Monday, November 27, 2006

World Aids Day

The message for World Aids Day this year stresses the need for all to play a part in addresing the HIV/Aids pandemic. The facts are horrorfying:

Around forty million people are living with HIV throughout the world - and that number increases in every region every day. In the UK alone, more than 60,000 people are living with HIV and more than 7,000 more are diagnosed every year. Ignorance and prejudice are fuelling the spread of a preventable disease.

World AIDS Day, 1 December is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

This year, it's up to you, me and us to stop the spread of HIV and end prejudice.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

World Aids Day - Red Ribbons

If you are intesrested in supporting the Thembinkosi Foundation's projects in Zambia then please visit our shop where you can buy excellent quality Enamel Red Ribbon badges to wear on Worlds Aids Day (or even everyday as I do myself.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

World Aids Day

World Aids Day is almost upon us.

For more information on this day of enormous importance follow the HIV/Aids links on this site and visit and for recent stats on the HIV/Aids pandemic.

For a more personal view of the affects of HIV/Aids visit my earlier posts - perhaps the most harrowing of which is Boipelo's Story.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Drinking and driving in Sub-Saharan Africa

Drinking and driving is part of the culture for many people (nearly always men) in the parts of Sub-Saharan Africa that I know best. Whilst living in Botswana my wife and I used to frequent Area L. Area L basically consists of a large car park surrounded on three sides by bars and butcheries. Every night of the week trade is brisk and at weekends the area is packed. Groups of people arrive by car, quite often 4x4's, buy their beer and braai (BBQ) their meat. There is a great atmosphere and it is a scene which can be found in its different guises all over the region. People will eventually move on from the area to other bars in the city - and virtually everyone will travel by car. The practice of taking one's car when going out drinking and then of driving from one bar to another is a cultural norm that few people challenge.

Furthermore, it is common, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, to see guys driving around town drinking a beer. Some of these guys will have driven into town from villages over 100km's away. They will have been drinking on route and they will be drinking on their journey home. The police, if truth be told, do little to respond to this situation. They will turn a blind eye because they do the same thing themselves when they are off duty, they know the guys driving around under the influence of alcohol (or they have mutual friends/aquantances) or they are bribed for a few Pula.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Animals on the roads in Africa

You can smell them a few miles off. The decomposing carcasses of cattle and donkeys littering the highway. I used to drive 40km's to work - from Francistown to Tonota - on the main carriageway that runs north to south across the east of Botswana. On many mornings I would encounter this hideous smell. The smell would last for days until the carcass had been picked clean by the vultures.

When one got the whiff of death in the nostrils one knew what had happened. An animal roaming on the road had been hit and killed by a vehicle. Often this would result in the death of the driver and passangers. Sometimes the driver may have been speeding - very unwise at night time in Bots but if the bloody animals weren't on the road then dozens of deaths could be avoided every year! The situation is ridiculous. Farmers, on the whole, do not take responsibilitiy for their livestock. Animals roam freely and often wander into the road. This is a problem all over the country but it is at its worst on the main carriageways. Government can easily address the situation by holding farmers to account for the movements of their animals and by errecting fences along the side of the road. One doesn't have to be a genius to realise that this would in itself reduce the number of fatalities on the roads but nothing is ever done about it!!!

Strangely the neighbouring countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe - which are nowhere near as wealth as Botswana do not have a problem with animals roaming on their roads. I wish Botswana would take the situation as seriously as her neighbours!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Road traffic accidents in Southern Africa

Road traffic accidents are a big killer across Sub-Saharan Africa. Amazingly Road Traffic Accidents is Africa's third biggest killer! It is amazing just how many people lose their lives or are seriously injured in accidents across the region. A look through any of Africa's newspapers will reveal that they happen with depressing regularity.
Despite public outrage at the time, little seems to happen to ensure safety on the roads.
Governments frequently lack the political will or the funds to improve the situation.

In Botswana, for example, accidents are caused by factors that affect most of the region. Poor roads, animals roaming on major carriageways, excessive speed, badly maintained vehicles and worst of all, drink driving, contribute to the situation. Botswana, as a relatively wealthy country has more scope to deal with the situation than her neighbours but whether its the lack of political will or the complacency of the people little is done to address the situation.

The road that connect Lobaste in the extreme south east to Kazungula in the north runs well over 1000km's, through the cities of Gaboronne and Francistown, as well as the heaviest populated villages in the country. The road is fairly well maintained. There are stretches which are in need of repair but on the whole the road is good. However, the road sees dozens of fatalities every year.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Zambian Elections 2006

Levy Mwanawasa has won the Zambian Presidential election - Thank God!

I'm actually not an MMD supporter. I feel that it's about time the party was rebranded. The Movement for Multi-party Democracy may have been an appropriate name when fighting to end Kaunda's one party state but it is dated now and demonstrates a lack of an underlying political philosophy. Having said that the Patriot Front and the UDA have no more of a political philosophy than the MMD.

In fact both of Mwanawasa's rivals (I know there were 5 candidates but only three of them hada cats chance in hell of winning!) have serious weaknesses. Hakainda Hichilema, of the UDA, is potentially Zambia's next President and that may well be a blessing. He has cut his teeth in the political scene and has made a huge impact in his campaign. The trouble is the UDA is a loose alliance of parties with no real direction. By the next election HH will have had time to build the party he wants to lead (afterall that's the way of African politics) and he may well win the mandate of the people. I just hope and pray that he doesn't cross to the MMD as so many others have done in the past. There is little political loyality in Zambian politics unfortunately and too many prominent politicians have 'sold out' in the past and changed their colours. Nevers Mumba, who ran for the Presidency in 2001 and was beaten by Levy Mwanawasa, joined the MMD shortly afterwards as Vice President! His sell out will live long in the memory. Not only did he sell out politically one might argue he sold his soul. A prominent Pentecostal Pastor he felt called by God to enter politics to serve his people. His service didn't last that long - he was in the running for the Presidency this time round as well but withdrew preferring to run next time! Please don't do the same HH!!!

The reason I'm glad Levy Mwanawasa won the election though is that Michael Sata lost. Sata is a thug of a man who has won much popular support in the urban areas of Zambia. He has a reputation and a 'doer' and his populist message of tax cuts and jobs creation has won him considerable support. Sata has even stated that there will be 'grave consequences' should he lose the election fraudulantly. The trouble is Sata will claim the election was rigged whatever happens. If we face facts he may well have a point. There will be irregularities in the voting procedure. It's inevitable - these things happen in most elections in the developing world. Despite any irregualrities though Mwanawasa would have won anyway. Unlike in 2001, when Anderson Mazoka was robbed by the outgoing president Frederick Chiluba, this time Mwanawasa has an awful lot of popular support and especially in the rural areas. SADC observers have said the election was fair and with Mwanawasa's sizable victory margin it appears unlikely that Sata has been robbed.

Only a couple of months ago I wanted Mwanawasa to lose the election. I was looking forward to Zambia being seen internationally as a true multi party democracy. An incumbant president defeated in a free and open election would have been fantastic for Zambia as a beacon of African politics. I changed my mind after spending most of August in Zambia and from following the election campaign in the Zambian and international press. The more I read about Sata, the more I read quotes from Sata - the more worried I became for the people of Zambia. 'King Cobra' definitely had a vemonous spit. I feared the end of multi party democracy if he was elected. Mussolini seems the aptess of nicknames.

So as Levy prepares for a second term I wish him well. I hope that he continues to fight corruption and that he has the courage to introduce the constitutional reform that Zambia desparately needs. I trust that he won't try to change the constitution to try to allow himself to contest a third term but that he oversees a modernisation of Zambia's system of election. In order to ensure fairness Zambia needs to do away with its first past the post system and repalce it with a system like that in DR Congo. Levy won only 28% of the vote in 2001 and even this time round he has only won just over 40% of the vote. A second round of voting would certainly reinforce the mandate given to the President.

Please govern with wisdom Mr President (and don't appoint one of your rivals as VP!!!)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The successes of ZAW

ZAW has a proud record of being involved in the on going task of advocacy for women's rights as human rights, gender sensitisation and in raising awareness in Zambia of CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.) Mrs Lubinda Tafira of ZAW addressed the World Summit for Sustainable Development speaking on the theme of Partnerships with the Rural Poor.

Despite struggling for funding ZAW did receive the gift of a bus during its early years. The bus was donated the University Teaching Hospital's Maternity Ward in Lusaka to provide transport for discharged mothers. The vehicle served UHT for over 10 years!

ZAW has done much work in improving the educational chances of young rural Zambians. Pre-Schools in Chongwe, Chibombo and Suziman have been developed so that children are now educated at Primary level as well.

ZAW has developed agro-forestry programmes in Chongwe and Chibombo. This has led to the planting of trees to be used as wind breaks, as well as providing fuel, shade and fruit. The nursery tree projects are also an income generating activity for member groups.

Furthermore, ZAW has spearheaded the SADC regional rural industries study to promote rural industries such as pottery, basketry, beer brewing, baking, fish processing and the production of energy saving stoves.

ZAW has also promoted household fuel security through the establishment of seed multiplication and crop diversification projects and sustainable agricultural farming methods at village level.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

ZAW's Past Activities

To date more than 600 groups have become affiliated to ZAW. ZAW now boasts of membership of 5000 registered individuals.

ZAW is well known and well regarded in Zambia. Unfortuantely, too many NGO's are 'all talk and no action.' It is tragic to hear that well funded executives of NGO's are driving around in 4x4's and living in plush houses whilst their organisations are neglected. These people tragically are the ones who know how to 'play the game' - they are the ones who effectively access funding. I am aware that ZAW has made a tremendous impact in Zambia but when Mrs Lubinda Tafira, the co-ordinator of ZAW, sort support from UK charities, including Oxfam, Christian Aid and CAFOD (three of my favourite charities incidently) she was turned down!!!

Fortuantely, ZAW has had some funding, all be it sporadic, and has been able to work effectively with many Zambia women in rural areas as this story illustrates.

Women are left out

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Activities of ZAW

Gender and Civic

* ZAW promotes the enhancement of the postion of women (women's rights, women and inheritence, women and education, women and development etc.)

* ZAW advocates for good governence and the promotion of peace.

* ZAW works in conjunction with other NGO's on other vital issues such as the promotion of CEDAW - The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Environmental and Sustainable Development

* ZAW conducts sensitisation and training workshops in the areas of environment and health, educating communities about waste management and the disposal of urban and peri-urban waste.

Social and Economic

* ZAW promotes poverty eradication through food security programmes and other potentially income generating activities.

* ZAW carries out and supports research into gender issues.

* ZAW promotes Zambian culture and family values that positively enhance the position of women and girls.

Training Seminars and Workshops

* ZAW holds community based training workshops and seminars in the pursuance of the organisations objectives.

For a heart warming story about ZAW's work with 'Bus Boys' in Lusaka.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Objectives of the Zambain Alliance of Women

The Zambian Alliance of Women exists to improve the welfare of women and children in Zambia through the following:

1. To secure all such reforms as are necessary to establish real equalities of liberties, status and opportunities between men and women.

2. To urge women to accept their responsibilities and use their rights to secure influence in public lifeto ensure the status of every individual, without distinction of gender, race, colour or creed. This shall be based upon respect for the human person as this is the only guarantee of individual freedom.

3. To instill in women a sense of self reliance through constructive work for the welfare of the nation and human kind.

4. To increase awareness of environmental issues, through the sharing of knowledge and skills to ensure that traditional and scientific practices are deployed to conserve the environment.

5. To teach women sustainable income generating ventures such as sustainable small scale agriculture, basketry, pottery, sewing and other cottage sustainable industries.

For more information check out my earlier posts about ZAW.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Zambian Alliance of Women - ZAW

The Mission Statement of the Zambian Alliance of Women is:

'To empower women to take charge of their lives through gender, environmental and social justice so that the right to a healthy life is enjoyed by the now and future generations.'

The Background of the Zambian Alliance of Women

The Zambian Alliance of Women (ZAW) is an affiliate of the International Alliance of Women. It started operation in 1978 after a visit to Lusaka by Grete Borgemann, then Chairperson of the International Alliance of Women's education commission. Grete was sent by the IAW Board to Zambia to familiarise Zambian women in NGO's with aspects of law and development and to see if Zambian women would be interested in forming links with the international organisation.

As the visit took place during the UN decade for Women (1976-85) many women in Zambia were already deliberating on the important themes of the decade; equality, development and peace. Women identified that effective development could not take place without true gender equality and that peace would only be an illusion in a state of poverty and want.

ZAW is a non government, non profit making, non partisan organisation that was first registered in 1982. It is now formally registered as a corporate body under the name Zambian Alliance of Women and has registered trustees according to the Land Perpetual Succession Act (CAP 288 March 1993.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sunset on the Zambezi

The natural beauty of Zambia is incredible. This picture was taken from a boat upon the mighty river. The boats in the distance are full of tourists admiring one of the world's most beautiful sunsets.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A river without water!!!

One of the amazing sights one can see in Botswana is a river with no water. This is a picture of the Shashe River just outside Francistown. In the rainy season it is full of water but in the dry season one would not even know that it's a river! When the rain starts to fall one finds 4x4 vehicles off-roading in the river. Great fun!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

An experience of wonder and awe!!!

Here I am at the Falls! The picture is taken in August so the Falls are relatively dry! In the rainy season November-April the water fills to such an extent that needs to where a rain coat to avoid leaving the area soaked to skin.

From our vantage pointon the Zambian side of the Falls we could see a handful of tourists on the Zimbabwean side. When I first visited the Falls in 2002 the Zimbabwean side was packed and relatively few people viewed the Falls from Zambia. Times have changed. Livingstone has now firmly placed itself on the tourist map. This is fantastic for Zambia as tourism can bring much needed Forex in the country. (Whether the ordinary Zambian benefits from this is an argument for another day!) Livingstone has changed so much in the five years I have known her. The town is now full of lodges. Most of these are owned and run by Zambians. The large hotels and lodges, which are in closer proximity to the Falls area, are primarily owned by foreigners though. One cannot deny though that the Royal Livingstone Hotel and the Zambezi Sun are two of the finest hotels anywhere in the world.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Betty and Bongani at Victoria Falls

My son Bongani with my wife Betty at the Victoria Falls. Bongani had visited the Falls before but when he was only three years old and thus he could not remember the occasion. This time he enjoyed the experience but his appreciation of wonder and awe is still in its development stage - afterall he is only six!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Only tourists ever see the Falls!

Livingstone is a town of enormous contrast. On the one hand one has the mighty Falls whilst a few kilometres away people are living in the shanty compound 'Maramba.' Most of the people in the compound will never have seen the Falls and they are never likely to do so. The handful of kwacha it costs to enter the National Park is beyond the means of most of the Zambian people.

It's tragic - it really is.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Zambian Election and HIV/AIDS

28th September is a big date for Zambians. It is the date of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections that will shape Zambian politics for the next for the foreseeable future. The issue of HIV/AIDS is one that many NGO's are fighting to put on the agenda.

"All election candidates should make clear their personal commitment to tackling HIV and AIDS because we want Zambian politicians to take a leading role in fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We want them to tell us what they will do about the pandemic if we elect them to office, because they should recognise that HIV is as much an election issue as a better economy or improved education," said Felix Mwanza, project manager of Treatment Advocacy and Literacy Campaign (TALC), a civic organisation.

About one in five sexually active Zambian adults are infected, or 1.6 million of a population of 10 million, but only 60,000 people have access to antiretroviral (ARV) medication.

Zambians living with HIV/AIDS have distributed 10,000 questionnaires among the electorate and to all the roughly 1,200 candidates standing for presidential, parliamentary and local government seats in the September 28 election.

"We shall ensure that all candidates, starting from the presidential ones right down to the ward councillors, complete these questionnaires. Then we shall use their own comments and commitments to make the electorate decide who to vote for, and we are confident it will work out because we are represented in every community, and all our partner organisations and support groups are already on the ground," Mwanza said.

Candidates are asked how many people are infected with the disease in the communities they hope to represent, and about their contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The questionnaire campaign has borrowed from an initiative started last month by the Citizens Forum, which demands that all candidates sign social contracts with their communities, outlining priority areas for development.

Critics said the questionnaires and social contracts were not legally enforceable and for all their good intentions might have little or no influence on winning candidates once they assumed office.
"It will not be a case of waiting until after the election - we are able to tell someone's commitment easily from their answers in these questionnaires," said Mwanza. "Candidates who don't complete them will not even stand any chance of making it, as HIV is a national issue and every voter either has someone with HIV or has been affected by it in some way."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Mosi O Tunya - The Thunder that Roars!

This is the first view one has of the mighty Victoria Falls upon walking through the Mosi O Tunya National Park. One exactly hears the falls before they are seen and then suddenly they are there...words cannot fully describe. David Livingstone who 'discovered' the Falls was awestruck and t'is no wonder why. The Falls are one of the Seven Wonders of the World and they have to be seen, felt and heard to be believed. My father said on the first occasion he visited the falls that if he didn't believe in God already then the falls would have convinced him of God's existance. They are so utterly awe inspiring!

Monday, September 11, 2006

How free is education in Zambia?

I rememer recently watching Question Time on BBC1. One member of the Government waxed lyrically about the fact that education in Zambia is now free but how free is free education in Zambia I asked myself? Ironically that's the provocative title of a report released last week looking at the cost of education in Lusaka.

Looking at the results of this report prepared by the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR), the Director Peter Henriot declared that he was saddened by the apparent absence from current political debates of intelligent discussion of serious questions like those raised about the quality and quantity of education for the youth of Zambia.

The Government of the Republic of Zambia made an important decision in 2002 to remove the so-called user fees in primary schools throughout the country.
The return of free education meant a noteworthy reversal of the IMF/World Bank designed cost sharing plans that were part of the overall Structural Adjustment Programme that Zambia was obliged to accept as a condition for debt relief.
Many people - parents, educationists and development advocates - hailed the move as a step in the right direction.
The introduction of school fees had brought a marked decline in the quantity of education and had not brought a significant increase in the quality of education.
The State House website says very clearly: The development of any nation depends on the quality of education that is provided for the children and the youths in the country.
It therefore promises that the government has realised the need to continue to invest in the education sector. President Mwanawasa has even indicated the desire to extend free education through Grade 12, assuring that no child is hindered from obtaining an education because of fees.

But the findings of the JCTR report point to issues that must be addressed before acclaiming that education in primary schools is truly free and is accomplishing the greatly desired steps toward development.

These issues definitely affect the availability of education for children from poorer families.
Although the report focused mainly on primary schools in Lusaka, it presents insights that point to a prevailing situation across the nation, across all types and levels of schools.
Any woman or man campaigning for the office of President, member of parliament or local councilor could get a sense of what the JCTR report concludes by simply walking around the compounds of Lusaka or other major cities or into rural areas.
Just talk with parents, teachers, and headmasters about the cost, accessibility and quality of education in Zambia, as did the two JCTR researchers, Chris Petrauskis and Sheila Nkunika.
Peter Henriot claims that if these candidates come up with different findings, they must be interviewing on a different planet! When we talk about costs of education, we must distinguish direct costs and indirect costs.
Direct costs are those administered by the schools, such as user fees, PTA charges or project fees. Indirect costs include school uniforms and shoes, books and supplies, transportation, private tuition, packed lunches, etc.
The JCTR report finds that the government policy of free education has led to the removal of nearly all direct fees for grades 1 to 7. But it is true that some schools continue, contrary to guidelines from the Ministry of Education, to administer modest (K10,000 to K30,000/year) PTA charges or project fees.
But it is indirect costs (mostly uniforms and shoes, books and supplies) that can add up to an average annual amount of K440,000 for one child.
What that can mean for poorer households of four to six children is, obviously, prohibitive of access to ìfree education. And to speak of extending free education up through Grade 12 without seriously addressing this problem is neither economically realistic nor politically responsible.

It is true that with the abolition of school fees the net attendance rate at primary levels increased from 71% in 2000 to 85% in 2004 - a commendable achievement.
But approximately 15% of Zambian children, almost 300,000 girls and boys between the ages of 7 and 13 - are simply out of the educational system, missing training in the basic literacy, numeracy and reasoning that is essential for their own and the nation's full human development.
The JCTR report found that in households located in high-density areas in Lusaka, many children simply were not in school. Some parents reported as many as 5 school age children out of school.

The majority of parents attributed the absence of their children from education to a lack of school fees.

Many sad stories told the human side of these statistics, especially for the girl-child for whom education in a school is considered by many as a luxury.

Zambia has signed on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Education for All action plan and the Millennium Development Goals all of which call for the realisation of universal primary education.

Petrauskis and Nkunika make the necessary recommendation, therefore, that some very positive action must be taken to deal with the indirect costs of education that are so burdensome to poor families, even as direct costs may have been eliminated or lessened.

An expansion by the Ministry of Education of its bursary programme is called for to ensure that poor or vulnerable households have access to sufficient resources to provide uniforms, transportation, lunches, etc.

Another recommendation of the report is that the Ministry of Education should assure that the guidelines are strictly enforced so that no child is sent away from primary education on account of being unable to pay any fee (whether Project or PTA) or not having a school uniform.
But this will also require that the Ministry of Education should allocate proportionately higher grants to schools serving poorer communities, so that the necessary funds can be available for recurring operation expenses and rehabilitative projects.

An obvious need to be met in order to advance both the accessibility and quality of education in Zambia is the improvement of conditions of service of teachers.
Surely teachers should be able to meet the demands of the JCTR Basic Needs Basket if we are to expect them to give their best in educating children.

Yes, education is costly, even free education! And so donors should be called upon for greater assistance to Zambia and the government should be expected to have better priorities in its expenditures and in its Fifth National Development Plan (FNDP)

Without well educated Zambians, foreign investors are not going to come to Zambia, whether or not they are welcomed by aspiring presidential candidates. HIV/AIDS rates are not going to decline significantly.

Local industry is not going to flourish and employment rates are not going to go up.
And Zambia's most important resource, our people will continue to be underutilised, underdeveloped and undervalued. Let's hear the political campaigners talk about that!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The often neglected positive images of Africa

I'd hate to think that my writngs about Southern Africa would perpetuate the negative stereotypes held by many in the Northen hemisphere. For that reason I have decided that I will publish positve images and stories from Southern Africa to compliment the stories of poverty, sickness and death that I often write about or comment on.

I have fallen in love with Africa and I want to share my love with others!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Botswana: Miss Stigma Free 2006

This article from Mmegi in Botswana about the Miss Stigma Free 2006 pageant gladden my heart. I know beauty pageants are frowned upon these days in the liberalised northern hemisphere but they're big business all over sub-saharan Africa.

"I am very happy to have won this crown. I feel that I have achieved what I wanted. This will give me a chance to pursue my mission of sensitising the public about HIV/AIDS," said the jubilant Regina Lesole after she was crowned Miss Stigma Free 2006.

Lesole, former teacher and counsellor at Mahalapye Tebelopele Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centre scooped the crown during a colourful event held at Orapa and Letlhakane mines Sports hall. The annual pageant is designed to encourage people to eradicate HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination and to accept People Living with HIV and AIDS in the work place.
The new HIV/AIDS queen displayed breathtaking cat walking skills in front of a full hall that was beautifully decorated, and to the amazement of visitors who could not believe it was a sports hall. Seemingly enjoying every moment of the competition, Lesole eloquently explained her experience of living positively with the virus, and she was the only contestant who answered questions in English. The pageant had attracted different contestants living with the virus from all over the country.

Lesole who hails from Mahalapye told Showbiz that she was diagnosed with the deadly virus in 2000. She said that she had observed that some professionals link the disease with the poor and illiterates hence her decision to go public about her status. "Highly educated people do not want to accept that the pandemic can infect them also. Being a former teacher, I wanted to show that HIV is not for the poor only," she said.

She lamented that support groups are comprised of people with little management knowledge and they tend to fail. She suggested that highly qualified people should join the support groups saying that would lead to a step ahead in the battle against the scourge, which is overwhelming the country.

The theme of the pageant was, "Eradicate stigma and increase production." The 39-year-old Lesole pointed out in an interview that, though it is not for the first time, she is going to sensitise people in the workplace about the stigma related with HIV/AIDS. She feels that her encouragement as Miss Stigma Free would have an impact on people's minds.

The HIV activist advised that HIV positive people should not feel sidelined. They should take advantage of free anti-retrovirals provided by government and other such kind of assistance. She strongly advised infected people to take Antiretroviral drugs (ARV) as prescribed.
Failure to follow instructions is like sentencing yourself to death, she warned. The healthy mother of three was proud to announce that she is on ARVs and she does not feel any social pressure from anybody. She told a full hall that her family, especially her children, encourage or always remind her to take ARVs when it is time. She said people should test for HIV and know their status early in life. She emphasised this would help them in making decisions for the future.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Zambian children and HIV

Zambia has a population of about 11 million people. More than one million of Zambians are living with HIV. Estimates put the prevelance rate at around 20%. 290 000 Zambians are in need of antiretroviral therapy (ART) and this is the official figure that only takes account of those who know their status. As at March 2006, an estimated 76000 people were on ART in Zambia.

That 76000 Zambians are currently on ARV treatment as of now is not a mean achievement at all one when considers the circumstances. In fact it is quite a phenomenal feat. Especially when we consider that less than three years ago in 2003, during the pilot phase of ART in the Zambian public health sector, there were only 2,000 people on treatment in two centres at Lusaka’s UTH and Ndola Central Hospital. In the second phase in 2004, 10 centres with 15,000 people on treatment. By the end of 2005, it had expanded to over 50,000 people in 62 centres. By now, at the end of August 2006, there are 126 centres and 76,000 people on ART, the vast majority of who are receiving this treatment for free.

(It is sometimes argued that this treatment is not entirely free to the patient as they incur costs in traveling to the clinics to access it. The point is that the patients themselves do no have to pay any of the nearly US $150 per patient per year that it costs to have a person on first line ARVs alone, without even considering the costs of all the laboratory costs that go with the practice of HIV medicine.)

While credit, commendation and praise must be given where they are due because as a country Zambia has made very good progress in this area, we must also acknowledge that Zambia has failed her children. Experts tell us that there are about 85000 children infected with HIV in Zambia, but only less than 3000 of them are on ARV treatment.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Non adherence to ARV's a huge problem in Botswana

This editorial from The Voice in Botswana caught my eye. It points to a very worrying trend facing those living with HIV in sub-saharan Africa. As I've alluded to in previous posts non-adherence to treatment is a big issue in Bots!

'There were two related reports that emerged at the recently ended 16th International AIDS conference in Toronto that caught our attention and hopefully the attention of every responsible citizen who don't want to see this country's human resources decimated by HIV /AIDS.

These are the reports that TB strains resistant to first and second line drugs have been found among HIV-Positive people in our neighbour, South Africa and another one which states that first line drugs are no longer working for a growing number of people living with HIV who are now in need of far more expensive drugs that are out of reach for the general majority of Africans.

In light of the above discoveries we sought a comment from a local HIV/AIDS expert who to our horror confirmed our suspicions that we are in the same boat with South Africa concerning the above worrying developments in the fight against AIDS.

In brief the expert explained that apart from the natural progression of people living with HIV towards resistance to ARVs ,the process is often speeded up by certain factors such as non- adherence and reckless living, which in many cases results in re-infection.

"We already have a growing number of people who are now on the much more expensive third line drugs mainly because of non-adherence. Many have also turned up with signs of new infections. If these drugs become resistant too all we can do is help such people manage the disease, avoid catching opportunistic diseases and hope for the best," he said

Suddenly it dawned on us that our modest achievement of having reduced Botswana HIV/AIDS infection rate to 17% fade into oblivion when placed next to the mountain we face ahead of us.

We applaud the government efforts to keep the sick alive by spending huge sums of money on providing individuals with ARVS.

We condemn those whose attitudes(and they seem to be many) have been undermining the government efforts by mistaking ARVs for a cure for AIDS.

We hope that the reports from the AIDS conference will be an eye opener and a strong urgent warning to many people, especially the 35% of our population which is already living with HIV some of who have clearly been lulled into a false sense of security by the abundance of ARVs dished out by government for free to wake up and take control of their lives before its too late.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR)

I had the honour of meeting Fr Peter Henriot whilst in Zambia this summer. He was staffing the stall of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) at the annual Agricultural and Industry Show in Lusaka. He is a a wonderfully humble man but he and his institute do phenomenal work in Zambia.

One of the most prominent pieces of work produced by the centre is its Basket for Basic Needs. The centre publishes its work on a monthly basis in the form of a itemised list of the basic needs a Zambian family has to survive. It costs of the essentials of everyday life and measures them against the incomes of the average person in Zambia.

The Basket demonstrates every month that even Zambians in the comparatively well paid professionals such as teachers and nurses cannot afford to live much beyond a basic existence in their own country. For police officers the situation is even worth (no wonder there is so much corruption in the Zambian police force!)

When one considers that according to official figures 85% of Zambians exist on less than US$1 a day one realises the extent of the probles facing Zambia!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Our Zimbabwe dilemna

Three years ago whilst living in Francistown, Botswana I wasa regular visitor to Zimbabwe. Every other weekend my family and I would cross the border into Zims with groceries for our relatives. We did not cross the border exclusively to assist otehrs though; we crossed because we loved the warm welcome and happy atmosphere of Bulawayo. On our recent trip we didn't enter Zim. We received mixed advice about the wisdom of doing so. With the benefit of hindsight I think we should have have gone - to visit family but also to see for ourselves how things have changed. It was only the fear of harrassment from the police that detered me. I have always coped with it previously but this time I just felt I didn't have the patience to cope. The stories of people being strip searched at the border as official searched for illicit currency was off-putting as was stories of seven roadblocks between the Plumtree border post and Bulawayo. Next time I must bite the bullet though and cross the border...

Monday, August 21, 2006

WHO calls for more ARV's for children

THE majority of children in sub-Saharan Africa are not benefiting from efforts to expand antiretroviral treatment for AIDS, WHO has said. In a featured talk at the just ended International AIDS conference in Toronto, World Health Organisation (WHO) director of AIDS programmes Dr Kevin De Cock said 800,000 of the 2.3 million children infected with HIV worldwide needed antiretroviral drugs to stay alive. His comments followed an extensive review of progress in efforts to step up antiretroviral treatment. “Of the 800,000, only 60,000 to 100,000 are receiving therapy.

While the children account for 14 per cent of AIDS deaths, they make up only six per cent of recipients of antiretroviral drug therapy and many of these are orphans,” he said. “We must conclude that the scale-up has so far left children behind.”

Dr De Cock said while rich countries had virtually eliminated pediatric AIDS, less than 10 per cent of pregnant women with HIV in poor and middle-income countries were receiving the simple regimen of pills that could prevent the transmission of the virus to their newborns.

“An urgent priority is improving access to antiretroviral therapy for children, especially in sub-Saharan Africa” he said. Dr De Cock said women in developing countries were receiving therapy in proportion to the female infection rate but added that their access to follow-up care could still be inhibited. “Of the 38.6 million people with HIV, about 6.8 million in low and middle-income countries would be expected to die within two years without antiretroviral therapy. Of these, about 1.7 million are now receiving it, but for many it is coming too late to get the full benefit of the drugs,” said Dr De Cock. “The one million people now receiving therapy in Africa is 10 times the number who were being treated in December 2003 but the figure is two million fewer than the number the late Dr Lee Jong-wook had set as a goal when he became director general of WHO in 2003. The aim was to treat three million people by the end of 2005, in a program called ‘three by five’.”

Friday, August 11, 2006

HIV/AIDS Vaccine?

It will take a very long time to wipe out the horrible AIDS virus without developing a vaccine.

All the other measures on which we are spending so much time, financial and other resources will only mitigate the problem but will not be able to eradicate this virus. It is therefore pleasing that efforts are being made to develop a vaccine that may help conquer the AIDS virus. Given the wisdom and endeavour of humanity it must be actually possible to come up with an AIDS vaccine. But this has not been easy to achieve not necessarily because of limited scientific knowledge on the part of humanity but because of unbridled lust for money, for profits.

Those with the scientific and technical know-how, those who have spent gigantic sums of money developing what appears to be very profitable antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) may not be very keen to see them off the market so soon. They may still want to make more profits from their investments in ARVs. And moreover, it is these same corporations that somehow have the scientific and technological know-how needed to develop AIDS vaccines. And when it comes to matters like these, profits take precedence over human life, especially the lives of those poor human beings in Third World countries.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

HIV/AIDS in rural Zambia

The Zambian health deputy minister Chilufya Kazenene has raised alarm about HIV/AIDS in rural areas reaching alarming levels in the next few years if the current interventions are not scaled up as a matter of urgency.

It will be very sad if some rural areas in Zambia which currently have relatively low prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS start to experience an upward swing in the spread of this virus because very little is being done to ensure that things do not get worse in the rural areas. Zambia has areas like Northern Province with 8.3 per cent infection rate and North-Western Province with 9.2 per cent but very little is being done to help these provinces push down these rates. Obviously areas like Lusaka with 22 per cent infection rates and Copperbelt with 19.9 per cent will definitely require more resources to deal not only with prevention, but also treatment, but this should not mean that the areas with low infection rates should receive negligible attention because soon they will also catch up and it will be a question of closing the stables after the horses have bolted. More work and investment in rural areas can help keep the rates of infection under control.

It is so important that public health officials in Zambia realise that prevention of HIV is of paramount importance. The trouble is that when HIV/AIDS is concerned the culture is often one of 'fire fighting' rather than one of prevention. There is a lot that can be done to reduce or keep under control the prevalence rates in rural areas but not enough is being done. Zambia is spending a disproportionate amount of resources in dealing with the HIV/AIDS problem in urban areas than in rural provinces.

Most rural areas don’t even have testing centres. It is very difficult for our rural dwellers to access ARVs. And for those who have some access to ARVs, they have no proper assistance in how to administer this treatment. They also do not have access to periodic or regular CD-4 counts. Those who have some access to ARVs are not properly helped with administration of these drugs. Some of them are swallowing them like beans, endangering their health. These are very strong drugs that need proper management by competent people; they cannot be taken like aspirin or panadol. The money that various donor organisations have been pouring into the fight against HIV/AIDS does not seem to be reaching the intended people.

Zambia has a myriad of non-governmental organisations that have been created to deal with the HIV problem - a good thing in itself. But most of these organisations (NGOs) really do not benefit the people they are intended to serve. Instead, the greatest beneficiaries are those who run them. Money is spent much more on HIV/AIDS workshops and seminars while even the wisdom that comes from such meetings never reaches the intended beneficiaries, especially those in rural areas.

It is very difficult for rural dwellers living with HIV to fight even the most controllable of opportunistic diseases. Most of the rural clinics or health centres do not have even the minimum facilities to diagnose opportunistic diseases like tuberculosis, let alone the means to treat it. The rural clinics and health centres don’t even have drugs for simple diarrhoea and other health complications that people living with HIV are usually open to. To this is added the problem of hunger. HIV patients, especially those on ARVs, need reasonable access to food. But there are so many people in the rural areas taking HIV drugs on empty stomachs.

We therefore urge those who have made fine use of their resources to help us fight the HIV pandemic in this country to start focusing their attention and money on rural areas. Of course, this shouldn’t be at the exclusion or abandonment of urban areas where the problem has today reached very alarming levels. Doing so will be self-defeating. We are calling on them not to forget the rural areas as they battle with the problem in our urban centres. We should not allow the prevalence levels in our rural areas to ever reach those of the urban centres. If this is allowed to happen, we are likely to see an extinction of the rural populations. Let’s act now on the rural HIV problem - tomorrow may be too late. Let’s scale up our efforts, especially in the rural areas, in fighting this horrible virus.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Zambian Alliance of Women

ZAW is a well respected and prominent NGO in Zambia. It's mission is to empower women. By empowering women ZAW also empowers the children of Zambia.

ZAW operates a number of projects that promote sustainable development. One such project has recently been undertaken in Choma in Southern Province. Representatives of ZAW visited a small village a few kilometres from Choma. They brought with them a few bags of seed and their own knowledge and expertise. Through a series of workshops the village women were taught how to cultivate the seeds to ensure a bountiful harvest. Each woman was then given seeds to plant at her own plot.

A year later the ZAW represntatives returned to the village to see the results of their labour. They found fields awash with Maize. In return for their help and support ZAW requested that each of the women whom had been assisted gave back a cup of seed to ZAW. This seed was then bagged and taken to another village where the same process took place.

ZAW operates on a shoe string budget. This particular project was funded by members of the Union of Catholic Mothers based at Christ the King, Childwall, Liverpool . The UCM raised £200 which Mrs Rosina Mhlanga, the treasurer of ZAW, collected during her visit to the UK in 2004.

ZAW exists on the smallest of budgets and only succeeds because of the determination of its members to empower their neighbours. ZAW has no full time staff and all the work carried out by ZAW is done by volunteers.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Zambian Alliance of Women & Home Based Care

All profits made through the charitable side of the Thembinkosi Foundation are shared between a number of organisations we are associated with in Zambia. Later we hope to venture into Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa but as for now we are a growing organisation and we know our limitations.

We are supporting the work of the Zambian Alliance of Women (ZAW). ZAW exists to promote the interests of women and children. It is committed to empowering women and does a wonderful job on a shoestring budget.

We are also supporting a number of 'Home Based Care' projects. Many Zambians carrying the HIV virus do not have access to treatment and certainly cannot afford hospital care. Home Based Care projects, often staffed by individuals who are HIV positve themselves, exist to support the weak and vulnerable in their own homes.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Back to Africa

I'm heading back to Africa for the first time in over a year this summer. I can't wait! My wife, son and I are flying into Jozie before heading up through Bots and in Zed. We may venture into Zims but that will depend on the 'situation.' I would like to see how things have changed in the three years since I was last there. I know it'll be heartwrenching and I'll hear dreadful stories about peopleI've known well. The trouble is that when we used to travel to Bulawayo regualrly we had a bakkie but this time we will be relying on buses and lifts from friends. If we do go the Bulawayo then we have to have maize meal, sugar, cooking oil, salt etc. The people need these commodoties more than anything.

Everywhere we go I will be armed with my camera. I want to take hundreds of pics to publish with the stories that go with them. One of my regrets about my time living in Bots is that I never took enough photos. I will take photos of development as well as poverty; of people happy and prosperous as well as poor and repressed. The negative images of Africa that the Western media peddles sicken me. Of course there is poverty, sickness and repression across the continent but this is the only image of Africa most Europeans/North Americans have. I love showing my students at school pictures of modern Johannesburg and asking them where in the world do they think this city might be? New York, Chicago, Rome or Berlin are common responses. When I tell them that it's Johannesburg in South Africa their jaws drop!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A typical week in Botswana

I just found this e mail in a draft folder. I wrote it a couple of years ago whilst I was still living in Botswana. I though I'd publish it as it has some interesting insights into life in Africa from an outsiders perspective.

'Hello there. Well, I'm finally back in Francistown following my five week trip to Zambia, the UK and Zambia again. I am now back at work so life is returning to normal. And normal in Botswana means funerals and hospital visits!

On route from the Zambian border we were overtaken by a South African car being driven by a Zambian guy I'd been chatting to at the border. He was shifting somewhat but that is par for the course in Botswana. About 50KM's after he'd overtaken us we came across his car in flames at the side of the road. He had swerved to avoid some cattle and had lost control of the vehicle. Fortunately, another Zambian guy and four Zimbabweans were quickly on the scene and managed to cut the man and his wife from the wreckage before the flames caused the car to blow. Being in the middle of nowhere police and/or paramedics were not an option so the Zambian rushed the patients to hospital whilst Betty and I packed up all of the couples belongings (which had also been rescued) and followed to Francistown.

The couple are now stable and will eventually be okay (a rarity in such circumstances over here) and we are visiting them twice a day to keep them company and to wash them, bring them food and drinks etc. The nurses here are worse than useless and are toatally uncaring. Patients are left for days on end and there is no guarantee that they will even be given prescribed medicines! The doctors at least are good and are aware of the nature of the majority of nurses they work with.

Furthermore, we arrived back to hear that Betty's friend, Ruth (one of our bridesmaids) had lost her mother. Now, as is the tradition, we are visiting the 'funeral house' on a daily basis. What with work, hospital visits and mourning I am a very tired man! Actually the funeral house isn't too bad as we just sit around chatting with our friends for a couple of hours.'

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The world's duty to eradicate HIV/AIDS

As well as treating those who are infected by HIV/AIDS the global community has a duty to reduce and ultiamtely eradicate the spread of the virus.

It sickens me to see the response of my own government and other governments in the modern industrialised world to health scares such as Avian Flu and a SARS. The reason for the dramatic over-reaction to SARS and more recently to 'Bird Flu' is because it might affect 'us'! Us being the citizens of the 'developed' world.

If only the same sense of urgency would be put into finding a cure/treatments for HIV/AIDS, Malaria, sickle-cell anaemia etc. That's the world we live in!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

HIV/AIDS - The Global issue!

I sometimes feel that discussions of HIV/AIDS sometimes miss the point. The emphasis in public debate too often is exclusively on HIV avoidance rather than the treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS. The world has a duty to care for its sick. We have a duty as a global community to to those who are infected with HIV/AIDS as well as ensuring that transmission of the virus is reduced and one day eradicated.

The focus of HIV/AIDS discussion and debate differs immensely between the rich developed countries where HIV/AIDS is still to have an impact on pandemic proportions and those countries of the developing world, and especially Sub-Saharan Africa, where everybody is affected by HIV/AIDS. In Sub-Saharan Africa treatment of HIV/AIDS is of paramount importance as well as the advocating of strategies that reduce transmission rates. In much of Europe and North America the domestic agenda is focused on the avoidance of HIV/AIDS rather than its treatment.

Will HIV/AIDS be taken more seriously by northern hemisphere politicians when white heterosexuals are infected their own countries? Hell yeah...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A father's graveside tribute

Hundreds of people swelled around the grave where Mary was to be laid to rest. Several Pastors lead the mourners in prayer before Mary's father was called upon to say a few words about his daughter.

His words were profound and touched me deeply.

He lavished praise upon his departed daughter. His pain was evident in his words and was engraved upon his face. After speaking so highly of Mary he then turned his attention to the rest of his children and family memebers gathered at the graveside. He began to rebuke them. He told them in no uncertain terms that they had lost a remarkable sister - a sister who had provided for all the family whilst her siblings had sat at home comfortable in the knowledge that Mary would not let them go hungry. He reminded them that now with Mary gone they would have to fend for themselves. They would have to get up from their chairs and go out to work.

His words were passionate but not harsh. He spoke out of love - not just for his departed daughter but for her siblings. He desparately wanted Mary's life to be an inspiration to the rest of her family.

I felt that his words were brave. He spoke the words that many fathers had left unsaid. I hope that his words were heard by his children and by others gathered there - and that they inspired some to act and not just be reliant on one or two family members to support everyone else.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Mary's Funeral

On the morning of Mary's burial we travelled to Mary's family home in order to assist with providing transport to the church. Several dozen people clung to my bakkie as we made our way through the pothole filled roads of the locations. The funeral party wound its way through the streets until finally we arrived at a modern church a few kilometres away. The church was newly built and was clearly thriving. Mary had been a Pastor at the Church and thus the building was full to beyond a comfortable capacity.

Mary's body lay at the front of the church in front of the altar. Behind the coffin stood an array of Pastors - each of whom would play a part in the service. The most moving part of the service for me was its climax when the congregation filed passed Mary's open casket. Watching her mother and father and especially her son saying goodbye to their daughter/mother has heartwrenching.

After the service we returned to the bakkie and again filled up with people. We then followed the hearse and funeral cars to the cemetry.

The cemetry in Lusaka is the size of a small town. It is vast. The mounds of earth that mark each grave are stretch far beyond the horizon in every direction. In order to accomodate the dead the authorities have had to dig graves in between existing plots and thus the graves are incredibly close together. In fact it is difficult to walk through the graveyard without stepping on the side of some of the mounds.

The driver of the hearse struggled to find the plot where Mary was to be buried. We drove in a snake-like convoy through the cemetry for a worryingly long period of time before the plot was found. In other circumstances the scene might have been almost comical. It goes to illustrate just how vast the cemetries are in Southern Africa.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mourning for Mary

After learning of Mary's death we travelled to the home of her parents to pay our respects to the family. The family house was in one of the locations not far off the Great East Road. It was a very simple house and the family were obviously quite poor. In fact Mary was the only child of her parents who had been working. Her parents and her siblings had all been completely and utterly depenant on Mary for everything. Mary's death brought the family heartbreak and trauma but also economic ruin.

At the funeral home Betty went into the simple two room structure that was home to Mary's family and I joined the men in the yard. As in Zimbabwe and Botswana a bonfire was buring and all the men were sat around it. Many came and went. Some sat in silence whereas others chatted in Nyanja. Mary's father made me welcome and despite his grief ensureed that I was made to feel comortable at his home. I was almost embarrassed to be given the most comfortable seat in the tard whilst he himself sat on a battered old stool. I knew that to refuse his hospitality would have been to insult him so I accepted his welcome.

Mary's father and I chatted for some time until Betty emerged from inside the funeral house. He told me about Mary and how unselfish she was. She had worked incredibly hard and Hybrid and had reached middle management. Her career was the second most important thing in her life - after her family.

Mary left one young son. He was in his early teens. He was a well balanced and well rounded young man. He was bright, articulate and evidently well educated. Mary had been a single mother so her son was now an orphan. Tragically as well as losing his mother he would have to come to terms with other dramatic changes to his life. With his mothers passing away there would be no one to pay his school fees. The loss of a mother is tragic for any child but the implications of this loss would were immense.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Visiting an old friend in Zambia

It was just before Christmas three years ago that my wife Betty and I decided to visit Betty's old friend Mary whilst we were in Lusaka. Betty and Mary had worked together for many years and although they hadn't seen much of each other since Betty moved to Botswana they were still incredibly close. I'd only met Mary once and that was at our wedding so I was looking forward to spending time with her.

To catch up with Mary we went to the Hybrid Poultry Farm where Mary still worked. Betty went in and asked for Mary. We were told that Mary was unwell and that she had been admitted to the University Teaching Hospital. Betty was not unduly concerned though as she was reassured that Mary was recovering from her illness.

It was a couple of days later that Betty and I travelled to UTH to visit Mary. We'd have gone sooner but we had many people to see during our short time in Lusaka. The hospital was a vast building not too dis-similar to many post-war hospitals in the UK.

We knew which ward Mary was admitted to so we made our way straight there.

Upon arrival at the ward Betty asked for Mary. The nurse she spoke to asked us to wait one minute whilst she went to speak to the matron. The nurse soon returned with the matron to give us the news that Mary had passed away during the night...

Betty was obviously in deep shock. I was dumbfounded. Betty thanked the nurses for their assistance and we walked back to the car in silence.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Water pouring from their TV screens!

General Pervez Musharraf the President of Pakistan commented recently that the people of the developed world were touched by the Asian Tsunami of 2004 because they could see the water pouring out of their TV screens. I think that the President had a point.

The British media, and I suspect the media in many other so called 'develped countries', has not stopped reporting Tsunami related stories over the past week or so and no doubt they will continue to do so well into the NewYear.


40 000 people die daily because of poverty - most of these being children;
malaria claims hundreds of lives of a daily basis;
millions are affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic;
earthquake victims in the Kashmir are freezing to death;
the genocide continues in Daffur
the Common Agrcultural Policy and other farm sudsidies prevent the world's poorest farmers from competing with their richer neighbours

One or two newspapers in the UK do keep some of these issues in focus but on the whole they are not 'news-worthy'.

I pray for a new world order based upon justice, peace, solidarity and love.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

LT was devastated by his wife's betrayal. He put a brave face on things but it was evident that he was hurting inside. He put a lot of energy into his work and although at first hopeful that a reconciliation might be reached he gradually began to accept that his marriage was over.

LT had always been a fit and active man during the time I knew him but as time went by hebecame less healthy. LT began to lose weight and his energy levels dropped. I remember clearly that during our Christmas holidays LT called me to say he had been hospitalised. I was at Hwange National Park, in Zimbabwe, when he called. He sounded terribly weak on the phone and he told me that he was in Nyambgewe hospital on a drip. He was struggling for breath and had no energy.

LT recovered from this particular illness and was back at work in the New Year. He talked of his illness but there always remained, and still remains, the unspoken. LT was able to confide in me about many things but there was still a bridge too far when it came to telling me exactly what was wrong with him.

I guess that my assumptions that LT is HIV positive are to some extent unfounded but when someone suffers from poor health in their 30's in Botswana one does tend to jump to conclusions.

Before LT returned to work after being hospitalised the principle of the College called me to her office. She asked about LT's health and said that she was deeply concerned about him. Although she would not openly say 'I suspect he is HIV positive' she did ask me to talk to LT as a friend and advice him to take every test available. She also added that the College would 'look after' LT whatever was wrong with him. We both knew what she was talking about but we stuck to talking in code. That's Botswana!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

LT's world falls apart...

As I got to know LT he began to confide in me about aspects of his home life. The idylic home was little more than a charade. The woman whom he loved and adored did not recipricate his feelings. The marriage gradually disintegrated before my eyes. Things reached a finale when LT's wife told him that she had never loved him and only married him because she wanted to prove to her sisters that she could find a husband. Furthermore, she told him that she had been seeing another man during their marriage. LT was devastated. He asked her to accompany him to marriage conselling and begged her to give their marriage a chance. It was a lost cause. Before long she left him. LT was heartbroken but his broken heart was probably not the only consequence of his failed marriage...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

LT - the man had it all!

I stayed in a small self contained one bedroom flat on the campus of the college. Each lecturer had their own flat or house on campus. Lecturers with families might have 3 bedroom houses whereas single guys like me, at the time, had small flats. In fact the set up was the same for schools across Botswana. Every teacher was entitled to heavily subsidised accomodation - whether Motswana or ex-pat. No wonder I feel neglected and under-valued as a teacher back in the UK!

LT had a lovely 3 bedroom house that he shared with his beautiful young wife. I say young she was in her mid 20's whereas LT was around 30 at the time. LT worshipped the ground that she walked upon. As I grew disheartened by the way many guys treated women in Bots (and I don't just mean the local guys) I grew in respect for my friend. He seemed to have it all. A lovely wife, a nice home and excellent career prospects. Most importantly he was a genuinely nice bloke!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

My friend LT

LT was one of my best friends in Botswana. He was Bakalanga. That is the minority tribe in Botswana. The vast majority of the people are Tswana. Botswana the land of the Tswana - even the name Bo-Tswana has this meaning. The official indiginous language is Se-Tswana (Setswana) - thus the Bakalanga are a arguably to some extent disadvantaged living in Bots!

Anyway, LT was a great friend. When I arrived at the college to take up my post he welcomed me with open arms. We worked in the same team - both as Lecturers in Religious Education - and we quickly bonded. I had heard that some of the 'locals' might be a bit resistant to someone from overseas (or even from other African countries) - and especially a white man - being recruited by the college but LT certainly wasn't of this mindset. There were perhaps one or two of the Batswana who resented the fact that the British and Irish lecturers had additional contractual benefits and to be honest I didn't blame them at all. I had taken a 75% pay cut to work in Botswana but none of my colleagues would have known that and they would have seen that the perks of being an ex-pat worker were good. I think that many of the Batswana realised that their country could afford to pay for overseas professionals to mentor local colleagues and that this was in the main a positive thing. On the other hand too many of the Brits enjoyed the status of being 'a white man in Africa' too much and did not endear themselves to their Batswana colleagues. (see my entry 'Bob plays Russian Roulette')

So LT and I became good friends. We still keep in touch today.