Thursday, July 23, 2009

Khayelitsha= our new home

Khayelitsha was today and it hit a little too close for home for my liking. I was fine for most of the talk. We listened to Mandle who works for the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). He talked about the issues of HIV as it applies to Khayelitsha. The problems are huge. Out of the 700,000 residents 80,000 are estimated to have HIV and only 12,000 are being treated with antiretrovirals (ARVs). This is because of the lack of resources TAC suffers from such as inadequate doctors and nurses and those doctors and nurses they have often not educated on the latest AIDS treatment.

I should also quickly note that Khayelistha is the largest township in the province of the Western Cape.

The issue with government and HIV is huge. Mbeki, South Africa’s former president, was and perhaps still is an HIV denier, believing the cause of HIV to be poverty instead of sex. His statements as well as his former deputy president and current president, Jacob Zuma has caused massive confusion over HIV and its spread. Mbeki believed that the often life saving ARVs were toxic though many in his cabinet were taking this same drugs. In addition, Zuma was charged and later acquitted of a rape charge, were he knowingly had sex with a former comrade’s daughter who he knew was HIV positive. To protect himself from contracting the disease, Zuma took a cold shower. When top officials like Zuma and Mbeki tell lies about HIV, it causes countless unnecessary death just because people are confused about the treatment and the prevention of HIV.

Today, in Khayelitsha there are 12 public clinics which provide free services such as testing for HIV and another problem in South Africa, TB. TAC also has 14 branches in Khayelitsha were people talk about AIDS and are educated about it. In addition, TAC has a weekly time slot where people are given a safe place to talk about AIDS. All this is done not through the government’s money nor drug companies, but through organizations such as Bread for the world, Ford Foundation and the South African Development Council.

I was good for most of the talk but when he started talking about gender-based crimes, which btw I think is a strange phrase but it’s being used a lot lately, I lost it. He talked about guys who target girls, basically babies as young as 2. Bianca, one of the UCT students, was like I’m sorry did you 2 and he said yes, 2. Any where form 2 to 24 and it just got progressively more disturbing and heart breaking from there. He told us these two stories about these women who were raped and murdered. One of the stories involved a man who raped a woman without a condom and then when he found out she was HIV positive went back and killed her. The trial which convicted him of rape and murder lasted over two years. Can you imagine waiting that long for your daughter or your sister to get justice? Two years! He also just talked about how most rapes occur between people who know each other and when it happens in the family often there isn’t a desire to get the police involved so that the rape can foil the family name. So they do this thing called “paying of blood” which means the rapist pays the victim around 2,000 to 3,000 rand to rectify the situation. I’m sorry but how can money ever fix the emotional damage that rape can cause. And even if a woman does go to the police, she has to report it in front of 10-15 people and often the police are unsympathetic. Somewhere during this point, I just lost it. His words just brought back awful memories and hit way too close to home for me. At that point, I couldn’t even listen or take notes. I wanted so bad to ask what if anything do you do for the younger victims, the ones who probably don’t even know what happened to them. What can you do? Even if I would have been able to ask, I fear his answer wouldn’t have brought any comfort and that’s what really got me. The fact that little girls who have little if any understanding may be going something as horrifying as rape and only later be able to understand when the rapist is long gone and probably hurting another girls.

He also went on to talk about why these men rape in the first place and most of it has to do with the image of a man being the protector and provided being destroyed by the fact that some many people are unable to get jobs. The unemployment in Khayelitsha is 60% and most men are competing with women who often land the better jobs. Add that to men coming out of prisons were the often raped more than once and there is a lot of anger taken out on women because of it.

Unfornately, I really didn’t get to ask any of the questions I wanted answered because the lecture had a strict time limit. But it was very interesting. I don’t think I should use that word. It was emotional, hard-hitting and truthful. I’m really glad I got to experience it, but it just leaves me with more questions. What can I do?

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