Visiting the Clinics

Though I’ve been in South Africa for over 2 years, I’ve never really been to a clinic. I think I went to one once, during a visit to my permanent site over 2 years ago, and met with the “matron” or head nurse. Then again, that was an insane weekend and I don’t really know where all I went. I vaguely remember visiting a sick relative of my principal in a hospital at one time (one of the most awkward experiences of my service….”Hello half dressed, very ill man. I’m a young white woman who can’t speak your language, who has come to sit in the corner and stare awkwardly not-quite-at-you”), and I went to a hospital once to hand out teddy bears to babies with another volunteer (another awkward experience involved scarcely clothed, breastfeeding women and adorable babies). Those were nice facilities in larger villages that were technically hospitals and not clinics.

Now I live next to a clinic. I have since July, and still haven’t gone. If I get sick, I’ll go to the private hospital in town, not the clinic next door. Seems insane? I thought so too, until I went there.

Have you seen movies of overflowing, run down clinics in The Middle of Nowhere, Africa? That’s about what the clinic was like. The facilities were old, but in good condition. However the waiting room was packed with narrow benches without backs, on which sat many old women and babies, squished together as much as humanly possible. The line of (almost exclusively) women and babies stretched down the hall, and women sat on the floor, waiting their turn which was unlikely to come for hours.

I went into what appeared to be an examination room to meet with the “matron” about starting a gardening programme at the clinic, and a huge box of medicines sat on a rickety old table, and medical supplies lined the wall. Everything was chaotically arranged, and I can only imagine what it must be like to take inventory.

I went to another clinic, which was much larger. The wait line was smaller, but the same scene awaited me at the waiting area, just with less women. The rooms were still roughly organized, and women appeared to be crammed together in one examination room I passed (perhaps they were family).

These are public clinics, supported by the government and at little to no cost to the people who seek services there. I hate that I would go to a modern facility in town because I can afford to take advantage of the private services. I hate that inequality has created a system where the people that most need medical help get substandard services.

Yet at the same time, it’s wonderful that my village has a functioning clinic, one which is being used and helping to curb the HIV/AIDS and TB crisis in this country. They are likely understaffed, underfunded, and under-equipped, but the clinics are doing great work.

Reflections on South Africa: Redistribution of Wealth

During Apartheid, nearly all the wealth in SA was concentrated amongst the white population, while the Indian, Coloured, and Black populations were left without, especially the black people. This was, obviously, one of the many problems with Apartheid, and one that wasn’t easily resolved in 1994, at the advent of a new, democratic South Africa.

Nowadays, wealth is spread out more evenly among all the populations in SA, but vast inequalities still exist. There are more black people on the list of wealthiest people in SA. However, the Census 2011 found that white people make SIX TIMES the average salary of black people here. WOW! Six times as much. This means that many black people, who represent 79% of SA, are frustrated by the lack of fiscal improvement since Apartheid.

So some take it into their own hands to redistribute the wealth.

How? They rob white people. This may sound incredibly racist to you, but it is a reality here, not a stereotype. Of course, white people commit crimes here, as do Indians and Coloured people, and Black South Africans are victims of crime as well. But being a white people in a rural area makes me a target.

PC warned us about this “redistribution of wealth” and how some black people do not consider it stealing. They believe that since white people have money, they can easily afford to replace a smart phone, bank card, computer, car, etc. And because they can afford to replace it without suffering, it’s not really stealing. Sixty-seven years of Apartheid and inferior education brough up generations of Black South Africans who believed that their education wouldn’t help them suceed, and those ideas still exist amongst younger South Africans. Instead of trying to get a better education, which can be nearly impossible in village schools, many end up falling into a life of crime.

I’m a white person, and I can’t easily afford to replace my blackberry if it was stolen. I would replace it though, even if I had to skimp on food. But stealing from someone is still a crime, even if they can replace what you stole.

Last month, I watched my friend get mugged in our shopping town. We were heading out of the taxi rank, where no white people go, besides us. We were being careful because we knew it was a dangerous area of the town for us. Regardless, she got her phone stolen. She replaced it later, but that doesn’t mean a crime wasn’t committed. Redistribution of wealth? No, it was a CRIME. This attitude NEEDS to stop.

I think it’s awful that a typical white person make six times the amount as a typical black South African. I hate that I’m a target because of my skin colour. I hate that the education has failed black children, funnelling many into a life of crime in order to escape poverty. But I also hate that some people choose to use their race as an excuse to be a criminal.

*Please note: terms like white, black, Indian, and coloured are OFFICIAL designations of race here, and not offensive or colloquial terms.*

Continuing Mine Strikes

Last month’s strike and massacre at the Lonmin mine at Marikana marked the start of a series of strikes within the mining sector. A month later, and the strikes are really beginning to gain momentum. It’s hard to keep up one which mines are striking, and for how long, but it seems like the Lonmin strike (which is still going strong) may have been the spark to set the fire burning. Here’s a quick recap of the strikes in the mining industry that I’ve been able to keep track of.

-The Lonmin mine is still striking, a month after the massacre that killed 34 and injured 78. Only 6% of the 28,000 workers are reporting to work currently, and the mine hasn’t produced a speck of platinum since the start of the strike. A peace deal was signed between two of the three parties, to no apparent success. Miners have marched through the streets, threatened to kill management, and are currently forcing their way into the mine to stop workers from going to work. Lonmin is the world’s third largest platinum mine. The strikers are holding out for a wage increase, from about R4500 to R12500 per month. The mine has missed out of a staggering $75 million (USD) in lost production in the past month, and is struggling to defer debt payments and avoid a closure of the mine, affecting some 40,000 jobs total.

-The Impala Platinum mine workers, about 15,000 of them, are demanding a 10% pay increase, for the second time this year. Earlier in the year, the mine was closed for 6 weeks, and one worker was shot and injured. The workers are currently still working, and not actively striking (yet). Implats is the world’s second largest platinum mine.

-The Gold Fields mine KDC West location has seen some 15,000 workers striking. Gold Fields is the world’s number 4 bullion mine, a third of the mine’s workers are involved in the strike, and production was halted.

-The Gold Fields mine KDC East was striking last week, with 12,000 workers involved, but have since returned to work.

-The Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) mine saw a small strike, when about 100 of their 4,100 workers refused to go underground in late August.

-Royal Bafokeng Platinum also saw a small s trike, of about 500 workers, following the Marikana Massacre.

There have likely been other, small scale strikes that I haven’t heard about. To put this in perspective, these mines employ more workers than there are people in my village (there are about 3,000 people in my village). These are large-scale operations that employ tens of thousands of people, for the most part.

These strikes are all illegal, wildcat strikes, which means the workers are risking their jobs for higher pay. In a country with a 24% unemployment rate, that’s serious dedication. All of these miners are striking for pay increases of various amounts, and the strikes are fuelled by two competing mining unions: The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

Mining accounts for 1/6 of South Africa’s GDP, and if these mining strikes continue to spread (and all indicators say they will), the South African economy is headed to an ugly place. South Africa holds 80% of the world’s platinum reserves, and supplies 75% of the world’s demand. You will see the effects of these strikes on the global market, if you haven’t already. Furthermore, these strikes are anything but peaceful. While the Lonmin mine is the only one that had any deaths (to my knowledge), miners are staging armed strikes, or making death threats to management and fellow workers who attempt to go to work.

The South African election season will be kicking into gear late this year, and I’m sure these strikes will be a topic for debate. Some blame the ANC and President Zuma for the inequality and conditions in the mining communities. Some blame the mine companies. Others are calling for nationalization of all mining operations. Though the miners are striking for higher wages, politics are deeply involved in the spreading unrest. Some are even speculating that the conditions are right for a “Miner Spring” (think Arab Spring). And really, the conditions are spot on for widespread striking and unrest. Look for an upcoming post on inequality in South Africa to understand why I say this.

Check out these articles:
How these strikes may lead to a Miner Spring

Mining Unrest Spreads