Monthly Archives: September 2014

Mothballs? Cotton swabs?

Folks say they get as big as tennis balls!

Saturday night, about 7pm, I heard strange noises all around. Then I opened my door and saw what was just a regular Joburg hailstorm! Accompanied by a most amazing lightning show and the whole thing lasted well over an hour. I hear there are more great storms to come…

A visit to a Fine Town

Keith Hambly, the President of ONPHA and E.D of Fife House (a Toronto supportive housing organization for PLHIV) was here the last couple of weeks. He was part of a Rooftops week-long workshop on Housing and HIV/AIDS, but came early to visit the housing sector in Gauteng.

Last Saturday, Josie Adler took Keith and I south of Joburg. She wanted to impress upon us what will happen if planning is allowed to run amok (just like home, in many ways). After the expansion of the city to the North, it’s now heading south, and not in a good way. Many
informal settlements (newish word for squatter areas with lots of tin shacks and some RDP houses). As part of the Black Sash movement (, Josie worked here in the 80s and 90s, doing hard but real community development.

One of her accomplishments is in a settlement called Finetown. She worked with members of the community to set up a school, which has now been running for over 20 years. They scrounged and begged and did it for their kids. We were privileged to meet with two of the original activists, Victor and Emily, who told us the story as we sat in the schoolyard.

Victor, Gogo Catherine, Alice, Emily and Teboho, Keith

Victor, Gogo Catherine, Alice, Emily and Teboho, Keith


Behind us is part of the original school. After some more begging and scrounging, Anglo American Mines ponied up for a 2 storey addition and a “crèche” (daycare).  That’s all good.

Finetown school, part II

Finetown school, part II



But then they got what they really wanted, which was to have the government deem it to be a legitimate public school. That means they no longer had to find ways to pay teachers and supplies, and parents were relieved of that financial burden. BUT, in the “beware of what you ask for” mode, things have not turned out the way Victor and Emily hoped for. The new teachers, unlike the original ones, don’t live in Finetown. They have no attachment to the community or the struggle. Victor told us that the School Trust had built up a nice reserve to do more capital work and now the teachers want to use it for bonuses. The parents are being left out of decisions and are no longer welcome as volunteers either. So it goes…..

And, oh yes, there was the Pistorius verdict:

Hard to think someone could fire four shots into a room the size of a broom closet and not think he was killing whoever was in there, but apparently the Crown didn’t make the case on that… The decision was a surprise to many, there were calls for the judge to be fired, word on the street is there will be appeals and some are convinced that he will get off without having to do any time. It consumed the media for a week and now it’s died down.  We will be subjected to it 24/7 in a about a month, when the verdict will be decided. There is a special TV channel devoted to this, so it will no doubt ramp up again.

HIV/AIDS and Housing in sub-Saharan Africa

Last week, Rooftops and some local and regional partners held a workshop and seminar on the issues of HIV/AIDS and how they relate to the housing problem. I learned a lot, not much of it very good news. It’s not “the end of AIDS” is South Africa, not by a long shot! There was a lot of data, a lot of power point presentations (I’m going to start a NO PPT movement, I think!)

South Africa’s leadership missed the boat on HIV/AIDS in most of the early decades of the plague. Mandela picked his battles and this wasn’t one of them but his successor, Thabo Mbeki (1999-2208) was an out and out AIDS denialist. Only after his demise did the ARVTs (anti-retroviral therapies) become available to all.

In 2008, a Harvard researcher estimated that Mbeki’s policy caused the death of over 300,000 South Africans. And during his term, the country only achieved 30% reduction in mother-child transmission, whereas neighbouring (and much poorer) Namibia achieved 85%.

Here are some numbers for you to ponder:

  • 1 in 5 South Africans have HIV and it is suggested this may ramp up to 1 in 2 over next 25 years
  • 18% of children under 17 have HIV
  • HIV is now a manageable disease, but many socio-economic factors work against that.
  • Poor housing conditions here also mean lack of sanitation and potable water
  • ART (anti-retroviral therapies) need to be taken daily and with food. Food costs money.
  • Having safe sex (putting a condom on in a tin shack you share with 9 other people) is more difficult/unlikely.
  • TB is the concurrent disease here, not hepatitis. Over 88,000 people die of it each year.
  • Think of sitting in a taxi van in winter, all the windows closed, with a seat mate that has TB.
  • Earning a livelihood here often means being a migrant. That means poor housing, poor nutrition, poor social supports. All this is a recipe for bad stuff happening.
  • Other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are almost as bad, but S.A. is the worst

Paste and read the link below, it will make you cry (it’s good to cry about this):

At the workshop, folks came from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Cameroon, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and Uganda and told their stories, hopes and struggles. So I met some great people of course and spent quality time with Keith talking  about Rob Ford and other really important Canuck things. At one point, I looked across the table and noticed that 6  participants had their shoes off. This seems to be very common here. There is a young man down the hall from NASHO who always walks around barefoot!

Hermien, Nicodemus, Aloysius,Timothy

Hermien, Nicodemus, Aloysius, Timothy, Mercy

Part of me wishes it was back home….

Thanks to the twitterverse and other e-gods I am avidly following the Somerset Ward election race. I know everyone is trying to have a car-free campaign, but my favourite campaign thing is to go out in the car at 4 am, not wearing a seatbelt, ignoring stop signs and red lights and decorate lawns with non-recyclable coroplast signs! So much fun….

Go Cat Go!

Go Cat Go!

That’s it for now, folks!





















This and that…

Winter is on it’s way out….

People say summer is coming and I know it because my allergies are acting up. Itchy, watery eyes tell me there is pollen around. Strange season tho, yesterday afternoon it was 29 degrees, but in the morning you need a sweater. The weaver birds are busy tearing strips of palm off the trees in my yard…

Something not working? Just say “shame” and shrug. 

Seems to be the way things go here.

There was a water main break down the street about a month ago, It took the better part of a week to get fixed, but the road hasn’t been resurfaced yet, still just a big dirt pile.

And then there are power outages, a weekly occurrence thanks to metal thieves who regularly strip the wire*.

My wifi at home stopped five days ago and I’ve been harassing my landlady since then. Means I have to “clomp” up to sit at the coffee shop for connection.

The lifts (elevators) at work have been on the fritz for 3 days, forcing me to work at home (where there is no internet!). Now these elevators are probably 60 years old, so you can imagine the problem getting parts!

Ok, enough kvetching already

this and a manhole cover will get you a couple of beers

this and a manhole cover will get you a couple of beers

A coup in Lesotho               

Tom Thabane, the Prime Minister of Lesotho, was (“apparently”, as there is some dissent on that point) victim of a coup last week. He fled to S.A. for a couple of days but has now gone home.

Lesotho, right in the middle of S.A.

Lesotho, right in the middle of S.A.

Lesotho is a country that is entirely within the boundaries of South Africa, so there is an interest here to ensure it is stable. Also, it is the source of what is called “white gold” (water) and apparently most of the Gauteng water comes from Lesotho.

The current government is some coalition of 3 different parties who can’t agree. So Thabane asked the King (yup, no GG there, a real King) to prorogue parliament and that triggered the coup.      Do you think we could get Mulcair and the Dauphin to do the same in Ottawa?

Speaking of the King’s prerogatives

Check out the Reed Dance ceremony. This took place last week in Kwazulu Natal. When I visited one SHI in that region last month, they told me that their local Councillor had asked them to make a donation for the King’s Reed Dance. (!) Apparently this is part of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini’s anti-AIDS program. No comment

Fire, meat, beer, guy in apron

I got my boss Malcolm to reluctantly agree that a “braai” is just like a BBQ, except that the meat includes boerwors and ostrich steak with biltong as an appetizer. Our colleague Jacus had us over for braai last Sunday at his lovely home in Pretoria.





Braai with pap and chakalaka

Braai with pap and chakalaka

Jacus and his wife Fay are heading to Canada at the end of September. Jacus will be visiting some social housing folks in (guess where?) Toronto. And then they said they would go see (guess what?) Niagara Falls. I hope I convinced them to go to Quebec City instead by assuring them Niagara is really no big deal if you live in southern Africa.

More (different) cultural stuff

This past week I attended a performance at the Dance Umbrella series. It was “Les Nuits” with the Ballet Preljocaj.  I saw them in Ottawa as part of the NAC Dance Series a few years back. Excellent evening.

And on Saturday, I went with a colleague to see Buskaid, the Soweto String Orchestra. They were amazing. Buskaid started in 1992 to help struggling young musicians from Soweto. It is an amazing organization and many of their students have now on gone to study in London and other European  cities.   Beautiful music, lots of smiles and love.

Tomorrow will see the arrival of Barry (Pinsky, ED of Rooftops) and Keith (Hambly, from Fife House in Toronto, also President of the ONPHA Board). Rooftops and some local groups are hosting a week long session on HIV/AIDS and Housing. People will be coming from Kenya, Tanzania, Zim and Cameroon. It will be a busy next couple of weeks and I’ll have more to say.

That’s it for now, folks. Sala Kahle