, an Afrikaans doctor, their two daughters, a little blonde girl and a small smiley Zulu girl all living in a stone house on the top of a mountain in rural Zululand, KZN. I had the most amazing day with this family, The Hamiltons. Their Scottish surname is terribly unsuited to such a multicultural family.

Tanned Afrikaaner dad Hennie, his blonde Swiss wife Sylvia, little Zulu two-year-old Anna, blonde, four-year old Esther and her black baby doll are warm people, deeply caring and very rural. They stay in a house in the middle of nowhere, on top of the Ingwavuma mountains 20 km from Swaziland. Their house was built by community members who agreed at a tribal council (a real one, not a Survivor episode) to give them land. It is actually not completed so for now the family is staying in their guest bungalow. They are surrounded by beautiful bush and the sounds of silence punctuated by birds’ tweets. Two Solar panels on the bungalow roof power a camping fridge, one light and still offer enough power to charge cell phones.

It costs five rand to charge a phone at the local grocery store so having a neighbour with solar power is a bonus. While I was at the house for lunch, two neighbourhood children popped by to fetch charged phones for their grannies. The area has no electricity.

The Hamilton’s lived inside Mosveld hospital where Hennie worked for seven years, before moving to their new house this year. They acquired land the traditional way, finding a piece of land in an area where they knew the neighbours and would be welcomed.

The Nduna (a woman) and the chief above her met with the Hamiltons and some 50 people who live near the land. The chief asked the community members how they knew the Hamiltons. The community answered that they knew then from the local church and the hospital. Then the chief asked all the people if they were happy with the Hamiltons coming to live on the land. Everybody agreed. So then the land was demarcated with rocks and bushes and beer and juice were drunk. Beer is part of the Zulu land giving ceremony.

And that is how the rural doctor and his family acquired land with the most amazing view of green plains in the valley. Their garden is magnificent: filled with indigenous vegetation, rocks, moss, and cacti. They will never technically own the land and so could not get a mortgage to build their house and would have difficulty selling it.

Sylvia always wanted a stone house and noted that a neighbour had built a small house with stones set beautifully in concrete. The neighbour’s house (about 500 metres away) even has the words World Cup 2010 built with stone into the walls. This same man helped build her house. The neigbours help Sylvia with life and apparently laughed hysterically to hear that a 41-year-woman had never owned chickens before in her whole life. One of her neighbours has agreed to slaughter the chickens because Sylvia says she is not going to go that far. She did grow up in first world Switzerland after all.

Sylvia says their oldest daughter Esther loves rural life playing freely in the gardens, befriending the Zulu children and staying with the Zulu neighbour once a week. Anna also plays freely in the open bush. The girls speak Swiss German with their mom and Afrikaans to their dad. They hear English when their parents communicate and learn Zulu from the children around them.

Sylvia is a stay-at-home mom expecting her third child, while her husband is a highly experienced rural doctor. He is one of the few who stay for years in a rural area and dedicate their lives to healing rural people. Less than 15 percent of all South African doctors work in rural areas. But 43,7 percent of SA people live in rural places. This country needs more Hennies.

What is even more amazing is that Hennie learned to do cataract operations at Government hospital, Edendale, and then got many eye machines donated from insurance company Discovery and people in America. He started doing eye operations a number of years ago on people blinded by cataracts.
The waiting list for a cataract eye operation at the specialist hospital that services the Northern KZN rural hospitals is a year. But for the past few years locals have been able to get operations done by Hennie. They wait anything from a day after their first appointment or a month for help.

But one of his machines is broken and it’s been six months waiting for a new one from the government so all operations have been on hold. Bureaucracy now practically prevents donations from America or anywhere really, so Hennie has had to wait for a new machine from Government.

But Hennie believes he is where God has called him and his religion inspires him to make a difference in the community and not too get frustrated. He and his wife say the best doctors and nurses in rural areas have a calling – religious or not- to be there. And that calling helps them cope with the difficulties in rural life like delayed pay, and bureaucracy. Hennie was not paid for the first four months he worked at a rural hospital back in the late nineties but he didn’t care as he was living his dream. He knew he would be paid eventually.

The Hamilton’s are very interesting people. Sylvia used to do home based care for people too sick with Aids to get to hospital. She also did lots of HIV testing and counselling- a Swiss nurse in Zululand. It’s not surprising their local Zulu community have welcomed them into their bushy, green neighbourhood. Neighbours keep their phones on when Hennie has nights of work at the hospital and when Sylvia is alone at home. They come with mielies and pumpkins to visit, giving generously with what they have and they are welcomed in return.

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German wedding in Zululand.

On Friday morning I woke up in rural Zululand and found a short German woman in her sixties in my lounge. She said in heavy German accent – “no English”. Only in Ingwavuma would I be sharing a house for three nights with Germans, one who doesn’t speak English.
They had arrived on Thursday for a wedding.

On Saturday morning I woke up to the German lady’s granddaughter getting ready for her wedding in the house’s bathroom.
When I tried to catch a lift to the wedding with the doctor living next door- I landed up in the car of the groom and the bride’s brother. And so I drove with the groom that I had met the day before past greenhills and bush and goats, and went to his wedding in Zululand on Saturday.
The community was invited – I wasn’t entirely gate crashing just because I wanted to write an interesting blog post.

And that is how I was at the wedding where Bithja, a pretty German girl with pale skin, a clear voice and curly hair married Ayanda, a tall Zulu man from the “deep rural” parts of Zululand.
There isn’t much accommodation in Ingwavuma so Bithja’s family stayed in the same house where I rent a room. The house is on the property of the hospital superintendent whose wife did the flowers and food for the wedding. The wedding had been planned in two weeks.

The image of Bithja’s thin very German-looking mom, who flew in for three days for the event, putting her arm around Ayanda’s mama – a rural, large Zulu woman in a bright purple satin suit is impressed in my mind.
Two worlds could not be further apart – everything takes time Zululand, where roads are potholes and unemployment is the norm and life is slow. Germany is efficient, first world Autobahn land.
Ayanda’s mom is probably not educated. Bithja’s mom comes from Germany and one can only assume she is.

Ayanda and Bithya met three years ago in Worster in the Western Cape at YWAM training school, a Christian mission training place. They fell in love.

Apparently, when Bithja wanted to get married to Ayanda earlier this year her parents came to middle of nowhere – it is the middle of nowhere and freaked. This is the place I go for walks and come face to face with a cow, literally. People live without water, electricity and jobs and plant mielies in their gardens and keep goats.
Ayanda has not studied which is normal for a man from Zululand who would have limited opportunities.

But on Saturday the two finally got married in front of Bithja’s family and best friend and Ayanda’s mother and church friends and a few random community members like me.

When Bithya arrived to walk down the aisle, some of the Zulu congregation spontaneously got up and ran behind her singing in Zulu. Who needs a wedding march when the members of the church will sing in Zulu and dance behind you as if choreographed? Grandmothers in the church, better known as Zulu goggos, started to ululate (praise singing) and the song playing as a wedding march was drowned out.

I cannot begin to imagine what Bithja’s granny, originally from East Germany, thought of her granddaughter getting married in deep rural Zululand in a church with no walls.

The church, the couple got married in, consists of a large concrete slab with a metal roof on large steel poles. It has the most gorgeous view of the unspoilt green mountains with the odd hut and small house.

Three weeks ago, builders from Empangeni, a city three hours away, built the church roof and laid the concrete slab as part of a church mission week. So the ceiling and floor have been in existence for a little under a month.
The church was a tent over dust a month ago.

I sat in the wedding, looked at the magnificent purple flowers at the front and watched a cow in the distance turning in circles and eating grass.

Bithja looked beautiful in her long cream dress made by her granny. Her curly hair and make-up also looked lovely even though it had been done by her friend in the bathroom. Her bouquet was magnificent and purple. This wedding was planned in two weeks.

At one point in the ceremony, an old goggo in a skirt and blue suit jacket, that looked like a man’s suit jacket from the eighties, started to dance and sing. Many older women joined her and danced around the seated couple. This was after the church youth started singing and dancing for the couple.

Silvia, a Swiss nurse who married a South African Afrikaaner and adopted a Zulu baby and has her own, sang a song even though she had admitted she doesn’t have a good voice. The words were beautiful though. Ayanda’s brother sang a song he had written for them and a teenager read a poem about love.

A few drunken dishevelled men also did a walk in unison, waved their hands like bad eighties music video and marched around the seated married couple.

Never would a girl from Stuttgart be able to envision a wedding like this. It wasn’t an average German wedding. I imagine a German wedding would be inside and people would not sit on plastic garden chairs staring at African hills singing English and Zulu songs.
It wasn’t a traditional Zulu wedding either. The pastor was white and English and did the whole “you may kiss the bride” service with a translator turning it all into Zulu.

We ate a meal, after the wedding, of Rice or Samp with chicken and beef and beetroot and beans on plastic plates. Ladies had cooked the meal for 150 people in enormous black, steel pots over the fire. It is a Zulu tradition to feed guests after the wedding. Apparently, some random grandpa stood outside and asked where his cake was.

Luckily the couple’s close friends and family went to Ingwavuma’s NGO (where else?) to have a seated dinner in the evening with a classy meal on ceramic plates and cake and brownies and balloons.

Now Ayanda and Bithja are staying in the house where I stay and I am so glad to know there are people talking in the background, albeit a couple on honeymoon and off to life in Germany soon.

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Strange things heard in rural KwaZulu Natal

1) I am sorry we couldn’t do that interview hey. I had to go and collect water for my mother.

So I wanted to speak briefly to a young guy here, who I will call L, for five minutes today. I wanted to ask him about his decision to be different to his peers and wait to have a wife before having children. He told me people in Ingwavuma in rural KZN say he lives like a “white man” because he doesn’t have multiple women and he won’t touch alcohol.

L who is Zulu has nine half-brothers, all from the same father but with different mothers. Each of his dad’s ten children including himself was a first born. L told me that he hardly knew his dad and would like to be a different kind of father one day. He says this is because he grew up having two white friends and saw how his friends’ family – a doctor and his wife and kids – lived.

He couldn’t make today’s interview and smsed me to say his mom needed water:

That was the first time water has been an excuse for missing an interview with me! There is no running water here, although Ingwavuma is 40 km from the enormous Jozini Dam.

2) “Just get a broom and sweep it into a box.”

I told the people that I am renting a granny flat from that there was a snake in my lounge.

So, Maryna says – 3) “Oh it’s small, just sweep up!”

I refused and L came to help me. He says in one breath:

4) “Oh it’s dangerous. It’s a puff adder. Come look.”

I was so stressed then and thought – I have to get back to the city, fast! I was ready to go home.

Later my cousin commented on the snake picture on Facebook. He said it was almost guaranteed to be a night adder which is actually harmless and added:

5) “The head is the wrong shape to be a Puffy”.

Now if I am not wrong “Puffy” is short for Puff adder – a nickname. Aren’t nicknames terms of endearment?
Cuz, I mean that in an affectionate way, since when did snakes – and dangerous ones at that – become worthy of nicknames?

A more serious comment

I explained to a 24-year-old Zulu lady, working in Ingwavuma, that I am writing a story about rural health that will shed light or perspective on national health issues. Without missing a beat she asked:

6) “Will your article cover teenage pregnancy?”

She went on to say how she had recently walked past two twelve year olds, or so she thought, that were both pregnant.

On that note I gave a lift to a teenage girl today in high school uniform as I drove home from the Spar shop. The gir looked about 16. She had a kid with her who looked like he was about 18 months old. It is so common to see teenagers with kids here that I wasn’t surprised – just more concerned about the candy the child was eating and how unhealthy it looked.

Pregnant high school girls are such a common sight in Ingwavuma:

•Some people here say teenage pregnancy is exacerbated by the child grants on offer @ R250 a month.

•Others say sex is an everyday part of life from young – poor people live in small huts without separate rooms and so children grow up seeing their parent/s with partners at night.

•The most common reason given is boredom. There is nothing to do here in Ingwavuma where the tar road ends- literally.

•Rape – I have been told by a nun, teachers, a doctor and community workers that rape against women by males in their extended family is a problem in Zululand. However, I always thought pregnancy caused by rape was very uncommon.

This scourge of pregnancy and possibly rape has huge implications for HIV prevention and how many orphans are left behind by mothers who die of Aids. The fact that birth control is not being widely used raises questions:

•Is the pill accessible to teenage girls in Ingwavuma?
•Are clinics private enough or do teenagers worry that the nurse will talk and their caregivers will hear that they are on the pill or even getting condoms or female condoms?
•Do teenagers know about the pill?
•How many orphans and vulnerable children are growing up in KZN and South Africa and what is going to happen when these children become teenagers?
•Is there a way teenagers can make R250 a month without needing to have a child?

I was ready to go home especially when everyone else was so blase.

I was ready to go home especially when everyone else was so blase.

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How one man did what the Local government don’t do.

In the early 80’s there was a cholera outbreak in Mseleni – Northern Zululand – not far from the diving tourist spot of Sodwana Bay.

De Victor Fredlund was one of the only two doctors, both British, working at Mseleni mission hospital in rural North Zululand. After the cholera outbreak he realised had to do something about water.

He says people did not have tap water coming to their houses so they drank water from puddles off the roadside. These were the very same puddles that the Nguni cattle drunk from. A survey was done by the hospital and participants recorded that they experienced gastro problems, either diarrhoea or nausea or both, once a week. Being sick weekly was just part of life then, says Dr Fredlund.

Mseleni, like most of the Zulu towns in Northern KwaZulu Natal, has a natural water source nearby. In this case, it is Lake Sibaya.

Victor and the community met and started a co-operative to deal with water problems. They started raising money by buying and selling cement to each other. The organisation received about R20 00 rand funding from the IDT. “There was a lot less paperwork getting funding than there is now,” says Dr Fredlund. The community co-operative laid pipes from Lake Sibaya and each member of the community worked for free.

That was beginning of water for the community around Mseleni hospital. The project expanded and expanded with Victor encouraging the community to lay more pipes so that people could access running water. He says he would always argue that the rest of the infrastructure such as adequate reservoirs could catch up but as many pipes as possible had to be laid. Main pipes were provided and community members had to access them and add their own pipes to their own houses at their own cost. They did this.

The community had to pay for water then to cover the cost of maintenance. Payment for water limited each household’s supply which helped make sure that there was enough for everyone. Dr Fredlund says there needed to be cohesiveness in the community to make sure the system worked. One man drove up and down the pipeline with his own vehicle. He was given petrol money and was paid to fix leaks and problems.

The project expanded over the years with Victor working on water systems, lying on the floor drawing pipes and making plans, year in and year out. He says in one case he redid the plan for a system of engineers who were working on project to put pipes from Chongwe to Malebeni in KZN. His input meant they could use more gravity and needed less pumps. The result was that double the water was pumped to double households at half the cost. He proudly tells me that his son is now a Senior Water and Sanitation engineer for a firm based in Durban.

I was told to speak to Victor by long term residents of Zululand and friends of mine in Cape Town. He single handedly is one reason that many people have (or at least had) running water in or near their homes. I think it is amazing how one British man runs one of the most highly regarded hospitals in rural Zululand and has built, designed and supported much of the water infrastructure in rural Zululand. And he also learnt to do hip operations despite not being a surgeon. He just got tired of seeing people wheeled around in wheelbarrows, I was told.

At some point in 1996 Dr Fredlund says the government took over the managing of the water systems and then the local government took over a few years ago. They have worked on and off since then. Things in Mseleni still go ok almost 21 years later especially near the hospital. But many systems are not adequately maintained. Fredlund says it is much easier to put in a new system than manage and fix an ageing one.

In Ingwavuma, about 80km away a dispute between the municipality and Eskom over what broke pumps means there has been no water for eight months. Even the hospital doesn’t always have water. I broke my foot in Ingwavuma but I couldn’t have X-rays done at the rural hospital because there was no water for the X-rays machines. Luckily I was flying back to Cape Town a few days later and could afford private medicine to sort out my foot.

In Ndumo, close to Ingwavuma, the Shemula water scheme provides water intermittently and it often comes through at midnight complain residents.

The system worked better when the community paid for it. There was money to maintain and fix leaks. “Now the local government has brought in the idea that everything must be free. There is not money to run, manage and maintain the system,” says Dr Fredlund.

Asked if he is disheartened that his years of work, outside his official working hours, don’t show the adequate rewards, he says no. This is even though so few of the water systems in Northern KZN are working properly. Dr Fredlund is positive that people no longer drink from dirty puddles. “Things will never go back to what they were,” he says.

But it’s interesting that since the local government took responsibility for water here has been a disaster. I can begin to identify with people who don’t want to vote. In the words of Dr Fredlund, “things were better when we did it ourselves”.

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My bad day chasing the Premier of KZN and why it wasn’t actually “bad’- eg: I gave a lift to a person who could not use a seat belt.

I am a coffee addict and started the day realising I’d left my special coffee cup maker in Sodwana Bay where I stayed when I was interviewing doctors at Mseleni hospital nearby. I felt jittery and panicked and being without filter coffee in the morning seemed like a big deal. My coffee cup is like a tea strainer so I worked out how to make filter coffee with a sieve. (It’s not like I can buy a plunger here)- It worked.

‘Crises’ solved:

Then I heard here that politicians were in town so off I go looking for them. I found the school with the ANC meeting on some dirt road, a few turns off the main tarred one. I was amazed that I found the ANC event on some gravel road in the middle of nowhere. Kids greet me, “hello umlungu”. Yes, it’s odd to see a white person randomly driving rural roads.

The premier had just left (sigh) so off I went to Jozini, an hour away, to find him and the next rally.

What’s a journalist to do at local election time but hunt for politicians?

Well, I got to Jozini but the meeting was in tent off a dirt road that no one could explain to me how to get to, no road signs here, so I never found it. I drove up and down for an hour and then thought enough – I am going to have a cappucino at the 5 star hotel in this filthy ugly town. Jozini looks ‘like a trash heap- it’s awful. Some Zulu towns are great but not Jozini

So I am in this five star hotel overlooking the beautiful Jozini dam when the thin, sick-looking waitress tells me the cappucino machine is broken. I was so disappointed. “I haven’t had a cappucino in weeks,” I say desolately. I was polite but gutted that I would have to wait for Durban – where I will be in five days time – to get a cappucino.

I left all downcast and homesick. After five minutes I started thinking about the waitress and how sick she looked. There is enough Aids around here that one can often see it in people’s faces. They get sunken cheekbones so it’s quite noticeable.
There I was moaning ‘cause I couldn’t get a cappucino and there she was looking sick with AIDS – most likely –
and probably feeling terrible and working. I felt humbled.

So I go back home and I hit a pothole too hard and puncture my tyre badly. Ruined tyre rim – wrecked wheel – I was upset.

I get it changed at the garage and ask the policemen who were filling up with petrol to stay with me till its changed ‘cause I was at a deserted garage in a tiny ‘town’ called Bambanana with all the malnourished-looking kids and drunk men. I really don’t feel safe in Bambanana.

I get home upset about the cost of wrecking my entire tyre and rim and the fact I missed the Premier twice. It is not going to be cheap to get a new rim and I missed a story.

Then I remember there was a woman that I picked up today and gave a lift too who didn’t know how to put on a seatbelt. Her friend and I had to help her get it on and when she got out, she couldn’t open it. Humbling. She will never be upset about a tyre rim – ever.

So here I am sulking about wrecking my wheel and I get two calls from these teenage school girls (twins) that I picked up the other day. School kids hitch home ‘cause most kids walk 8- 10 km to school and back. They giggled the whole way home and then asked for my bottled water and my number and I gave it to them. I have been feeling annoyed ‘cause they keep calling and I know they want help and I can’t help them.

This is the sms Percevia sent me:

Have a fantastic night I luv you you are just like my mom I didn’t have parents I’m an orphan have a lovely dream.

It left me speechless. I don’t even know what real problems are.

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Over-the-top churches, ANC political rally and Kill the Farmer chants.

I went to a very charismatic, Pentecostal church as a young teenager- it was emotional and fun and seemed meaningful at the time. I have recently reunited with a high school friend from that time- 16 years later (Feel OLD). Sitting on the beach in Umdloti two weeks ago, we were discussing how dangerous, dysfunctional and influential it all was. We were teenagers who were easily influenced, young and naive (13/14 year’s old). We both consider that hysterical church experience as a negative part of growing up- damaging and confusing. Double the age we were then- we both go to church as a personal choice where there is no hysteria, mob mentality, charlatans, incessant singing, and all the emotions that come with it.

When I stumbled upon an ANC rally in the Zulu town of Mbazwane, very near to the tourist diving spot Sodwana Bay, yesterday – it reminded me of my emotional, teenage church experience.

It was fun and hyped up and the bussed-in ANC supporters certainly turned the tiny town centre into a party. If I were to vote for a political party that knew how to throw parties, the ANC would win hands down. There was this IFP bakkie of four IFP supporters on the back that kept driving past, but it was hugely outnumbered and just looked lame. I was embarrassed for them.

The colourful supporters with their Zuma flags and shirts ( Isn’t this a local election?) thronged into the parking lot of the OK grocery store and Capitec bank opposite The Spar and other shops, including one run by a Chinese man, as is obligatory, it seems, in even the smallest Zululand outposts.

I am beginning to wonder if there is a formula for ANC rallies.- Say “Viva ANC” as many times as possible and then its Phanzi to everything else (phanzi means down). The bit when I noticed teenage girls in high school uniforms shouting “Long live Umkonto we Sizwe long live”, I shook my head. They weren’t even alive when Umkhonto we Sizwe was in its heyday and I know it’s glorious to refer to the struggle and all that, but it still doesn’t sit well with the DA voting Umlungu in me.

Then there were plenty of shouts of Amandla, and a little cute baby that looked about 18 months old was being shown how to make a fist. The speakers added more Vivas- Viva ANC Viva, Viva Cosatu Viva, Viva YCl, – the usual. It’s all a bit formulaic to me and Pentecostal over-the-top-church like. Interestingly, the smiling candidate for the ward next to Mbzawane proudly told me he was a Pentecostal church pastor. I am not criticising the church- dad – just the ones that play on people’s emotions and promote mindlessness.

Of course the were some struggle songs- always the same songs- and the word ‘communis’ chanted a zillion times. It was kind of like the hysterical repeated shout of “Amen brother” which can be used sensibly too. It was great fun and I was so into the whole thing that I didn’t leave in time to get home before dark which is foolish and just plain stupid – cause the cattle and potholes should not be negotiated in the pitch dark. I stay in tyre puncture territory.

Amidst the dancing, singing and flag waving – a speaker shouted “Kill the Farmer, Kill the Boer” in English. Thanks to Malema or Afriforum’s equality court case, I think that phrase is as much a part of ANC rally lingo as Amandla, Viva and Phanzi DA!

So I arrive home in the pitch black and rain, join the dinner table and repeat the farmer statements.

“I’m sorry,” says Anu strongly, there is only one thing ‘Ibhunu’ means and it is Afrikaner in a derogatory wa y- “take it from a Zulu speaker”. ( Kill the Farmer comes from the statement Dubul’ Ibhunu for anyone who has not read a newspaper in the last 6 months.)

Anu grew up in Ingwavuma, a small town in rural Zululand, not far from the Swazi border. There was not even a tar road to the hospital when she was born. She grew up playing with Zulu children, obviously, and speaking Zulu and is as fluent in Zulu as she is in her home language Afrikaans. Sometimes in conversation she will say things like “there’s a Zulu word for such and such” which is better to describe the situation than the English word…

She says you can tell a word is not acceptable when kids say ‘whoooa’ when you use it. She’s a teacher and it’s a relevant comment. Here in Zululand, Ibhunu gets a (haaa whoa) reaction from children. It can be the Zulu version of the k- word for Afrikaaner, she says.
So, asks her mother Maryna, who learnt Zulu as an adult, then what word can be used in Zulu to describe Afrikaner? Maryna recently introduced herself as an Ibhunu at a local meeting.
“Most words to describe Afrikaaners in Zulu are derogatory” says Anu. She says the word Isibhunu refers the to the language Afrikaans and is neutral so describing oneself as an Afrikaans speaker is better.
Anu then adds, “Malema can’t even tell you want ‘Ibhunu’ means because he is Pedi”. White as she is- Zulu is as much her first language as English and Afrikaans. I laughed.

I didn’t like the Kill the Farmer reference but I think the whole emotional, hysterical, mob mentality vibe is as worrying. But, I think people see through it. They are not all naïve 13-year-olds. I think enough people can see a hyped-up-party with repetitive formulaic language and jumping up and down for what it is and that’s why most of the supporters were bussed in- I drove behind about 10 bakkies overloaded with yellow ANC supporters.

I also think that’s why a local man told me: “I am not voting, I am a Christian and they are all dishonest”. So we got into a debate about if religion dictates not voting- but he answered “they are all liars – why must I vote for any of them?”

I didn’t have an answer.

Isn't this a Local Election?

Isn’t this a Local Election?

Nice Ass - she can sit on Zuma

Nice Ass – she can sit on Zuma

Never to young to start rallying

Never to young to start rallying

Three of us against hundreds of them

Three of us against hundreds of them

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Zululand and The American Declaration of Independence

Can you put The American Declaration of Independence into plain, modern English? Ok, you might ask “why would I want to?” Hold that thought. Just try:

“We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights that amongst these are life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness….

Now stop, imagine you are in Grade 7 and are 13 years old and live in a rural area with possibly illiterate parents/mother or an illiterate grandmother. Or you could be an orphan.

Your school does not have running water so you use rain tanks for water. You don’t always wash your hands after you go to the toilet – that decision depends on water supply – and you certainly don’t have toilet paper.

Zulu is your first language, English is your second and you don’t take school books home to read so your English reading is probably not at the best level for your grade.

In your Social Studies book -that you know is published by a BEE company because it tells you so- you are taught about the first free and fair elections, Nelson Mandela and South African Democracy (is it relevant when jobs, decent roads, running water and power remain empty election promises?)

The introductory chapter, before the ‘end of apartheid’/democracy stuff, is about America (when you don’t have a TV and have never even been to the beach to see the sea 200km away).

After your introduction into America, you are asked to work with other learners to put the American Declaration of Independence into simple English with the instruction- “You might need a dictionary to help you”.

I mean all second language English speaking Grade 7’s should be using the word ‘endowed’, right.

Questions after the activity include: “What did the declaration mean by Equality?” “What individual human rights are guaranteed in the Declaration? What do you think is the meaning of those rights?”

Volunteer teacher Briton Henry Thoulson thinks some of the text books at the Ingwavuma-based school he is volunteering at for a year could be better. He doesn’t like the American Independence Declaration bit himself.
But as a University graduate, he picks and chooses what to teach and adapts the books accordingly.

The problem is the other six teachers at the school have had varied levels of education and training and none have had the opportunity to attend teacher’s training college or University. They have had rural educations themselves.
Thoulson says they are hard working, dedicated and care about the kids and teaching. But he says they could do with more support and resources.

Now those teachers do get a say in what books are ordered and the school does have a text book budget. There is money for books which the school HAS to spend. The principal also has a say in what books the school orders. But with all sorts of publishers offering different books and even arriving unannounced at the rural school with promo books, there’s a lot to choose from.

The Grade 7 English book, I flipped through today, published well know company Macmillian has some activities on electricity, pie charts and Science. Thoulson says it sometimes loses the plot and “forgets to teach English”. There are lessons on animals including the Orangutan and the Sloth and then the book includes animal categorisation exercises.

When so many South African students are second language English speakers and so many schools are poor and under resourced, surely decent text books are important?

BTW There is a series of ESL books (Total English) published by Oxford in the UK designed to include the most commonly used words and phrases in English. There is lot of material available and research about how to teach people essential words for communication and leave out less common words or jargon.

Now, I think the school in question who ordered the books has a lot to answer for but so does the KZN Education Dept.

Thoulson wanted to know: who prints the books? Is there text book quality control?- Do curriculum advisors’ actually check what books are used? Is guidance given to rural schools on what to buy, should they need it?

Teachers do get training from the Department- which Thoulson and the principal say is a problem because it happens during school time and it means that sometimes 3 teachers are out of their classrooms, a day or two a week meaning their students play all day.

Thoulson thinks to improve rural schools the government should start small and organise:

Running water
Toilet paper
Electricity if poss.
Decent text books- quality controlled.
Teachers’ training that starts at lunchtime and allows teachers mornings free to teach
A training plan that has reasonable amounts of training for the year set out clearly.
Give the principal and staff the power to say no to training schedules when they feel students need to be taught, rather than teachers.

Text Book in Zululand

Text Book in Zululand

Because Exoskeleton is a word we use everyday

Because Exoskeleton is a word we use everyday

It worked eight months ago

It worked eight months ago

The rubbish dump - children collect and then  burn the rubbish

The rubbish dump – children collect and then burn the rubbish

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