The AIDS Orphans of South Africa

By Landman, Carol | Contemporary Review, November 2002 | Go to article overview

The AIDS Orphans of South Africa


Landman, Carol, Contemporary Review


IN the ancient Middle East stood a towering metal statue of the god Molech, the abomination of Ammon. A fire glowed in its belly, its greedy red hot arms and hands outstretched to receive the innocent children being sacrificed to it by ignorant superstitious parents.

In South Africa toady, while the ANC government of Tabo Mabeki has been fighting tooth and nail to withhold the supply of anti-retroviral drugs to its people, even in the face of a high court order, at least 600 000 children have been left orphaned by the relentless scourge of HIV/AIDS sweeping through the country leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake. Recently Nelson Mandela admitted that three young members of his family had died from Aids.

Aids awareness and education campaigns are failing among the larger community where primitive traditional beliefs and superstitions predominate resulting in harmful behavioural choices. Add apathy, illiteracy, drunkenness and rape under the banner of grinding poverty, and, there is a fertile breeding ground for more orphans, some already doomed by the HIV positive killer. By the year 2010 the number of these orphans is expected to have increased to two million per year.

What happens to these vast numbers of children most of whom already live in miserable poverty? Well, a government Foster Care Grant of R410 per capita, per month is in existence. But the powers that be have a hectic schedule which includes appealing against high court judgements compelling them (the government) to make anti-retroviral drugs available to pregnant mothers and babies, disagreeing with world medical science experts, telling the rest of the world to mind their own business and trying to ignore any offers of free medication.

Then they change their minds and do nothing. Further, the usual infighting with opposition parties, extensive travel programmes, the recent 'Earth Summit' and the African Renaissance all take precedence (see Contemporary Review, June 2002, p. 344). Hence there is no time left to address the foster grant issue. Most children wait up to two years. Not all are HIV positive.

On the up side (if there be one), the black community of South Africa have a tradition known as Ubuntu, a type of sacrificial giving or showing kindness to others. This means that the closest relatives or even neighbours see to the children's basic needs as far as they are able. Sadly, due to abject poverty, without the grant monies the foster families find it increasingly difficult to eke out a decent existence.

Often living in a two-roomed shack with no running water and no toilet, as do the children, the carers are not exactly in a position to add to their household, so 13 and 14 year old siblings often end up playing parents to the younger ones.

Several Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have formed specifically to address this problem and they work hand in glove with local social services and the hospices, whose work has proved invaluable. Together these organisations assist the already overloaded social workers to monitor the situation and are pro-active in trying to speed up the foster care grant process. They work tirelessly to have the youngest survivors placed into loving environments. Further, they assist with feeding schemes, education and schooling requirements, emotional support and ongoing AIDS education campaigns. From time to time members of the private sector become actively involved. Yet all this hard work is but a drop in the ocean. Input from the corporate world, wherein lies untapped financial support, is sorely lacking in the struggling communities. The country's leaders, meanwhile, appear to have a different agenda.

While much is being done by a few, the youngsters who survive their AIDS victim parents without having been identified and included in the outreach programmes are exposed to all kinds of traumata. …

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