DSC01970I had no idea how large Soweto is! Three million people! Soweto is a township South west (hence name) of Johannesburg, steeped in the the history of the struggle against Apartheid. It is a lively place and whilst I was there I came across both singing and dancing, and tyre burning protests.DSC01990The now redundant power towers are used for sky-diving. (they must be mad).DSC01976

The elections are coming up and people are keen to have their voices heard. The propaganda machines are in full swing.DSC01974

People here are embarrassed by their President and upset by the state of affairs. There had previously been so much hope about what South Africa was about. Not least because of Soweto’s previous most famous resident. Soweto has had its fair share of famous residents (although this photo was taken in Joburg).DSC02000

The house where Nelson Mandela lived is only 20m from Desmond Tutu’s house.DSC01988

It was here that there was the Youth uprising, when school kids, peacefully protesting against the imposition of Afrikaans as the official teaching language in schools were shot at by Police, leading to the deaths of 176 children. DSC01983

The dead boy in the photo is Hector Pieterson, he is carried by another boy, Mbuyisa  accompanied alongside by Hector’s sister.DSC01982

After the picture went global, Mbuyisa’s life was  threatened, he disappeared and has never been heard of again.

Standing at the  Hector Pieterson Memorial is a very moving experience. It must also be on the school outings agenda for every school in the vicinity, as there were at least half a dozen school group outings whilst I was there. The picture is so powerful and must be one of the most iconic images of the second half of the 20th Century. To commemorate this tragic day, the 16th of June is now a National holiday in South Africa and is known as Youth Day. Here at Woza Moya we have sports teams who will be playing in soccer and netball play offs, an there will be a celebratory and party atmosphere.


DSC01859Just a couple of hours drive from here is the Kingdom of Lesotho, a landlocked country completely surrounded by South Africa, where 40% of the population live below the poverty line. The traditional costume is the blanket, worn by both men and women.

The road up to Lesotho is treacherous and stoney. You need a good 4 wheel drive to make it. The landscape is extraordinary and of another planet. DSC01818The road rises and rises, to a bleak plateau and a small handful of shack shops.DSC01851

The country was previously known as Basutoland, til it got its independence from us glorious Brits, in 1966.  As you pass the passport control, the road is unexpectedly suddenly tarmacced. Why? Because Lesothos is ruch in Lithium, required for batteries, and the Chinese have laid the road.

We go to someones house. The traditional house is built of stone, with a thatched roof.DSC01872

The floor is raised and made of packed cow dung, with a floor stove in the middle, which raises the temperature of the floor. Lesotho is at high altitude and it often gets very cold. A young woman has baked a bread on the floor stove. This is the basic food of the San people and is rather tastey.DSC01856But she does not look happy. Who knows what is going on, it is impossible to say. We have no common language. The incidence of sexual violence is high in Lesotho, and as is often the case where this is so, so is the rate of HIV/AIDS.DSC01855.JPG

The landscape outside her house is so bleak. There are no crops. Just a few sheep. The nearest town is 70 k away. What is there to do? A monthly visit to get more flour for the bread perhaps.

Some men in traditional costume stroll by. Their images redolent of a previous century, or even a previous millenium.DSC01866

It really is another world.




Healing waters

DSC01443Come down to Durban beach on a sunday morning and every kind of person is enjoying the water. They come to pray, to dance, to swim, in every conceivable outfit from the hijab to the shorts, from the robes to the rags, from the straw steson to the showercap.

DSC01449 (1)They come with surfboards and their Desigual T shirts.DSC01427

The baptisms occur in all colours under the sun, the rituals suffused with an extraordinary mix of cultural backgrounds.

DSC01890You can see that the baptee has a rope around her belly, to prevent drowning, as several people have been lost at sea; as a result of an of amalgam of fevered exaltation, hysterical conversion and the riptide.

The duckings can seem quite brutal and frankly terrifying.DSC01744

People pray in groups and they pray in families, whilst mostly the kids hang out, looking bemused. DSC01445

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And some pray on their own:DSC01898

Meanwhile others do the ‘beach-thing’ and it’s an extrovert’s paradise. DSC01741

But ‘de rigeur’ for the middle aged African lady is the shower hat.DSC01722

Durban seafront has to be one of the most colourful places on the planet and I love it!

Eat your heart out, gal!


This is Sinethembi, youth worker at Woza Moya. She is the one who modelled the Fallopian Tubes when we gave away the re-useable sanitary towels.  And she is one happy lady! She is now modeling her new burgundy-pink real fur gilet and she LOVES IT!!!

I had been given it to bring to South Africa by a friend (thanks Becky) in the UK, a new (not second hand, my dear) riotous affair that the African ladies here would die for. But who to give it to? Fortunately the choice was made easier by the fact that it was a more svelt size than would wrap round many of the staff here. When I presented it to Sine, she went crazy, as did the other staff in the Office who debated whether it did indeed fit her and whether they were in fact the more appropriate recipients.

It is supposed to be autumn here, but today the temperature was up in the thirties. Didn’t stop Sine from wearing the jacket, though!DSC01717

Appeasing the ancestors

DSC01579 I have already mentioned S’bonelo, our young paralegal advisor at Woza Moya. Last week we traveled to a meeting together and so he told me his story. It was a very special tale, which he agreed that I might share with you.

Born to a young mum, they shared a surname with the local Chief. He therefore took them under his wing. This brought certain advantages, but also a heavy penalty. When he was 3 years old, his mum was on a bus with the Chief and staff. A rival opened fire on the Chief, and killed him. S’bonelo’s mum witnessed the assailant and so was also killed.

S’bonelo was initially brought up by his grandma and then taken out of the Valley to Durban, at age 11, to live with his uncle. He made his way through to matriculation, often with only himself to fall back on. After school, he got a job as a door operator in a taxi, often working a 16 hour day.  For this he earned the princely sum of R50. (Equiv to £2.50 at current rates). If the taxi driver was in a generous mood, he would get S’bonelo to clean the taxi for an extra R30.

S’bonelo was determined to educate himself and so he spent most of this money on a computer training course. By now he had lost his grandma and was very much on his own, without family support. Later he got a labouring job on a building site, his pay now increasing to R120.

He tried desperately hard to get a good job but it proved impossible. Then he heard about the job going at Woza Moya, the Valley of his birth, and so he jumped at it and got it. And so  4 years ago he returned to Ufafa.DSC01574

Two years ago,  a woman contacted Woza Moya and said that her family were looking for a lost family member.  They lived some distance away from Ufafa but had reason to believe that there might be a young man working at Woza Moya who might be her brother. She explained that her father and her family had had a lot of trouble. Her father had sought advice from a prophet, who told him that the cause of the trouble was that the ancestors were angry. This was because he had a son who he was not caring for and that in order to appease the ancestors, he must find that son and make amends. The prophet told the father his son’s name and also how and when his mother had been murdered.

S’Bonelo had previously tried to find his father but had not had any success. His mum had apparently been a very private person and had not told anyone who had fathered her child. But she had been on a training course in Pietermaritzberg where it was thought that she might have got pregnant, and it turned out that the man in question had been on that training course too. He said that he did not know that she had become pregnant, because she never told him.

S’bonelo was initially suspicious. Had they heard that he had a job and they were fabricating the story to get money from him? But when he met the man, he said that it was like meeting his mirror self, but older.

So the father had to pay ‘damages’ for getting S’bonelo’s mum pregnant. The cost of this was 2 cows. This was paid in Rand equivalent (R8000/cow) and then the ancestors were appeased. Life started to improve for the father and his family. S’bonelo got to know his sibs and his father, which as a single orphan was of particular importance.

S’bonelo feels sure that God guided him back to the Valley, so that his father could find him. He plans one day to change his surname to that of his father’s. He has a very strong sense of belonging here and feels committed to  serving his local community.  He seizes every learning opportunity and works with great dedication  for the people who come and seek his advice. Good on you, S’bonelo, I am sure your mum is smiling at you from where she rests.DSC01553

Girls just wanna have fun!

DSC01472 (1)Well we had a great morning at Singizwe school yesterday. There is a big problem for girls and school non-attendance due to unaffordable menstrual protection-wear. Many girls lose  3-5 days of education every month due to this problem. (This on top of the problem that the girls, NOT the boys, prior to installation of a water harvesting system at the school put in by Woza Moya were having to use 2 days each per month to collect water from the river, 4 k away).

A private donor (thank you Marion) had found some money for re-useable sanitary towels. And along we went to the school to explain their use and hand them out. First there was a lesson about puberty.DSC01469  Here is Sne, youth worker, demonstrating the body changes of puberty.

The rapt attention of all 103 girls was invigorating.DSC01494

Then there was an explanation of menstruation.DSC01475

Which was followed by the mechanics of sexual intercourse, accompanied by explicit drawings on the blackboard by my good self. The crowd was in uproar.

Use and care of the Sanitary Towels was then explained. “wear, rinse, wash, rinse, wash, dry”. The response to this varied from concentration to  horror to shock to mirth. Look after them, explained the facilitator, and they will last 3 to 5 years.DSC01479 (1)DSC01500DSC01485

“This is fantastic!” said one girl, “no need to find money to buy these anymore!”

We then handed out 6 towels to each girl. “We are very happy!” one was heard to sayDSC01481 (1)Lets see if this makes a difference to school attendance and to exam results.

Moses Tladi

imageMoses Tladi was born in 1903 in rural South Africa. The Land Act of 1913 denied the ownership of any land  outside the small native reserves, laying the foundation of Apartheid and creating a cheap itinerant labour force ready to work in the mines. Tladi  found work as a gardener in Johannesburg, where he started painting with leftover commercial paint and a stick.  His nascent skill was recognised and lead to the promotion of his work at public exhibitions. He was the first black artist ever to exhibit at the South African National Gallery.

imageDuring the Second World War he fought for his country. In 1956, during the “urban removals”, when black South Africans were forced to leave the cities, Tladi and his family were brutally evicted from their home and left homeless. He never picked a paint brush up again and died in 1959, a broken hearted man.

imageHis work is currently being exhibited in Cape Town and is a testament to an artist whose love of painting transcended the harsh socioeconomic and legal humiliations of his time

A lesson in power politics

imageI was charmed by this girl’s joking exuberance, but life for Zulu women and children can often be hard and unforgiving. Conversations with my co-workers, alongside people’s stories, have made me so aware that women and children empowerment has a way to go. There is an infant school near our site, where the headmaster and teachers beat the children with sticks. If they can’t do their school work, they get beaten. This is a daily occurrence.  It is a free state school, so many parents who have no money have no choice but to send their kids there. Kids come home with huge welts on their backs. This is against the law. Complaints to the Dept of Education go unheeded. Visiting dignitaries have been appealed to, to no avail. They throw their hands up on horror, then nothing happens. It makes me  want to weep.

Local culture often condones violence. Tash, my cousin, told me that she worked for 3 years with a guy who was a Zulu traditionalist and a Christan fundamentalist who beat his teenage children with a shambok,  and he regularly sat down with her (Tash) and asked her why she wasn’t looking for a husband. Good old delightful Tash, who is gay and very sharp, explained to him why she wasn’t looking for a wife either.

I drove with one of my co-workers and she explained to me the rules around marriage. When a girl gets married, the husband has to pay ‘lobola’. This can be in the form of money/cows (‘izibizo’) , which goes to the brides father, and/or blankets/cooking pots, which goes to the brides mother. The amount of lobola is negotiated between elders and the bride’s father. Usually nowadays the bride has a choice in her husband, but in the Eastern Cape, there are still forced marriages, particularly with under-age girls. This is against the law.

If the wife doesn’t produce any sons, then the husband will often get a girlfriend. Actually even if she does have a son, the husband may well get a girlfriend. (Look at the Zulu President; he has 6 wives). The wife has no power. If the husband beats her (and gender- based violence is extremely common), then the in-law family will try and stop her going to the Police.

A South African region, Uthukela, near Durban, has launched a grant scheme for girls who remain virgins throughout their university studies, triggering outrage among human rights groups. The bursary is the brainchild of the municipality’s female mayor, Dudu Mazibujo. Girls have to undergo annual virginity checks. Sounds like institutionalised sexual abuse, to me. News of the scheme sparked outrage from civil society groups, with one women’s association branding it unconstitutional. But I haven’t heard that the grant conditions have been overhauled.

This week, we have been holding some workshops round gender issues for our youth tteam. There has been a lot of shouting and laughter coming from the training room, but it is clear that many challenging issues are arising. Like the disparity in domestic chores (female 100, male 0) and the views on power and rights. (Initially 100% of the group were saying that a girl in a mini-skirt deserved to be raped because she was asking for it. But the trainers were challenging them on this and it was causing uproar). This workshop is really digging up some very emotive and tricky issues for these youngsters. Here are  gutsy young Thembe, a born leader, and delightful Zama, having to think very hard…  DSC01393DSC01401

Did anybody see the film ‘The sky in her eyes’? It is about a little girl who nurses her dying mum, then after she dies she takes her apron strings and ties them to a kite. Well Zama was that little girl. She is our film star!

Sbonelo, at Woza Moya, is our paralegal worker. He spends a lot of time working with legal cases of gender-based violence in our community. At the moment we are trying to write a Grant Application to train our team to deliver a programme that creates safe spaces for young people to explore issues like gender, sexual health, violence etc. Well done Sbonello, you are a very bright and able young man, devoted to improving the life of people in the Ofafa Valley. DSC01317

(And whats more, you got my South African passport returned to me. Dealing with the Home Affairs Dept has been a lesson in watching paint dry….)


Staying with the Nxasanes

DSC01374And this isn’t even all of them in this home! But the photo that did include them all made me look like a pale ghost that had been photo-shopped into the picture, so vanity prevailed and I chose this pic instead. More to the point, Jane’s mum had picked some flowers especially for this  photo, so of course, it needed to be used.

So living in the house at present is Jane, my co-worker, her mum her husband, 2 of her sons, 1 step-daughter, 1 grand-daughter and 5 grand-sons.

The day starts at 5am, all the kids need to be washed (the water tap is outside), school uniforms ironed (by the kids themselves) and the school shoes polished. I have never seen so much ironing as in this country! Then there is breakfast, and floor washing against the constant battle of red mud being brought in by all those little feet.

The view from Jane’s house is stunning.DSC01327

In the distant hills I could hear a bus making its way along the curving roads, playing loud music at several thousand decibels.

I stayed with them for a couple of nights, going to work with Jane during the day.

My two little companions were Um and Melo, who never gave up on the fact that I didn’t understand a word of Zulu that they spoke with me; the stories were endless and kept on coming.

Here is the older, Um;DSC01360and here is the younger Melo, who wanted to sleep with me:


In the evening, we collected corn from the garden for supper.


The corn on the cob was followed by Easter eggs (my treat to the kids), then beef curry followed by ice-cream. What a treat!

The previous night had been chicken and vegetables, whereby EVERY SINGLE BIT  of the chicken was eaten, bones AND all. Fortunately I had declined the chicken or I would have put myself to shame with leaving stuff on my plate, spoilt European that I am.

A brief spell of rest for Jane, enjoying the evening light outside the rondeval:DSC01372

and her smiley mum.DSC01328

And then some family TV time, with kids falling asleep everywhere, including under the grey blanket at our feet.DSC01323All the domestic chores are done by the women and girls. It is extraordinary to witness how Jane juggles so many balls to keep things going, at home and at work, I really take my hat off to her, she is a star.

Women’s Self-help Groups


I was shocked to hear yesterday that according to Zulu tribal law, women are not allowed to own land. This leaves them very vulnerable. A beautiful young woman that I know, was married off to a husband from another village. Soon after the marriage, her husband started to beat her up. The beatings got worse and eventually, at the point where he nearly killed her, the mother-in-law advised her that if she valued her life, she should return home. She did return, with her tail between here legs. A failed marriage in Zulu culture is always viewed as a woman’s fault, whatever the circumstances, and so her family treated her and her son very badly. But because of the land ownership rules she was unable to get her home, until recently, when she was able to get a piece of land in the name of her son.

Given this context, amongst other stories that I have heard, I have been very excited to attend the women’s self-help support groups (SHG) that have been recently introduced to by Woza Moya.


The poorest areas were targeted to set up the groups. A group of 20 women is formed and a book writer is identified and trained to keep records. The group writes its own constitution,  deciding how much members will pay, whether there will be fines for non-attendance,  or for lateness. The group decides what money can be borrowed from the group and what the loans can be made for. It also decides the terms of repayment.

in the group that I attended, we sat on mats on the dirt floor and the meeting started with a song and a prayer. Each member paid 2R (approx 9p) per week, 2R for non attendance and 1R for late arrival.  Loans were made for school uniform or to replenish stock for a food side sales of crisps.

After financial issues have been addressed, the group then goes onto to discuss issues of concern and provide each other with support.

In North Zululand, we visited quite mature groups. This group had bought land and then built a creche on the land.image

Here is that creche, from the outside and the inside.



Another group was making crafts to sell.image

And invited us for the morning to one of their houses to make crafts alongside them. Here is a picture of some of the Woza Moya group as guests of the north Zulu group, making crafts.image

The creche was a huge achievement and no less so for the fact that this group had had to pay the tribal fathers to be allowed to do it. It made us aware how fortunate we were at Woza Moya that not only is the Chief for our area (very unusually) a woman but also that she gave the land to the organisation to build on, without charge, and with her full and ongoing support.

As groups go on to maturity, they can come together, to form increasingly larger collectives.

Asking women what benefits the SHG gave them, I was told that it was invaluable support at so many levels, giving them a sense of pride and achievement, bringing the women in communities together and allowing them to do things for the community that they  wanted to prioritise. It was very touching to see how women who seem to own almost nothing, can come together and build, in a way that is self empowering, sustainable, and not dependent on outside donations.