Human Trafficking in South Africa
South Africa is a cultural hub of various ethnicities, races and languages and has kept this reputation despite the colonization of the country. With a plethora of issues regarding race and politics, the country also has an intense trafficking scene, presenting challenges for men, women and children alike. Native South Africans make up the largest number of victims within the country, mostly coming from the cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Bloemfontein. Moreover, traffickers tend to target vulnerable people in poor, rural and urban areas. Here is some information about human trafficking in South Africa and what efforts some are taking to fight it.

5 Facts About Human Trafficking in South Africa

  1. Forced Labor: The International Labour Organisation Convention No. 29 of 1960 defines forced labor as “All work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered him/her voluntarily.” South African law enforcement agencies increased efforts to investigate, prosecute and convict traffickers. In these investigations, authorities arrested seven Chinese nationals, four men and three women for alleged forced labor of 91 Malawians, 37 of whom were children. Traffickers exploited a total of 308 victims through forced labor.
  2. Modern-day Slavery: Slavery, according to the Sexual Offences Amendment Act No. 32 of 2007, means “reducing a person by any means to a state of submitting to the control of another person, as if that other person were the owner of that person.” Modern slavery is not dissimilar to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, as traffickers are currently and continuously shipping thousands of women and girls in South Africa into brothels every year. The Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act defines trafficking in terms very similar to the African Slave Trade; in simple terms, it is the harboring of people by threat, force or deception to gain control over another person and using them for exploitation.
  3. Local Victims: Nigerian cartels dominate sex trafficking in several provinces. In 2014, Western Cape reported an increased number of Nigerian sex trafficking victims, many of them coerced through voodoo rituals. Traffickers often send South African women to Europe and Asia, where some end up having to work in prostitution, domestic service or drug smuggling. Law enforcement reported that ongoing sex trafficking victims end up in positions of loyalty and submission via forced drug use, which makes rescuing victims all the more difficult. Recently, law enforcement officials across five of South Africa’s provinces coordinated and executed raids on more than a dozen brothels, as well as factories and syndicates that created and distributed unconsented pornography.
  4. Non-African Victims: Many Chinese traffickers operate in South Africa, specifically targeting Asian men and women. Officials acknowledge the growth of Chinese victims, but Thai women remain the largest foreign victim group – that is, as far as officials are aware of. Women and girls from Brazil, Eastern Europe and East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and neighboring African countries have all experienced kidnapping and placement in South Africa’s trafficking ring. LGBT persons both foreign and native are the main target in sex trafficking. Young men and boys often experience coercion into trafficking rings, especially those from neighboring countries. Authorities even arrest and deport some in forced labor as illegal immigrants. Government and NGOs found a growth in captors forcing Pakistanis and Bangladeshis into bonded labor.
  5. Women: Traffickers capitalize on South Africa’s poverty epidemic and unemployment, and poverty strips its victims of their dignity. Women who undergo trafficking come from different backgrounds of poverty and many of them are immigrants. The same applies to internal migrants. Since most of these poor women who enter South Africa are in search of economic opportunities, they do so often without formal immigration papers; such women often turn to domestic work. They work long hours every day of the week, their salaries often lower than the mandated accepted salary for domestic workers. Sometimes, employers take the identification they might have entered South Africa with for “safekeeping,” though it is really about holding these women hostage. This makes it difficult for them to leave if they are not happy with their employer’s conditions. For black women, the marginalization doubles due to their race and gender. White South Africans make up 8% of South Africa’s population yet own 87% of all farmland, according to the country’s government through AFP and the Washington Post. Since most are not living in poverty, they are less vulnerable.

The South African Government and A21

The South African government convicted three law enforcement efforts and initiated the prosecution of 19 sex traffickers back in 2014. Meanwhile, the Department of Social Development oversees victim shelters, which assisted 41 victims. However, a serious lack of capacity and widespread corruption among the police force makes anti-trafficking efforts harder. Though when the government fails, South African NGOs such as A21 provide helpful solutions to human trafficking in South Africa by raising awareness, providing education and acting as problem solvers in place of corrupted police.

According to A21, trafficking victims are often unable to speak the local language, appear to be trapped in their job or residence, may have bruises and other signs of physical abuse or do not have identification documents. Brothels, farms, factories and shebeens are common places captors keep victims. A21 provides the opportunity to contact it if a person suspects that human trafficking might be taking place, offering the chance to save lives.

– Marcella Teresi
Photo: Flickr

Livestock WealthPoverty in South Africa has historically been linked with the institution of the racial apartheid regime. The national government began to pass segregationist policies in 1948, with racial discrimination policies only officially dismantling in 1994 when South Africa became a democracy and Nelson Mandela stepped into power. Livestock Wealth is a company that introduced South Africa to “crowdfarming” as a means of supporting farmers and alleviating poverty in the country.

Apartheid and Poverty

Under the apartheid regime, the minority-white government passed policies aimed at keeping black South Africans, who made up a majority of the population, from having any meaningful participation in the economy. This left millions trapped in cycles of poverty and the residual effects of such discriminatory policies are still being contended with, in the effort to reduce poverty today.

Apartheid laws confined poor South Africans to rural regions and made the migration to urban areas difficult. The lack of opportunities and social mobility in rural areas made overcoming poverty a challenging task. The legacy of this limited mobility is still present today. South African provinces in rural areas have more households in chronic poverty compared to urban provinces. As of 2015, 25.2% of the population of urban areas lived below the upper-bound poverty line (UPBL), whereas 65.4% fell below the UBPL in rural areas. In order to reduce poverty, it is most important that rural communities receive support and investment.

Livestock Wealth

Livestock Wealth is a startup founded in 2015 by Ntuthuko Shezi which aims to provide investment for farmers in South Africa’s rural areas. Livestock Wealth allows investors from anywhere in the world to effectively purchase from South African farmers four different livestock and crop options: a free-range ox, a pregnant cow, a connected garden or a macadamia-nut tree. When the cows or the crops are sold, both the farmer and the investor receive a share of the profit.

The investment provides liquidity to farmers for whom there is limited availability of short-term funds. Livestock Wealth is currently a credit provider with South Africa’s National Credit Regulator and is registered with the Agricultural Produce Agents Council.

Livestock Wealth currently has 58 partner farmers all across the country and all cows are hormone-free and grass-fed. In recent years, its business has expanded to also provide meat for investors who join the “Farmers Club.” There are currently more than 2,800 investors with Livestock Wealth and more than $4 million has been invested.

Alleviating Poverty in South Africa

Livestock Wealth is a representation of an initiative that has great potential to alleviate poverty in South Africa. South Africa’s rural populations have a long history of exclusion from the economy and have struggled to reduce poverty for decades. Livestock Wealth provides cash investments for farmers and creates a market in which they can reliably trade. By doing so, the firm exemplifies an innovation within the South African economy, one which is helping to alleviate poverty and can inspire others to do the same.

– Haroun Siddiqui
Photo: Flickr

AIDS in South Africa
South Africa has the world’s largest HIV/AIDS epidemic with 7.5 million people currently living with the virus. One of the main reasons why it has not been contained is a lack of testing. Less than 25% of the population has been tested in South Africa, where it is estimated that around 13% of people have AIDS. The lack of testing is caused by the negative stigma which still surrounds the virus, as well as the lack of access to reasonable testing and treatment methods. Now, cell phones are providing a new way for people with AIDS in South Africa to get tested and seek treatment. This is a massive step that may save millions of lives in the future.

Project Masiluleke

Project Masiluleke is an NGO providing these essential services in South Africa. It has developed multiple different steps to reduce the number of those affected by HIV/AIDS in South Africa. One of the main services is a program called SocialTxt which encourages people to get tested as well as refers them to medical guidance via text message. Texting is a valuable mode of communication because it is able to reach approximately 90% of the South African population. Since the implementation of this project, the number of daily calls to the National AIDS Helpline has tripled. Being able to easily access HIV/AIDS support services via cell phone has encouraged more and more people to seek help.

However, many South Africans still refuse to get tested because there is such a negative stigma around HIV/AIDS. This is a large part of why cases have continued to spread in South Africa. To help overcome this barrier, Project Masiluleke also provides users with self-testing kits. This way, people sign up for a kit via text message and then are able to take the test in total privacy. This method lets people feel more secure during the entire process and has encouraged many more people to get tested and seek treatment.

Cell-Life

Cell-Life is an NGO based in Cape Town, South Africa that seeks to help those affected by HIV by developing new technologies. They have developed several different texting services that send daily medication reminders. This organization also focuses on treatment literacy, which seeks to make people more aware of the resources they have to combat the virus. One of the most important things in the fight against AIDS is making sure people know they have support structures and can communicate with providers as well as other members of their community.

Moving Forward

Project Masiluleke and Cell-Life are great examples of new technologies bringing solutions to ongoing issues. NGOs taking advantage of widespread cell phone use to tackle the AIDS epidemic in South Africa are setting an example for other organizations and countries. Moving forward, these organizations and others must continue to use new technologies to increase access to resources and testing. Hopefully, with the help of cell phones, the spread of AIDS in South Africa will slow.

Jackson Bramhall
Photo: Flickr

Rainwater harvestingTechnology has played a significant role in the reduction of global poverty. Two particular areas technology has improved impoverished communities are water access and water quality. For instance, a newly developed piece of technology showcases the potential for enhancing water security throughout Africa. The key is effective rainwater harvesting.

Water Supply Threats

In Africa, increasing water access and sanitation has become a top priority. Consequently, many organizations — the United Nations, the African Union, and the African Development Bank — have come together to solve the water crisis by sponsoring The Africa Water Vision for 2025. It warns that African water resources are threatened by pollution, environmental degradation, and a lack of responsible protection and development.

A New Smartphone App

Despite these threats, a new smartphone app has empowered Africans to efficiently procure their own water. Rainwater Harvesting Africa (RHA) is a smartphone app that the U.N. Environment Programme and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization jointly developed. It enables Africans to use rainwater harvesting systems to obtain their own water.

Usually, rainwater is harvested through the construction of a central water tank that connects to various downspouts. But, with this app, households are able to capture rain runoff for essential personal use.

RWH Africa utilizes real-time meteorological data to track rain patterns throughout Africa. App users can input their location, the area measurement of their rooftop, the number of people living in their household, and how much water they use per day. The app uses this information to calculate how much water can be harvested at a given time for the needs of the user. Additionally, the app provides images and directions detailing how to construct rainwater harvesting systems with locally available materials.

Promising Factors

In addition, RWH Africa has built-in resources that can improve access to water throughout Africa. They can capitalize on increased technological infrastructure to expand its user base. GSMA estimates that 475 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone will become mobile internet users within the next five years, and 27% of their mobile internet connections will be on 4G. With increased smartphone usage throughout the continent, more Africans will be able to access this powerful tool of water procurement.

Although Africa needs to increase its internet capacities to maximize the app’s effectiveness, it has a more than sufficient water supply. In 2006, the U.N. Environment Programme and World Agroforestry Centre issued a report indicating that Africa alone receives enough rainfall each year to meet the needs of nine billion people. According to the report, Africa is not water-scarce, but the continent is just poorly equipped to harvest its water resources adequately and safely. RWH Africa gives Africans the knowledge they need to personally capture these vast water resources.

Furthermore, rainwater harvesting is low-cost and easy to maintain, making it widely accessible. According to The Water Project, a household rainwater harvesting system can hold up to 100,000 liters of water. This is enough to allow communities to decouple from centralized water systems that are subject to incompetent or corrupt management. Rainwater harvesting hence enables individuals to take matters into their own hands and decrease their reliance on undependable municipal water sources.

Technology Can Beat Poverty

As internet connection and smartphone usage expand, new solutions to poverty issues, such as water insecurity, will reach more people. RWH Africa serves as an educational and practical tool for rainwater harvesting and thus can be used as an example for similar future efforts. It signifies a positive outcome of increased cooperation between international organizations and local communities in combating global poverty.

John Andrikos
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Influence of Poverty on Mental Health in South Africa
The most recent report evaluating the living conditions of men, women and children in South Africa in 2015 shows the disproportionate influence of poverty on female-led households. According to the Living Conditions Survey (LCS), approximately half of the adult population in South Africa were living below the poverty line. Broken down, 52% of women and 46% of men were experiencing poverty. Most notably, the poverty gap is larger for female-led households than male-led households. This is affecting adults and children facing poverty. Only 25.7% of children in poor areas have access to a safe place to play. This is crucial to healthy development for the children. There is a correlation between poverty and mental health in South Africa.

The Mental Health Crisis

In South Africa, mental health does not receive any sort of priority status, and in rural communities, there is no support for those struggling with mental health disorders. A study on South African health reported that at least 15% of people suffer from anxiety disorders. Additionally, 10% are suffering from depression and bipolar disorders. Unfortunately, the systems in place to support those struggling with these disorders only aid about a quarter of them. This is mostly due to the lack of funding for mental health. Consequently, this mental health crisis and lack of support can also be attributed to the stigma surrounding mental disorders, proximity to services, inequality and poverty. Poverty and mental health in South Africa are directly correlated, however, it is not a priority for health services.

Organizations Supporting Mental Health

The Mental Health and Poverty Project (MHaPP) at the University of Cape Town is a project working to build policies to break the stigma of mental health. It also provides access and support to even the poorest communities, who often face the most extreme influences of mental health disorders. The MHaPP reports that 53% of the 23 public mental hospitals provide 72-hour assessments of patients with psychiatric emergencies. However, the care is far from adequate as many suicidal patients wait multiple hours for examination.

One of the most important findings from MHaPP was that attitude and understanding of mental health issues still have a very negative connotation. Despite the care provided, people facing mental health disorders are not supported with proper care due to discrimination. Additionally, the MHaPP is working to reevaluate the structure and mindset of mental health in South Africa. Hence, the MHaPP is providing awareness to these issues.

Women are Disproportionately at Risk of Mental Health Problems

According to MHaPP researchers, one in three women in low-income communities experiences postnatal depression. In addition, research from KwaZulu-Natal found that 41% of pregnant women experience depression. This number is three times higher than statistics from developed nations. The project explains that there are strong ties between poverty, social deprivation and exposure to traumatic experiences. This directly influences the mental health of people living in these conditions.

There are correlations between poverty and mental health, especially for women who are older, widowed or in poor physical health. One of the most consistent findings in the study of poverty and mental health in South Africa is that depression and anxiety disorders increase with age.

Poverty and mental health in South Africa are issues that need to be supported by healthcare providers and services. Additionally, this issue needs to be prioritized, especially for women in poorer communities. The mental health stigma needs to be broken through awareness of disorders and alteration of mindset from the current negative outlook that discriminates against people living in poverty and experiencing mental health struggles.

Caroline Pierce
Photo: Flickr

South African poverty and educationSouth Africa is a country with 19.6 million children, making up about 35% of its total population of 56.5 million people. Of these 19.6 million children, about 98% have “attended some form of an educational facility.” However, these high attendance rates do not mean high-quality education and lack of academic resources is a large contributing factor to the correlation between South African poverty and education.

Education in South Africa

Despite having high rates of education enrollment, the quality of education in South Africa is poor. Reports have shown that of the students who attended school for five years, only half can do basic math. Furthermore, there are little to no standards for the teachers to be held at. About 10% of teachers across the country are absent from school on any given day and 79% of grade six math teachers do not have the content knowledge to be teaching at their respective level.

Education is compulsory until grade nine, and over the years, there have been increasing numbers of drop-out students, for a variety of reasons. The main reason is unequal access to resources as a result of poverty. The disparities between female and male students also continually present issues in the South African education system, especially with low percentages of girls pursuing careers in science, math or technology.

In addition, South African schools have struggled to teach basic skills such as reading and writing as well as early development for young children. Only 38.4% of children ages zero to four attended a school system such as day-care, playgroup or pre-kindergarten programs. The early development issue is further seen as 46.8% of parents say they do not read with their children and 43.15% say that they do not color or draw with their children.

South African Poverty and Education Correlation

South Africa has struggled with high rates of poverty for many years and the correlation between South African poverty and education is present in many different aspects of the relationship. In rural areas in the former homelands, about 81% of children are below the poverty line and 44% of children in urban areas live in poverty as well. Education in rural areas suffers especially, simply as a result of the barriers presented by the location. For example, critical resources such as water, electricity, books and technology are missing from many schools, which present obstacles for South African children to have a complete educational experience. Furthermore, the location of schools in comparison to students’ homes, present long commutes. Without reliable transportation, students and teachers both struggle to consistently arrive at school.

Why Low Education Enables Poverty

Poor education is a leading factor in continuing the cycle of poverty. Research continually supports the idea that children who suffer from high rates of poverty are more likely to drop out of school after grade nine as a result of the barriers poverty creates. Increasing the quality of education results in a growing economy, lowers income inequalities and decreases the risk of disease and violence. Without a basic education, South African children struggle to become members of the workforce, and as a result, cannot escape poverty. Education not only teaches basic skills such as reading and writing but helps to develop important qualities such as strong communication and social skills. Without this, it is difficult for children to become working members of society. Furthermore, education differences between the poor and the rich as well as males and females, increases inequality, resulting in poor systems that cannot fix the underlying issues.

Partners for Possibility

Partners for Possibility is an example of a grassroots organization that works to fix the issues between South African poverty and education all while improving businesses in the United States. Business leaders from companies in the United States go overseas to South Africa for a 12-month program in which they teach principals and leaders of schools about leadership and engagement. By doing so, business professionals help to change the unstable and ineffective system of South African education, while simultaneously learning about poverty and culture in South Africa. The program has had extremely positive outcomes as education leaders, teachers and parents become more invested and engaged in the school system, which in turn, benefits the children.

South African poverty and education are strongly linked and this presents many issues for children. However, it is not an impossible mission to address and Partners for Possibility demonstrates the mutual return for U.S. businesses and South Africans that comes with finding these solutions.

– Alyssa Hogan
Photo: Flickr

Hunger InitiativesFood security is a large topic in Africa due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and environmental factors, such as drought. Recently, many South Africans have experienced rapid food shortages. However, various hunger initiatives have taken off during this time.

The Issue

In South Africa alone, four million migrants are at risk of descending into poverty. The number of South Africans currently living in poverty — 40% of the population — is expected to increase within the next five years. Those already in poverty don’t have access to basic medical supplies and other life-saving resources. The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated these issues further. Many people grapple with economic fallout as a result.

South African women are disproportionately affected by poverty, especially as heads of the households. Around half of female-headed households are below the poverty line as opposed to 33% of male-run households.

Hunger initiatives have proven essential in helping vulnerable groups like women and children.

Ladles of Love

Many food-based charities have dedicated their efforts to providing meals to those displaced by the coronavirus pandemic. A soup kitchen called Ladles of Love is one such organization. The soup kitchen operates on Seva, the art of selfless service. The soup kitchen volunteers service over 200 meals a week to those in need.

Recently, Ladles of Love was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for their efforts providing healthy meals to the poor and hungry. They broke both the South African and the world record for most sandwiches made in an hour. The previous world record was 57,000, and they eclipsed that by making over 68,000 more sandwiches. They also surpassed the South African record by 18,000. As a result of this, they were able to make over 300,000 sandwiches and raise publicity for their cause.

67 Minutes

Ladles of Love is part of the social media movement 67 minutes. The movement, started in memory of Nelson Mandela, emphasizes the importance of making a difference. The 67 minutes campaign encourages people to prioritize helping others for 67 minutes. The number 67 is significant because Nelson Mandela fought for social justice reform in South Africa for 67 years. As such, the campaign uses that number as a baseline for its work. Through social media, Ladles of Love increased publicity for the movement. More people are aware of the severe issue of hunger in South Africa. This will hopefully generate more funding and education about the topic in other parts of the world.

Actions Against Hunger

Organizations like Actions Against Hunger have this world-reach goal in mind. The global nonprofit strives to end hunger and malnutrition within “our lifetime.” The group focuses on both preventative and reactionary measures to help provide food for those in need, especially children and families. Action Against Hunger works to empower people to help themselves rather than rely on their services. They believe education, empowerment and innovation and crush world hunger.

Conclusion

Since quarantine began, many South Africans have struggled to make ends meet. Most people were furloughed from their jobs and left without stable sources of income. Furthermore, the pandemic has impacted students especially hard. The government suspended their nutrition program, and they can no longer get steady meals. Despite this, the government has attempted to rectify the situation by providing over one million food packages for residents and constituents.

Many South Africans struggle to cope with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, changing weather patterns and rising poverty levels. Ladles of Love, the 67 minutes campaign and Action Against Hunger provide support for them. These organizations and other hunger initiatives work tirelessly to alleviate food insecurity among the poor population.

Xenia Gonikberg
Photo: Flickr

5 Rheumatic Diseases and Disorders Diagnosed in South AfricaFor the past few years, rheumatology has improved in South Africa, populated with more than 1.2 billion people. However, there is still a lack of resources needed for appropriate education, testing and diagnosis to improve rheumatology patients’ quality of health care. This piece will explain five rheumatic diseases and disorders that have been regularly diagnosed in South Africa. The difference between a disease and a disorder is that a disorder disrupts regular bodily activity and functions while the disease has specific symptoms and causes. Despite the number of rheumatic care providers, rheumatic diseases and disorders continue to be diagnosed in South Africa.

5 Rheumatic Diseases and Disorders in South Africa

  1. Sjogren’s Syndrome: Sjogren’s Syndrome is a rare and often forgotten autoimmune rheumatic disorder. It is an autoimmune disorder that affects one’s salivary glands. An autoimmune disease is a disease where the body’s immune system attacks its healthy functioning cells. The main symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome are dry eyes and mouth. In general, women are more likely to present symptoms, although males can be diagnosed with the syndrome. The disorder is typically diagnosed in those who are older than 40. Treatment and medical advice for Sjogren’s Syndrome can be found in South Africa. There are practices like Dr. Ajesh Maharaj’s Rheumatology; however, treatment is based on the service required in terms of the patient’s length of service and condition, which may or may not increase the amount of money that will be charged for their use.
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis: There are six forms of arthritis, and roughly 50% of people can be living with it and have no idea. From the six forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is most common. Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease, commonly known for affecting the body’s joints and causing inflammation. Rheumatoid Arthritis can be diagnosed at any age and include symptoms such as weight loss, fever, pain in joints, fatigue, and weakness. The percentage of people with rheumatoid arthritis is 2.5% in South Africa’s urban settings and 0.07% in its rural settings.
  3. Scleroderma: Scleroderma affects women three to four times more than men. The disease is diagnosed between the ages of 25 and 50, and it makes the skin and tissues harden. Scleroderma is treated in South Africa in different hospitals such as Life Healthy Care Hospital Group, Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital and Life Kingsbury Hospital.
  4. Lupus: Lupus is an autoimmune disease that currently has no cure. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with Lupus than men. Like many other rheumatic diseases and disorders, Lupus goes undiagnosed in South Africa because of the lack of awareness and resources people are given. When there is no education on a disease or disorder, it goes overlooked and frequently misdiagnosed.
  5.  Gout: Gout is a form of arthritis that is less common in African countries because it often goes underreported. Common symptoms of gout include severe pain, redness and tenderness in joints. Pain can occur randomly and can be helped with anti-inflammatory medications. Patients are usually recommended by a health professional to transition to a healthier lifestyle that includes exercise and a diet that includes more vegetables and water. Males are more likely to be diagnosed with gout than women. People who are at high risk may have a higher intake of alcohol or are obese.

Poverty and Accessing Treatment

Accessing medical care is difficult, especially for those who are suffering from extreme poverty. In 2015, 18.8% of South Africans were living in poverty. The poverty rate between 2011 and 2015 increased by 2%. Efficient healthcare prominently available in private hospitals in South Africa; however, there are also public hospitals that treat patients. Yet, public hospitals are reported to suffer from long waiting lines and a shortage of staff.

More than 57 million people live in South Africa. Still, the region reports having only 85 adult and pediatric rheumatologists that treat rheumatic diseases and disorders. According to disease specialists, there should be a rheumatologist specialist for every 180,000 people, making the lack of medical care for rheumatology in South Africa clear. The shortage of rheumatologists is addressed by organizations such as the South African Rheumatism and Arthritis Association.

Organizations Helping Aid South Africa’s Rheumatic Diseases and Disorders

The South African Rheumatism and Arthritis Association (SARAA) is an organization that consists of medical professionals who are knowledgeable in the rheumatology department. The nonprofit organization of medical professionals represents South Africa’s rheumatology and brings awareness to the rheumatology field. They encourage other medical professionals to become members and believe in promoting their IDEAL vision: inclusiveness, dynamic, excellence, advancement and action and leaders.

The African League Against Rheumatism (AFLAR) is an international organization that promotes rheumatology in Africa, rheumatology education and its practice in Africa. It was established in 1989 and continues to work on educating medical employees and African citizens about rheumatic diseases and disorders in Africa.

Rheumatic diseases, such as lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and scleroderma, are diseases. or disorders that affect people worldwide, including South Africa. Suppose rheumatologists in South Africa are given support in bringing awareness to the different health conditions and given more medical resources. In that case, South Africa’s rheumatology department can progress, meaning earlier detection and more knowledge on diseases and disorders.

—Amanda Cruz
Photo: Flickr 

Mental Health in South Africa
While a 2019 report from the South African College of Applied Psychology painted a bleak portrait of mental health in South Africa, the country has recently seen promising innovations in telehealth, offering South Africans struggling with mental health new avenues for accessing vital resources and support.

Telehealth is Expanding Access to Mental Health Care

A severe shortage of mental health professionals creates a bottleneck to receiving psychiatric care in South Africa – currently, the country has only one psychiatrist for every 100,000 people. Where South Africa is experiencing a shortage of mental health workers, a report by the U.S. Health Resources and Services administration (NHRS) outlines the ability of telehealth services to increase patient access to healthcare professionals. By allowing providers the ability to deliver care from anywhere, the report said, telemental health is able to significantly expand the capacity of existing staff.

In South Africa’s rural areas, the large obstacles to care that patients currently face include the cost of transport and long distances. According to the NHRS’s report, telemental health addresses both of these obstacles, promising to reduce the cost of delivery both for the provider and the patient, both of whom stand to benefit financially from time saved and from no longer needing to pay for travel.

The South Africa Depression Anxiety Group (SADAG)

One telehealth technology, implemented by the country’s largest mental health support and advocacy group – the South Africa Depression Anxiety Group (SADAG) –  allows patients to speak or instant message directly with mental health professionals via a mobile phone or landline. When South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown first began, SADAG saw calls to its helpline double. In September 2020, the organization was still receiving around 1,400 calls a day, an increase in the volume of 53% from the previous year.

To handle this influx of patients, SADAG has set up WhatsApp support groups, moderated by the organization’s counselors, and moved all of its day-to-day operations online. With 96% of South Africans now able to access either a landline or mobile phone, SADAG’s decision to shift its services to the digital sphere offers an alternative to in-person care for South Africans coping with mental illness.

SADAG has also recently launched a toll-free mental health hotline that gives nonprofit workers 24-hour access to mental health services, citing the need to provide “psychological first aid” to nonprofit workers who have experienced  “unprecedented strain and burden” during the pandemic.

The MEGA Project

The MEGA Project, a consortium of nine universities spread across Europe and Africa, is another organization focused on using technology and the internet to expand access to mental health services in South Africa. Through a mobile application, the project aims to offer primary care providers a screening tool to monitor children and adolescents for early warning signs of mental illness, hoping to increase the mental health literacy of these providers in the process. This technology, though still in its early stages of development, is one of the many innovations offering the potential to increase the capacity of South Africa’s overburdened mental health care sector.

Breaking Down Barriers of Geography and Stigma

Telepsychiatry not only helps patients overcome geographical barriers to receiving care but also breaks down the barriers that stigma creates. In South Africa, family, friends and health care workers often perpetuate stigma and misunderstandings around mental health. By giving access to mental health resources outside of a socioculturally insulated community, one study suggests that telepsychiatry can also overcome these stigma-related barriers in offering South Africans the possibility to interact with non-stigmatizing perspectives. According to the same study, telemental health services also mitigate stigmas that exist around older adults attending in-person sessions.

Professors Call for Increased Government Attention

In an op-ed penned alongside two University of Ghana public health professors and published in eNCA, one of the most popular news networks in South Africa, professor of global mental health and development at the University of Cape Town Crick Lund has called for increased attention by governments to the issue of mental health in African countries, and particularly in South Africa.

Pointing out that only 15% of South Africans with mental health conditions ever receive treatment, Lund called on governments to invest in mental health surveys as well as treatment and argued that this investment in mental health not only would improve health outcomes but would pay economic dividends.

Technology “must… be used to deliver mental health services in times of public health emergencies,” the op-ed argues. The professors added that investment in these technological innovations offers governments the opportunity to make “training for and practice of mental healthcare attractive and relevant.

“Underpinning all our recommendations is sufficient and timely mental health financing,” the professors wrote. “This requires a multi-sectoral strategy that shows the health and economic benefits of investing in mental health in Africa.”

– Coalter Palmer
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Young South African Artists
Since the Disney animated film debut in 1997, “The Lion King” franchise has grown to over 24 on-stage productions worldwide, grossing almost $9 billion and being experienced by over 100 million audience members. Today, the KwaMashu Community Advancement Projects (K-CAP) has provided support to young South African artists and helped them make their way to global stages in productions of “The Lion King.”

About “The Lion King”

Having won six Tony Awards, including for best musical, many have hailed “The Lion King” as one of the most daring and impressive musicals of all time. The success of the performance owes to the innovation of director Julie Taymor, whose experimental theatre and puppeteering experience brought the story to life through signature costume designs. All the characters of the story are animals, which headdresses, masks and puppetry represent. However, the actors are just as visible to the audience as their animal costuming with the “duality” of the characters foregrounding the talent of the actors, who are the heart of the show.

The acclaim of The Lion King also lies in its soundtrack, which the South African choral style inspired. When casting for the musical, Taymor and her producers wanted to retain the inspiration by returning to its source; in most productions of “The Lion King,” at least eight cast members are South African. In South Africa, one of “The Lion King’s” casting partners is Edmund Mhlongo, who shared in a recent interview with The Borgen Project that for South African performers, “It’s job creation for them that is permanent. As long as they are alive and healthy, they are employed by The Lion King.”

K-CAP Empowers Youth through Arts Education and Employment Opportunities

Edmund Mhlongo is the Artistic Director and founder of KwaMashu Community Advancement Projects (K-CAP), a nonprofit organization that aims to use the creative arts as a tool for youth empowerment, sustainable employment opportunity and community development. Founded in 1993, K-CAP centers around KwaMashu, a township 20 kilometers from the eastern seacoast that has historically experienced high crime and poverty rates. Mhlongo explained his focus on the youth of the community saying that, “I realized that most people who are involved in crime are youth. The majority of youth are very talented, and if you don’t keep them busy with something positive, they end up using that energy negatively.”

In 2003, Mholongo opened his own education center with K-CAP, the Ekhaya Multi Arts Center (K-CAP EMAC) to support young South African artists. Auditions for the school occur annually to find the most talented of the local youth, and since its founding, the center has expanded to cultivate 156 primary and secondary students, 32 of whom are full-time residents. While a full-time program director, Mhlongo himself also teaches script writing, directing and acting courses. Meanwhile, other teachers develop students’ dancing, music, drama, film or visual arts skills. Mhlongo expressed, “They are very creative. Each day I learn a lot from them. I enjoy arts education, especially for kids, I wish every school could have an arts education.”

K-CAP has prepared its students for employment in entertainment outlets such as music recording and South African TV. In fact, 23 of its alumni have gone on to perform for “The Lion King” at different international venues, including the Broadway stage in New York City.

K-CAP Festivals and Celebration of South African Culture

While training students for professional artistic careers, K-CAP EMAC also hosts annual festivals that celebrate different aspects of performance and South African culture. For example, in April, the organization hosts a Freedom Month festival, commemorating the liberation of South Africa by Nelson Mandela and the birth of constitutional democracy in 1994. In December, the annual programs conclude with K-CAP’s African Film Festival, a whole week of films that concludes with a weekend of workshops that South African artistic celebrities lead.

These festivals and partnerships serve to both inspire and enrich youth’s understanding of their craft and culture, as Mhlongo detailed, “I view arts as development and a basis of life, it starts with culture. I regard a person who doesn’t know his or her own culture like a tree without roots. For me, culture is the starting point, then arts. Arts makes you connect with the world. It speaks all languages. It has no boundaries. And during these times, I have seen arts comforting people when they are in bad situations. Arts is a critical component of society. That’s why we have TVs. People, when they’re stressed, they go and watch TV, and that is art. Or they listen to music, and that is art. Art is part of life, a way of life. The most active communities in arts are the communities with less social problems.”

A Global Arts Education: Virtual Learning and Travel

Mhlongo also sits on the National Arts Council Board of South Africa, where he acts as a development counsel and lobbies to ensure that the arts have the necessary funds and resources to continue supporting developing young artists or create the dance studios, recording studio and computer lab at K-CAP EMAC. Adjusting artistic programs to virtual platforms has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Mhlongo shared, “We’ve learned a lot through the pandemic. We never saw technology as a part of arts. But now we’ve learned. We know that technology is important, it can be easy for us to use in the arts, which opens the world for us because they can be accessible, even internationally.”

As K-CAP continues to grow in popularity and impact by helping young South African artists, Mhlongo envisions greater global opportunities for his students. He explained that “My biggest dream is that these kids can maybe annually go international. I’ve seen the kids I have taken overseas. When they come back, they come back different people. They change. They see the world differently. They learn to admire their own country, their own world, in a different way.” For these young artists, a global and artistic education prepares them for a world of creative opportunities.

– Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Wikipedia Commons