A couple of weeks ago I drove for four hours from Durban to site-visit a school. It was based in Kwa-Giba – an area I had only been through on my way to Sodwana and scuba diving – probably 15 years ago. I left the city at 5.30am, watching the fog lift and the urban surrounds gradually give way to subsistence farms. Moving slowly up towards the Mozambique border and the 38/100 degree heat promised by noon.
We had been contacted by Aminadab, one of the teachers – who thought we would be able to help the school with their feeding scheme. So would I please come and see if The Lunchbox Fund would adopt them? The drive took me into the heart of Zululand – the home of a tribe considered both smart and warlike. And who gave birth to our current president – who is neither. Luckily for us. Because he has abundant natural charm and an aptitude for corruption that could drive this country to it’s knees if he was. But, I never underestimate him.
One thing he does do is get the food to the schools in his home province. Giba Secondary has 1400 pupils – and there was government-provided food enough, to feed all of the children one meal a day. So, the school doesn’t need our immediate help – at least, not as much as many other schools do. The children look well fed and boisterous (though it is hard to see hungry) and the lunch was prepared fresh, that morning, by a group of women who cooked it up over open fires in giant three legged pots we call ‘pooitjie’. The kitchen was basic but everything was spic and span. You had to look away from the flies … every present for protein.
The drive through rural Zululand reminded me again why I love South Africa so much – wide open country, endless bleached blue sky filled with high scudding clouds, inconvenient beasts crossing – prized cows that we ‘umlungu‘ know better than hoot at or hit. The Tribal African measures his wealth and position in cattle, kill one inadvertently and it is going to cost you an arm and a leg. Or, depending on your negotiating skills; possibly two.
I stopped often to ask the way – my GPS got me to the closest small town Hluhluwe (Shlooshlooweh), but had idea where the school was. Understandable given that the roads don’t have names, but numbers. And that the whole area is a collection of enormous game farms – I saw kudu, buffalo, the necks of some giraffe in amongst the trees, and a kettle of vultures, circling something dead. I got out of my car to take a photo – only to be shooed back into it by a 10 year old who told me “no mama, is danger”. God knows what he saw.
This part of SA is in HIV denial – they have the highest number of child-headed households in the country. 25% of the children have lost their parents to AIDS. The clinic I stopped at for directions had a line of people outside at least 100 long – and there was one doctor and two nurses manning the desk. “Are you from an NGO?” asked the doctor. “We have ARV stock-outs (shortages), we need help. Please can you tell the newspapers when you get back. I have nothing to give these people who are waiting outside.”
Turns out what the school had wanted from me was take home food-packages. Some AIDS orphans are taken in by relatives: most not. I met a group of girls who live together, in the house Mercy’s school teacher dad (dead of the virus) had left to her. At least he had the presence of mind to do that. Two of the girls are pregnant, having fallen for the sugar daddy allure of the ThreeC – Cash, Car, Cellphone. Now their middle-aged sweetie was long gone – so the others would help them through their pregnancies. Still, these children’s children would have family.
The headmaster was a no-nonsense fellow. Had been around the block and recognised very quickly that I was unlikely to be able to help them. He looked at me across the desk: “We need whatever you can give us. However you want us to ask for it, we will. But I understand you have your rules too.” A survivor for his school, this man. Then he shook my hand and asked me to fill in the visitor’s book. I saw that the two entries before me were other NGOs – both of whom had been bearing gifts. Computers, still in boxes lined the new library, and there was a pile of summer clothes in the hall. No-one had used the science lab in a while.
Yet there wasn’t enough food for supper.
My throat was dry and hard, so I stopped at a roadside cafe manned by a young guy and his granny. They had a sign up offering ‘isi-coldrinks’ and stocked Stoney gingerbeer. A favourite that brought back memories of long road trips taken as a child: before I had any idea of the threat of the world. I paid for two and gave one to a young herder who had stopped to watch this unexpected entertainment. A white woman, buying a drink, on the side of his road, who greeted him in Xhosa. He was delighted and clanked his can happily against mine before yelling something profane in Zulu and running off after the bull who had veered into the middle of the highway.
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask if I could take a photo of the little shack-shop – but gogo was giving me the hard eye. And I had the sense that she had no time for tourists and their cameras. So I hit the road.
Feeling tiny and useless and insignificant, a part but apart in this huge country of mine.
(All images copyright campari&sofa)