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“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for eternity." (Translated) - Nelson Mandela

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for eternity.” – Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is the perfect example of the intangibility of success and triumph. Although Mandela told CNN in an interview for his 90th birthday that he regretted nothing in his life, there is no doubt that his road to freedom and the South African Presidency was not without its stumbling points. Why else would one of his most quotable declarations be “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall”? But nevertheless, he taught us to strive to be better in every way.

Mandela wasn’t always the man we will remember going forward from today. In the early years of the struggle, he co-founded the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) and traveled the continent amassing a following and funds for an armed struggle against apartheid. For this, he was jailed – labeled a terrorist for so long he remained on the Untied States terrorist watch list until the age of 89, until he was removed in 2008.

It is for this reason that Mandela’s triumph over apartheid is such an inspiration. He became a beacon of forgiveness, faith and humility when no one would have blamed him for being anything but bitter and angry. Taking pause and evaluating the struggle while imprisoned on Robben Island, Mandela later abandoned the idea of an armed struggle and instead began preaching respect, tolerance and love. “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love,” he said, and an overwhelming number of people around the world and even his enemies in South Africa sat up and took notice.

Instead of facilitating an armed resistance, which many believed would spiral the country into civil war, in his later years Mandela opted to fight apartheid with a halo. His years in prison were the crucible that created President Nelson Mandela – the optimist that believed he could work alongside his enemies to bring an end to apartheid and avoid a South African civil war.

Mandela

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” – Nelson Mandela

Mandela took the helm of a sinking ship. There’s no doubt his ‘Rainbow Nation’ fell short of his albeit high expectations. Mandela wasn’t perfect – he avoided a civil war, implemented the famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission and did oversee a five-year term of stability. However, later ANC leadership has left much wanting when it comes to Mandela’s vision for the country. The current ANC government is plagued by controversy, underachievement and corruption. Rumours swirled years ago that Mandela no longer even voted for the party. But still the ANC has held power since 1994. In political science we call this phenomenon the ‘Mandela Factor’ – no one will vote against the ANC while he still lives and embodies the struggle for freedom.

But despite your politics, skin colour, birthplace or hometown, Mandela is not remembered as a politician, but a man. A man we thought (or perhaps hoped) would live forever and give us hope that South Africa could become that perfect Rainbow Nation. I like to believe it still can.

Statue of Mandela along with South Africa's three Nobel Prize laureates in Cape Town.

Statue of Mandela along with South Africa’s three Nobel Prize laureates in Cape Town.

My favourite Madiba quote goes like this: ‘There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.’ This is my personal choice of his many messages: that we can improve ourselves as individuals and this will change the world. We don’t all have to be Mandela – surely these shoes are too big to fill. We don’t all have to move mountains. If we all strive to be better people, whether because of a faith in God, or in the greater good for humanity, or both.

Nelson Mandela taught us about faith, forgiveness, acceptance, strength and perseverance. In an imperfect world and an unprecedented situation, he was a beacon of calm, dignity and poise. His message was not for us to make the world a better place, but to work to make ourselves better people, and this is something we need to take with us moving forward.

President Obama said in his beautiful eulogy-like speech of a man that inspired his journey towards becoming the first black president of his country, we are likely to never see another individual like Mandela again. For this reason, his message of how we can create a better South Africa and a better world is a message we can’t afford to ignore.

Hamba kahle Tata Nelson Mandela – Go well, Father Nelson Mandela

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Although it got off to a rocky start, soon I had to ride in the trunk so all of our members could fit in the car!

Although it got off to a rocky start, soon I had to ride in the trunk so all of our members could fit in the car!

It’s no secret that when I first arrived as volunteer coordinator in May of 2011, my personality and the Zulu culture clashed. Badly.

The hardest lessons I have learned over the last 28 months have been about how to alter my conduct when working in another culture. It was particularly hard, as a young woman, to gain respect in a patriarchal atmosphere that holds experience, masculinity and age in high regard.

I had none of these things going for me.

And so for my first few months I fumbled along trying to make my mark as a coordinator. Mostly this consisted of attempts to work as hard and as much as possible. All I got was called “active.”

Then came a blessing in disguise – as my contract got extended I gained the opportunity to facilitate one of our weekly support groups in a community called Ezwenelisha – which means ‘a new world’ – and oh boy was it ever.

Fun with pedicures!

Fun with pedicures!

I was stoked for my first meeting with the weekly group, whose numbers had dwindled as the result of local politics and employment. Myself and the volunteers readied our plans, packed up the car, and headed to the group’s meeting point.

No one showed up. How anticlimactic!

However, bolstered by my fellow coordinator and local South African Nokwethemba, over the next two years the group grew and evolved. Nokwethemba busily recruited members of our 10 Families and home based care programmes, we made exciting and interactive plans like teaching about snake bites and performing pedicures on the members.

Slowly but surely I gained the respect of the group, and I found that once I relaxed and really started to bond with the community I started gaining, not the respect I thought I wanted, but the camaraderie of the communities, locals and even our staff.

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Our last meeting, with Monique, who will now be taking over the facilitation of the group.

It was with a heavy heart that I spent my last morning on project with my Ezwenelisha Support Group. We had gone through so much together; domestic disputes and violence, stigma around HIV status, visits to the beach, St Lucia and Crocodile Centre, the death of both my grandfathers, one of our members and many, many of the group’s friends and relatives.

This group of incredible men and women taught me about loving and grieving. They taught me that it was okay to ask questions at any and be unsure, and to lean on others for support. However, most of all, the group taught me about respect – how it’s earned, how to show it and how important it can be.

I owe a lot of my growth over the last two years to this group, and how through them I learned about relationships, respect, and most of all, how to just relax.

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All the security we use at our home in St Lucia. Think she could take on a hippo?

All the security we use at our home in St Lucia. Think she could take on a hippo?

Oscar Pistorius, his bail hearing and the pending trial for his alleged premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp dominates not only my Facebook news feed, BBC Homepage and Twitter page – it dominates my life. I’m glued to the updates as the courtroom drama unfolds, and although I do acknowledge that it’s a little sick, I have a special connection to violence in South Africa as a foreigner living here.

The events that transpired on the night of Valentine’s Day at Pistorius’ house are without a doubt horrific and tragic, but as a Canadian residing in South Africa, some of the articles and comments I’ve read about the country I’ve lived in for the past two years have hit me the hardest. These pieces condemn the country I love to live in, calling it “crime-ridden,” “dangerous” “wracked by violence” and saying the people “live in constant fear” and are “paranoid about home security.”

The worst came today, when my Twitter feed brought me to an article in the Toronto Star by Cathal Kelly. Although it’s well-written, it truly embodies the hyperbole so many who don’t know what it’s like to live in South Africa fall victim to believing. One thing I can’t help but point out is that Kelly generalizes that all South Africans are obsessed with safety, when all of my Zulu friends and staff sleep behind what is probably South Africa’s most common security system – a dog in their yard.

Thankfully, since the Twitterverse provides no safe refuge from argument and ridicule, the Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York came to the rescue with a rebuttal that got me thinking about how South Africa, and my life therein, is perceived by outsiders.

Kelly is half right – living in South Africa is no easy task. Maneuvering security gates (not “rape doors” – I have no idea what the hell that is but it’s a disgusting name) is no easy task for someone who grew up in a house where we used to sleep with the door unlocked. Having to get used to opening and closing a driveway gate, or keeping a security button next to your bed is daunting at first. In the first months of living in South Africa, I found the security a bit suffocating. Why was it needed?

I answered my own question the hard way when my house was broken into on August 24 of last year. Ransacked and pillaged, my roommate and I luckily got the majority of our stuff back, but the damage to my psyche was done. I felt violated, and mostly betrayed by a culture and community that I was working so hard to help.

But Pistorius got me thinking – do I really live in a society that is so prone to violence that it excuses firing four shots through a closed door at an alleged attacker?

Surely not.

The break-in that happened in my house in August? The same happened to a friend of mine in Paris just two weeks ago.

That unlocked door of the house I used to live at in the Toronto suburb? My dad used to freak when he woke up to find it opened.

My Afrikaans boyfriend is moderately obsessed with my safety and security, but he has never gone as far as to keep a firearm in the bedroom, or even in his house. When I think back all of our conversations about locking doors, not walking at night and sharing each other’s insurance information, these are all discussions that would have been had anywhere in the world.

I tell the volunteers that living in South Africa is all about avoiding the temptation for people to take your things. Keep belongings in the trunk of your car, don’t flash money around or leave your purse unattended. Aren’t these things we do at home? I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have been robbed if our plasma flatscreen TV hadn’t been so visible from our yard – I miss that TV so badly I think I’d consider stealing one.

Of course South Africa can be dangerous – there is no question about that – but it’s no Mogadishu and it’s not a warzone. Like York says, there aren’t bullets zipping over our heads every day and although all the houses I have lived in in St Lucia have a gate and high walls, it’s mainly to keep out the hippos. In fact, the gate has no lock and the electric fence above it doesn’t work.

Being safe is the name of the game, and although it is more difficult in a place where crime is higher, it doesn’t mean that South Africans live in a constant state of fear from being raped, robbed or shot. We love living here despite the harsh reality that crime is a way of life – not a paralyzing black cloud.

The sad truth in all of this is that if someone in South Africa is a victim of crime, it’s usually by their partner or someone they know. The Institute of Security Studies found that 60% of violence against women in South Africa is committed by their own partners. The Department of Justice estimates that 1 out of every four South African women are survivors of domestic violence, and every 1 out of 6 women who dies in the province of Gauteng (where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located), is killed by an intimate partner.

Crime, and even violent crime, in South Africa is commonplace, but it doesn’t mean that those of us who live in the country live in a constant state of fear, as Kelly has told the readers of The Star. Of course there are times that I’ve clutched my panic button after hearing a noise, been thankful for my big dog sleeping next to me, or felt undermined as a woman.

That doesn’t mean that every day I don’t enjoy my life in this beautiful country. I only hope others will take the chance to experience the wonder of South Africa instead of being persuaded by the nonsense some people choose to write.

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Cows are also king of the road in Zululand.

One cannot go a day in Zululand without discovering just how important having cattle is to a Zulu man, and indeed a Zulu woman.

As part of my goal to learn more about the culture in which I work, I’ve created this blog detailing the link between the Zulu people and Nguni cattle.

Here are some interesting facts about cattle and the Zulu culture:

  • In a traditional Zulu homestead the cattle byre is the centre, and all doors often face the byre where the cattle spend every evening.
  • The predominant type of cattle of the Zulu people are called ‘Nguni.’
  • For many years,through the 20th century and well into the 1980s, Nguni cattle were thought of as inferior to the ‘purer’ European breeds.  The wide variety of colour, horn size and shape and even conformation of the animal flew in the face of Eurocentric ideals of breed conformity and racial purity.
  • However, there are some significant advantages to owning Nguni cattle – they thrive in low-grazing areas, are heat, tick and tick-borne disease tolerant, have an even temperament, live long lives and calve well.
  • Cattle are used for marriage exchanges; a bride price is called ‘lobola’ and is usually 11 cows, although this differs and is decided upon between the potential husband and the bride’s family. 
  • If a couple divorce, the ex-wife must pay back the cattle that were given as her bride price – minus a cow for every child she bore during the marriage.
  • Cows have historically been important within Zulu society, from linking families through marriage, legitimizing children, embodying a ruler’s power and even as part of ancestral religion.
  • Cattle are also seen as the intermediary between people and the spirit world. A beast is slaughtered at weddings, funerals and other significant events and this is said to bring the ancestors closer to the living.
  • They are also important in terms of their uses as food, clothing and fuel.
  • One of the most rigid rules of historical Zulu society (and even practiced today) is that sour milk (coming from a cow) can only be shared within a family group.
  • It is said that ‘Inkunzi ayahlaba ngokumisa’ or, loosely translated, one should not judge a bull by his horns.
  • White cattle were so favoured in traditional Zulu culture that if a white calf was born to the byre of a commoner, it was automatically given to the king. Cetshwayo’s massive herd of white cattle was legendary.
  • In contrast with the Zulu kingdom’s love of white cattle, the Swazi monarchy’s cattle were black.

The Zulu people gave names to types of cattle based on their distinct colour patterns, horn shape, gender, status and history. Here are some examples:

  • An "Egg in the Lark" calf.

    An ‘Egg in the Lark’ calf.

    ‘The egg of the lark’ – a cream-coloured cow, spotted lightly with rust.

  • ‘Castor oil bean’ – A dun and white-mottled cow
  • ‘The Fish Eagle’ – Black cattle with a white head.
  • Inkone – a characteristic of Nguni cattle whereby a cow has a white stripe along the spine and a white underbelly, with the pattern on the left mirroring the pattern on the right of the cow. These cows are greatly favoured.
  • Inyonikayiphumuli – white cattle of the Zulu monarch, characteristics include dark points on the ears, muzzle, horns, hooves and eyes. The name means ‘birds that have no rest.’

Special thanks to ZuluCattle.com and W.D. Hammond-Tooke’s essay ‘Cattle Symbolism in Zulu Culture’ as well as my Zulu ladies for teaching me about Ngunis.

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When the first individuals suffering from AIDS were discovered in the United States in 1981, there was no such thing as World AIDS Day. These individuals suffered in a silence that surrounded HIV/AIDS for years, particularly in America but also throughout the world, until the first World AIDS Day in 1988.
For us at African Impact – St Lucia, the 1st of December is likely the most important date on the calendar. It’s a line underneath all of the work we do throughout the year with AIDS orphans, HIV education and support groups in the communities in which we work.
Worldwide, an estimated 33.3 million people are living with HIV, and more than 25 million people between 1981 and 2007 have died from the virus, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the main battleground in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, and South Africa is an important area to work in because of the large number of individuals living with the virus. Our message on World AIDS Day was one of education – particularly surrounding HIV prevention and positive living.
An important part of raising awareness in a province whose HIV infection rate is approximately 39% is getting tested, knowing your status and living positively. Living in an area where life-saving antiretroviral treatment is available means individuals can still live long, healthy lives with HIV, and prevent transmission to their partners and children.
After a very successful World AIDS Day campaign in 2011, we decided to join forces and hold an event in partnership with the Sipho Zungu Clinic in Khula Village and Peace Corps volunteer Danielle Piccinini. The end result was a day filled with local talent, speakers and activities for kids and adults.
36Alongside the main event, the clinic and local NGO the Africa Centre held testing and counseling for HIV/AIDS and promoted sexual health check-ups for women and men.
Volunteers and staff spent the morning preparing food and setting up the event, which lasted the majority of the day and hosted over 400 people. With healthy living parcels to give out (which included toothbrushes, toothpaste and condoms), the volunteers also tested the crowd on their knowledge of HIV and gave out prizes for those who could correctly put a condom on a wooden penis.
This year’s UNAIDS Global Report detailed an epidemic that is on the decline, but there is plenty more to be done in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Travel restrictions on the HIV positive, human rights abuses in a number of nations and the ongoing battle to educate individuals on prevention and treatment remains paramount if next year’s figures are to show a continued decrease in the epidemic’s power.
We were proud to do our part this year in an area of the world where education is so needed, and although we work towards the goals of World AIDS Day every day of the year, to be able to celebrate with the rest of the world gives us a real high.
World AIDS Day is not only important for those 33 million HIV positive individuals living on all corners of the globe – it is an important day to remember those who perished first without the worldwide support of a day to encourage acceptance and spread knowledge.
Read more from our African Impact – St Lucia projects on our official blog.
We were Live Tweeting from our World AIDS Day event!
Check out the full album of photographs from the day here. 

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We all know I’m a little lazy at writing blogs, but I really thought these past two weeks couldn’t go by without me giving you some insight into why I Tweeted about what an interesting week I’d been having.

In reality, it was probably more like the past two weeks, and this is only a handful of what has been going on, but I think you’ll enjoy the perpetual randomness (but also awesomeness) of life in South Africa.

Auntie Deb and I at Mission Rocks in iSimgangaliso.

First, my aunt and uncle came to visit! Since my parents visited in August of 2011 I haven’t had any other family out here, partially because I’ve been back to Canada twice since then. However, Deb and Jody made the long trip down to Cape Town and travelled up the Garden Route before heading to St Lucia.

The first thing Deb said to me when I asked her how their trip had been was: “It’s amazing, I’m not leaving.”

Now we know where I get it from!

It was great to be able to show them around some of our projects (including Inkanyezi Creche) and to be able to show them through iSimgangaliso Wetland Park, which surrounds St Lucia.

Female lion relaxing at Thanda Private Game Reserve

A day after they had arrived, Deb, Jody and I headed to Thanda Private Game Reserve, about an hour north of St Lucia, for some game viewing and two overnight stays at the lodge.

Staying two nights meant we had four game drives ahead of us, and they certainly did not disappoint. We saw an incredible mixture of lion, black rhino, white rhino, jackal, cheetah, buffalo and many birds. However, the best part was just being able to experience how excited Deb and Jody were to even spot zebra, impala or giraffe. Living here and seeing these animals all the time, sometimes one needs a bit of a reminder of just how magnificent the wildlife can be.

Despite some incredible sightings, my curse still remains – I have yet to see a leopard. This is becoming a serious issue. I’ve lived  in St Lucia a total of nearly 21 months and although I know leopards are amongst the most illusive animals to spot, I continue to see wild dog and black rhino without trouble. By now it’s just become a joke, and no one wants to bring me on game drives for fear the curse will affect their sightings!

Miriam, Carla, Sofie and I at Quiz Night.

Anyways, although we returned from Thanda sans-leopard, we did so in time to participate in the Happy Africa Foundation Quiz Night that Miriam had put on at a local restaurant. Although our team didn’t win (that’s an understatement, we were slaughtered in the final round) we had a great time and raised a great amount of money for our medical project.

Then came this Tuesday, where the police arrived at our doorstep to hand me a subpoena – now that was a new experience! In connection with the break-in at our house in Monzi, I must appear in court as I was the first on the scene in August after a local friend saw our house had been burglarised. I’m sure an entire blog will likely be dedicated to my experience in a South African courtroom – so stay tuned.

This morning at the volunteer house.

Other eventful occurrences from the week include planting banana plants at our Support Group garden in Ezwenelisha, which was a blast. I also got the chance to run Reading Club on Friday at our container-library in Khula Village, which was great as over peak season I didn’t get a lot of time on project in the communities.

I was also able to change a flat tyre all by myself at the side of the road, much to the amusement of our employee Zakhele, who arrived too late to help me!

I also made a trip to the doctor with a volunteer, where we were graced with an impromptu sermon delivered by a pastor who said modern medicine wouldn’t cure us if we didn’t “have Jesus” – which I thought not very fitting for the waiting room of a doctor, but that’s just how things go.

To top everything off, rainy season has hit us with a vengeance, and we had to retreat from both Thursday and Friday afternoon projects early due to severe thunderstorms. Even this morning we were all trapped in our room as the rain poured in over the sides of the house.

Never a dull moment, and I love it!

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To see more videos and read more about our African Impact projects in St Lucia, visit our official blog

Watch this video, created by the volunteers in May, of what it’s like to be on our community project. Most days, the volunteers on our community project spend their time at one of the day care centres in Khula Village. On this particular day, three of our volunteers from The Netherlands teach the young ones at Simunye Creche.

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