Category: Africa

VIDEO: Gcina Dube on HIV/AIDS in Swaziland

August 27th, 2009 — 7:27am

“It was AIDS that killed her, not the witchcraft stuff they were talking about.”

We went to Hluti to visit Phindile, an 18-yr-old head-of-household who advises YouthAssets. As we were hanging out in front of the school, Gcina, a Swazi man in his twenties who works for YouthAssets and was accompanying us to the rural areas, told the story of a local family where the husband went to work in the mines in South Africa, came back and infected his wife with HIV, and then died. The wife was still healthy. As custom requires, the brother of the husband married his late brother’s wife. He then became infected and died, and then a third brother married the wife, and eventually died as well. The family thought the men were dying from witchcraft, due to the achievements of the family. Finally the wife died as well.

Gcina says: “A lot of people in Swaziland know AIDS is there, but they just pretend as if it’s not there, even though it’s killing us.”

2 comments » | Africa, Swaziland

The Highest HIV Rate in the World: Beyond Statistics #1

August 27th, 2009 — 4:50am

Swaziland has the highest HIV rate in the world, with estimates of the adult prevalence rate ranging from 26%-38%. Before I left for BarCamp Swaziland, in between buying batteries and packing tripods and making sure I had enough DV tapes, I needed to try to wrap my mind around this reality. What did it really mean to live in a country so devastated by HIV?  I wanted to know why the rate was so high.

I read an audit of HIV/AIDS policies in Swaziland funded by the WK Kellogg Foundation. On page 12, it listed factors fueling the epidemic in Southern Africa. Economic and civil war-induced migration, especially migration to work in gold and platinum mines in Botswana and South Africa, is a key factor in spreading disease. Unsafe sex and multiple partners remain a common cause of infection, as are dirty needles and poor health delivery systems.

Phindile, a smiling, broad-faced young woman with close-cropped hair, is the oldest one on her rural homestead and helps to care for her siblings. Her parents have both died. An older brother works in the city and sends money “sometimes.” As an advisor to, Phindile helps to counsel other orphans who head households. Largely due to the AIDS epidemic, there are over 15,000 orphan-headed households in the small kingdom of Swaziland, about 10% of families.  

We interview her in Hluti, a rural village near the South African border,  on a red-dirt path shared by cows and goats in front of her school. Many Hluti men cross the border to work in South African mines, where many prostitutes are HIV positive. Phindile clutches a notebook close to her chest in a shy girlish way, faded paper cutouts of women in haute couture dresses pasted to the cover. 

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask. Continue reading »

83 comments » | Africa, Swaziland

Social Media in Swaziland: Swazis Rock

August 26th, 2009 — 11:55pm

Swaziland. The last absolute monarchy in Africa, led by King Mswati III, famous for choosing new wives at the annual Umhlanga (Reed Dance) of bare-breasted virgins. Traditional healers, sangomas, who channel ancestral spirits and pound herbs into potions. A country with one of the highest rates of…mobile phone penetration in the world. Up to 90% of the population, even in rural areas, lives within range of a mobile network. Most people have access to mobile phones, but not computers. Youth constantly send SMS messages, check MXit or Facebook through their phones, and send airtime to each other.

Tibusiso Msibi, a stylish 18-year-old with long braids who is hoping to study multimedia at university, was asked in a BarCamp Swaziland session if she uses Facebook:

“I use Facebook, Hi5, everything. But Facebook is my favorite.”

When asked how many Facebook friends she’s got, she responded:

“Oh my gosh, I’ve lost count.”

Tibusiso, along with over 1900 Swazis, is a Facebook fan of Swazis Rock, which has as its motto “Stomp Your Feet, Shake the World”, and throws an annual bash that it bills as a “Facebook party” that draws hundreds of young people from around Swaziland, who do a lot of feet stomping.

Swazis Rock says that it is their “fundamental belief that through imagination, information and innovation, we can build a company that utilizes cutting-edge technologies to portray to the outside world the positive attributes of our collective Swazi identity.” 

Swazis are using social networks such as Facebook to express themselves. Official Swazi media websites may be pressured, for example, to remove user comments that are critical of the government (“Mr Editor, why aren’t the comments visible anymore? What’s the point of the comments section if they can’t be viewed?”). In May, Swazi dissident Mfomfo Nkhambule, who beseeched King Mswati to keep his promise to provide free primary education to Swazi children, had his controversial column dropped by the Times of Swaziland newspaper, but he has a profile on Facebook as well as a blog.

2 comments » | Africa, Swaziland

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