Laurier professor’s leadership builds African-led HIV and AIDS research capacity

News release:

WATERLOO – Laurier professor Alan Whiteside is providing his extensive expertise in HIV and AIDS research to lead a training and mobilization project advocating for African-led scholarship. Whiteside will be the lead researcher on a grant to Laurier from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build research and publication capacity among African researchers. The grant will support Whiteside’s training and mobilization project advocating for African-led scholarship in support of the African Journal of AIDS Research.

Continue reading

Birds and Country Songs October 2012

It is spring in southern Africa. The swallows are back, sweeping around the buildings at the university and across the freeways. That last comment may seem a little strange but bridges across these roads provide good nesting sites for swallows. I well remember, over 30 years ago, driving across the Highveld on my way to Swaziland. Two swallows flew suicidally in front of the car. The sadness I felt on seeing, in the rear view mirror, their bodies tossing and turning behind me is something that still resonates. I really felt terrible. It may of course be Darwinian! The surviving swallows and their offspring do not take these risks and there were none darting across the road this trip.

I feel very fortunate as I recently had reason to drive up to Swaziland and then on to Johannesburg. The occasion was the visit of Kim Duncan and Marina Galanti of the Rush Foundation. Their goal is to fund disruptive ideas around HIV prevention. I first met them at a meeting in Washington in September 2011, and then worked with them on a symposium in London held in June of this year. They have many good ideas – see  I suggested they visit HEARD and I would take them up to Swaziland and introduce them to the folk at The National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA).

Kim and Marina arrived in Durban on Tuesday 2 October and spent the day at HEARD. In the evening we hosted a dinner with some of Durban’s key people in the HIV world. On Wednesday, I picked them up and we set off for Mbabane. The roads were clear, partially because of the Road Freight Association truck drivers’ strike which meant there were few heavy vehicles on the road.

It was a sunny and bright day and as a consequence we had a most enjoyable drive, although it did take rather longer than I had hoped. We stopped for coffee at Mtunzini, lunch in Mkuze at the Ghost Mountain Inn, and got to the Mountain Inn just before dark. We then had just a few minutes to change before going to Malkerns to Marandela’s Resturant  for dinner with colleagues from NERCHA. This is also the location of House on Fire, where every year there is a major festival.

On Thursday morning I dropped Kim and Marina off at the NERCHA offices and drove to Johannesburg to catch the flight back to Durban. It took me four hours to get from Mbabane to the airport and eight from Durban to Mbabane so it probably made more sense to go that route. As always it is a chance to reconnect with some very beautiful parts of both countries. The drive through Swaziland from the border to Mbabane is always a pleasure. The contrast between the flat Lowveld with the Lebombo Mountains on the right hand side; the rolling Middleveld; and then the jagged hills of the Highveld makes the journey interesting and scenic.

It was great to have interesting company for the first stage of the journey. On the second day I played CDs and for the first time really listened to a country music song called Letter to Heaven. What a desperately miserable song. The brief synopsis is: little girl asks her grandfather to write a letter to her dead mother; included in the letter are the lines: ‘Tell mommy I miss her since she went away
I coming to see her real soon I hope’; the girl goes out to the post box; gets knocked down and killed while crossing the road; the postman sees this happen and remarks on the puissance of her words; and the letter gets delivered! Oh dear it is terrible – almost as bad as the one about the two orphaned children who freeze to death on the porch of the church. It shows I do not listen properly to the lyrics.

I was delighted by the greenness of the countryside all the way from Durban to Johannesburg, an indication there have been good spring rains across the region. The area from Lavumisa to Big Bend in Swaziland seems to fall in a rain shadow area, but this year it is looking good. We passed one field where the farmer had harnessed his donkeys and was plowing the rich black earth. This is also the part of the journey where the Lilac Breasted Rollers perch on the telephone wires. They are stunning birds. Back in Durban the Pied Manikins, very attractive but tiny little birds, are furiously nest building outside my office window.

Spring is a great time of year. It does have two downsides as far as I am concerned. The first is mosquitoes. They are back. Folklore has it is they do not fly very high and in theory my flat on the third floor should be a mosquito-free area. Unfortunately it is not and there are currently four patches of mashed mosquito on the wall of my bedroom. Scarlet blood and black body parts. The second is that the birds begin the dawn chorus a little earlier every day. By 4.30 am they have cleared their throats and are singing. After many years of waking in the very early mornings I now have taken to using ear plugs. This means I can sleep for a little longer. I fear that not even industrial ear plugs would keep the noise of the Hadedas out. Raucous and very loud. They roost in the trees around the flat and if a noisy vehicle, or ambulance with its siren blaring goes past they wake up and announce to the world that their rest has been disturbed. No consideration from those birds.

Is it the problem or the advantage of being an academic that one’s work is never done? There is always something new and interesting to read. At the moment I am on a number of news lists and fortunately they summarize the main articles that they believe would be of interest but there is still far too much to read. And then, of course, one of our main functions in our job descriptions is to add to the corpus of knowledge. I will have marked two PhDs in the last month. One was on gender-based violence and its links to HIV; the second a history of the epidemic and response to it in South Africa from 1980 to 1995. This is a really good way of getting a literature review and current thinking but it is daunting to be presented with a 300+ page document.

South Africa is going through a difficult period, with a great deal of labour unrest. We were appalled by the recent police shooting of 34 miners in Marikane in the North West province. At issue here is more than money; it is about how our society will be structured. If all these pay rises are awarded then we will create a labour aristocracy. Those who are not in employment will be increasingly desperate and dispossessed. There will not be enough jobs to go round. However given the huge amounts of money being earned by some people and the perception that there is wide spread corruption, who can blame those with low salaries from wanting more? The tragedy of the commons is that there are finite resources. The solutions in my view are: tax the rich and don’t flaunt wealth. I wonder why the Reconstruction and Development tax imposed in 1994 was not kept. It was not much and I did not know people who resented paying it. There is an excellent commentary by the Jonathan Jansen looking at what is going on here. Please do read it – far more insightful than I can ever be.

Finally, I have been running at the weekends. The first run was 6.1 kilometers – and yes the way I do it is to run round the neighbourhood, then get in my car and measure the distance. My goal is eight kilometers – five miles. So the last run was longer and I was sure I had cracked it. No! The drive round afterwards showed I had covered just 7.2 kilometers, and at a very slow pace. My excuse for the speed is that I do like running up and down the hills in Glenwood and some are exceptionally steep. Perhaps the key is to simply keep going at this. With less weight (the goal and reason for running in the first place) and stronger legs I will make the target and manage something faster than the current snail’s pace of only nine kilometers per hour.

The Role of the Fool

It is about a month since I last put anything on the website so this is timely. I travelled from Durban to Norwich early in May. The main reason was Douglas’s 18th birthday on 9 May, hard to believe that time has passed so quickly. I managed many other events and meetings. The first was a seminar on the ‘Political Economy and Social Drivers of the Epidemic’ held at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. There was a public meeting the day before the main seminar and I was invited to present, along with Hein Marias, a South African colleague, who has written widely and wisely in this area. It was a smallish meeting and a chance to interact with a group of mostly United Kingdom-based academics. Perhaps the major lesson was we are still not taking enough notice of the political impact of AIDS. Obviously the epidemic is not homogenous and it will not have the same effect in every country, but it does have an important, and usually, ignored political impact. All the other meetings in the past month have reaffirmed this view.

After a few days in Norwich I flew to Berlin for a conference on Financing for Health and Social Protection. The title was: ‘A Global Social Protection Scheme – Moving from Charity to Solidarity’. It was organised by a friend of mine, Gorik Ooms, who is currently at the University of Antwerp. Among other things I was one of the examiners for his PhD, and he came on a course in Durban over 10 years ago. The main sponsors were Medico International and the Hélène de Beir Foundation with two  German Funders: Deutshe Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (more easily known as giz) and Bundesministerium für wirsschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Enteicklung (the Foreign Ministry, I think). These names are dreadfully long.

The idea being put forward is to develop a global compact to provide a basic level of social protection, as a right, to everyone across the world. It is a most interesting, but probably very difficult to sell, idea. The key point Gorik makes is, while today the rich world would expect to provide support to the poor, in years to come the situation might be that countries such as Brazil might be providing support to others. It works on the principle that the poor are not going to always be with us. This, of course, goes against many deep beliefs about how we operate. The Christian hymn ‘All things bright and beautiful’ included a verse.

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

He made them, high or lowly,

And ordered their estate.

The website where I got this, says of this stanza: “Most hymnals omit the following verse.” It points to the concept that wealth and poverty are divinely predetermined. Then there is the question of whether we need to feel better than people around us, materially and spiritually. Nonetheless I think there are very good arguments for the universal social protection and I shall, in my small way, be supportive of it. There is a role for people like Gorik to be bold and imaginative. The concept of the Fool in the medieval court was an individual who could tell truth to power, all the while in the guise of humour and fun. King Lear, which I studied for my ‘A’ levels, has a Fool who plays the role of commentator on the events around him. I think it is a part I play on occasion, certainly humour is important in messaging.

It is standard practice with meetings and conferences for there to be some kind of outing: a reward to the participants for their involvement. In Berlin this was a trip on the river through the centre of the city. We got on one of the tourist riverboats and went up and down the river for a couple of hours. There was food on the boat, German cuisine at its best, and this included sauerkraut, which I am very fond of, and plenty to drink. Perhaps the most striking thing was the remnants of the Berlin Wall. In one place, where the river had constituted the border between East and West, there were a number of crosses painted on the wall to commemorate those shot while trying to swim to freedom, very poignant.

On Sunday 20 May I flew to Toronto and was taken to the town of Waterloo. This part of Canada was mainly settled by Germans: Mennonites and Lutherans. The next town was originally called Berlin, but in 1916 the patriotic Canadians changed the name, calling it Kitchener after the British general who was Secretary of State for War. They turned their backs on the German heritage – but today it has (apparently) one of the best Oktoberfest’s in Canada. I will say more about this trip in a future posting. The town has two universities: Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier and is only about an hour and 20 minutes away from the international airport at Toronto, along an excellent road network. This was a pleasant surprise because I had thought it was a long way. I got back to Norwich on the Thursday and, as is usual with these transatlantic trips, it took me about a day to catch up with myself.

Then it was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee! This was marked in a number of ways: in London there was a river pageant, concert, service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s and procession through the city. It was marked in the provinces by street parties and various festivities organised by the local communities, cities and counties. Many places were supposed to have street parties but sadly the weather was rotten: raining and cold. I watched the river pageant and was hugely impressed by the level of organisation, the number of boats and the sheer spectacle including many events on the banks as the royal barge passed by. That really was about all I saw of the whole thing. It struck me that the level of public involvement was rather lower than normal (and than expected). While the Queen is hugely respected, with good reason, the rest of the Royal family is rather letting her down. I hope she enjoyed it.

I went down to London on the second of the two public holidays, 5 June; to help run a meeting for the Rush Foundation This website is well worth looking at. Rush is a new foundation focused on funding disruptive, innovative ideas in the fight against HIV in Africa. The founders, Marina Galanti and Kim Duncan, set out to ‘provide fast, effective funding for alternative ideas to address the pandemic and its social effects’. They have, in two short years, managed a number of innovative initiatives.

The meeting was set up to ask: What is ‘A new economic framework for better HIV decision making in sub-Saharan Africa’? The basic underlying premise is there will have to be choices made on how to deploy money, especially in the context of declining resources. When we started thinking about who to invite to such an event we made a list of people we really wanted to see there. We sent out the invitations and to my delighted amazement nearly everyone accepted. We had Sir Roy Anderson from Imperial College giving the keynote speech. Peter Piot the current head of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and former executive director of  UNAIDS and Paul Collier of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University gave the opening presentations. Nearly everyone stayed for the full two days (as they should have). Careful planning meant that each person had something to do: presenting, chairing or reporting. Round tables also worked in ensuring engagement. The catering was the best I have had a meeting, not stodgy and very tasty. Even the coffee was reasonable.

The calibre of participants was exceptional and international. I was particularly delighted that there was representation from Swaziland, South Africa and Botswana. Everyone was invited in their personal capacities rather than representing institutions. The background paper, written by Chris Desmond who began his working career at HEARD, was excellent. The venue was the Royal Geographical Society, located opposite to Kensington Gardens. The room we used had a scale model of Mount Everest and the surrounding peaks. In addition there were photographs and portraits of explorers of earlier eras on the wall. It was a great place. I was pleased with the outcome of the meeting. There were both innovative and important new ideas, including some which can be put into action soon; it will be good to see some quick wins.

Our outing for this meeting was amazing and I don’t think anyone will ever be able to beat it. It was to go to the Royal Opera House in Covent Gardens to see the Royal Ballet performing ‘The Prince of the Pagodas’, choreography by Kenneth MacMillan and music by Benjamin Britten. This is the first full-length professional ballet I have ever seen. It was an amazing experience and we were treated like royalty. We arrived early and were given a backstage tour, taken to a private area for drinks, and our glasses were refilled in both the intervals. After the event we had a sit down dinner with members of the cast. There were two cast members on my table – one of whom had played the Fool. In the ballet his role is to orchestrate the events for the principles. The venue was plush and wonderful, there are some new bits and they have been well designed and built.

Details of the ballet can be found on Wikipedia (of course), and there are not very kind reviews in the press- the Independent’s here. Reading the review it struck me the reviewers know a huge amount about the art of ballet and the scores and their complaints are with Britten more than the cast and directors. However I thought it was amazing. The director of the Royal Ballet, Dame Monica Mason, joined us for dinner. Apart from having been with the company for 54 years (she retires in a few months), and being completely elegant and gracious, she was born in Johannesburg and came to London with her family to dance at the age of 16. The whole event: meeting, accommodation and outing were so well organised and it was an intellectual treat as well.

Films Reviews

The long haul flights to Canada gave me a chance to catch up with films.

Iron Lady

The story of Margaret Thatcher. In it she is shown as an old lady and it is a series of flash backs. As I lived through a part of the Thatcher Government it was most interesting to see this interpretation of the time. She took power in 1979 and was Prime Minister until 1990. I was in Botswana during the Falklands War (and my view was that of course they had to be taken back, but this was not everyone’s feeling). It was rumoured that when Argentine invaded the Islands the British High Commission was told to open their safe and take out a particular envelope. When it in turn was opened it had instructions on ‘what to do if the Falklands are invaded’. Meryl Streep is excellent as Thatcher especially the portrayal of the struggle with dementia; she deservedly got an Oscar for the part. It is actually quite sad to reflect how old age can, but not necessarily, rob a person of independence and a place in life.  Richard E Grant from Waterford and Swaziland had a part in the film.

J Edgar

A second movie about a powerful individual, this is the story of J Edgar Hoover who set up the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935, having been director of the Bureau of Investigation the predecessor to the FBI from 1924. He died, in harness in 1972 aged 77. The film was directed by Clint Eastwood and starred Leonardo DiCaprio. Part of the plot was the possible gay relationship between Hoover and his deputy; this was more than hinted at in the film. We learn from the film that Hoover’s mother was anti-gay and this clearly had a deep impact on him. The story of the Lindberg baby kidnapping was presented as one of the main reasons the FBI gained so much power through the use of science to track down and convict the kidnapper.  I found it a deeply fascinating story, but troubling to see how power can become the end rather than the means, and how, once it is entrenched, it is so hard to shift.

Swaziland: The Crisis Continues: 5 August 2011

In May 2011 I was asked by the Royal African Society (RAS)2 to prepare a short commentary on the current political situation in Swaziland. There had been an increase in attention towards the country with news of protests and economic decline. The analysis was intended to stimulate discussion on whether political reform was likely.

At the end of July, I spent a few days in the Kingdom. The primary reason was to attend a Governing Council Meeting at Waterford Kamhlaba School but I also took the opportunity to meet with a number of people outside this community. I spent time with the National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA) and presented an update on recent events, including the IAS Pathogenesis Conference.

We were briefed on the Swazi economy; the political situation; and the rule of law. On the basis of all of these meetings, and other observations, I am reporting on the situation. It does not make happy reading. If I were in the prediction business then I would say in the next six months the crisis will reach its peak.

The Economy

The economy is in dire straits and the country is bankrupt. Earlier this year, the International Monetary Fund suggested the government declare a ‘fiscal state of emergency’ and offered support subject to Swaziland following a road map of measures. This would have included laying off staff and reducing government expenditure. The government declined to do this. There was a view that the country would not meet its July 2011 salary bill but it has in fact done so. The civil service and security forces are now under pressure to take cuts in pay.

The country has seen a 60% fall in revenue, primarily because the South African Customs Union (SACU) payments have dropped (SACU members are Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland). This was not a surprise. The government, international agencies, donor community and Swaziland watchers have been aware of this expected fall for many years. See for example our brief and longer article on our website. Brief at:

In early August the King went to South Africa, cap in hand, asking for emergency funding. The country has received R2.4 billion. South Africa has put conditions in place for better fiscal governance (but there are few on democratization, this has caused great unhappiness among South African unions and others). This loan is a stopgap. Until such time as there is good economic governance there will no new investment in the country. At best the economy will slowly contract, with debt rising steadily.


Swaziland is the last absolute monarchy in Africa. King Mswati III seems oblivious to pressures to reform; the suffering of his people; and does not understand basic economics. Quite how the country operates politically is unclear, even to informed Swazis. It is a nepotistic, autocratic, kleptocracy where the ruling elite treat the national treasury as their own personal bank. The election system of tinkundla is Byzantine and impenetrable. Although there were constitutional reforms in 2006, political opposition remains banned. Nonetheless there are a growing number of protests and the trade unions – possibly with help from across the border – are flexing their muscles.

The Legal Situation

There is a crisis of law and the independence of the judiciary is under threat. Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi was appointed as Chief Justice by King Mswati. He is from Lesotho and also sits on the appeal court in Botswana. He issued an order preventing anyone from “directly or indirectly” suing the King. He then suspended High Court Judge Thomas Masuku. In a case filed recently with the Judicial Service Commission, the Law Society accused Ramodibedi of sexual harassment. The Judicial Services Commission banned Swazi press from publishing details of the complaint.

There is an excellent source on Swaziland at:

What Does this Mean for HIV/AIDS?

Swaziland has the world’s highest HIV prevalence. In the last ante-natal clinic survey 42% of women tested were HIV-positive. The 2006 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) found that 26% of all Swazis between 15 and 49 years were infected; among men prevalence was 20% and among women 31%. Overall HIV population prevalence was 18.8% across the nation meaning about 200 000 Swazis are infected. The response, coordinated by NERCHA, ironically is one of the country’s few success stories.

NERCHA was created through an Act of Parliament, in 2001 under the Prime Minister’s office. It is charged with coordinating and facilitating the HIV/AIDS response and implementation of the national strategic plan. Its main sources of funding are government and the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and it acts as a conduit. The second major source of funding in the country is the US government. PEPFAR provided $38 million in the 2011 financial year.

The exceptional measurable progress is that approximately 70% of those who should be on anti-retroviral therapy are receiving the drugs. This is 65 000 of 84 000 people and therapy is administered at the 350 or lower CD4 cell count level which is extremely impressive. There has been great success in the area of prevention of mother to child transmission. Approximately 97% of women visit the ante-natal clinics, and 85% of those who need drugs are started on therapy. Prevention has been slow to show results. There is a major programme of medical male circumcision with over 30 000 men circumcised in the last three years. Various other initiatives are also in place.


The lack of government money means that NERCHA’s funding is under threat. They asked for E63 million3 for the April 2011 to March 2012 financial year. They were allocated E47 million (about E4 million per month). For the four-month period ending 31 July 2011 they have only received E4 million of the E16 million allocated. There is no indication as to when, or indeed if they will get the next subvention.

Swaziland was unsuccessful in its last Global Fund bid. Globally there are concerns about US funding. The US House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee Bill would cut 9% from current global health funding levels and 18% from President Obama’s FY2012 budget request. It is not clear how this will operationalise in Swaziland.

The Ministry of Health is charged with implementation but government is creaking and it is unclear as to how sustainable the response will be.


As early as 1993 we were warning of the potential social and economic consequences of this epidemic for Swaziland. While it has taken longer than anticipated, the AIDS epidemic in combination with the failure of governance and economic contraction means Swaziland faces a bleak future. Ironically the glimmer of hope is in the response to HIV and AIDS where civil society is powerful and the receipt and disbursement of outside funding is efficient and honest.

1Alan Whiteside grew up in Swaziland and maintains close links with the country. He has written extensively about Swaziland, and is working on a book The Political Economy of Swaziland intended for publication in early 2012
2The RAS undertakes research, analysis and host lectures and meetings of African interest. Its website with commentary is African Arguments
3The Swazi Currency the Emalangeni (sing. Lilangeni) is on a par with the Rand, and Swaziland is in a Common Monetary area with South Africa.

UNAIDS High-Level Commission On HIV Prevention, Cape Town 2 – 3 May 2011

UNAIDS High-Level Commission On HIV Prevention, Cape Town 2 – 3 May 2011

I was invited to this important meeting. On 2nd May was a gathering in Stellenbosch University where papers were presented on how social media and mobile technology might be used for HIV prevention. What is significant is an extremely rapid spread of mobile technology across Africa. Furthermore a number of innovations have been developed in Africa including the mobile phone banking and ‘please call me’ SMS. An interesting point made was people with a mobile should always be able to access help in an emergency: there can be a ‘panic button’ on the phone.

High Level Commission on HIV Prevention Robin Island - 3rd May 2010

The second day of the meeting was on Robben Island and involved Arch-Bishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Michel Sidibe as the facilitators. There were a number of the commissioners there. Details of the commission can be found on

Prime Circle: Easter 2011

This posting could be entitled ‘Pregnancy, Prime Circle, and Team Building’ as these are the three dominant themes of the past couple of weeks. Most of the Easter weekend has been spent working. I have finally emerged from a mass of administration and planning to resume writing my Swaziland book. ‘A Political Economy of Swaziland’ is what I have optimistically titled it. I am over half way through now and do need to get it to the publishers since it is at least 18 months late. But I have really enjoyed working on it. Swaziland is such an interesting and usual little country, and at the moment, there is a degree of political change which is exciting.

I went to Swaziland for a few days at the beginning of April. Apart from doing some additional book research this was to attend the first Waterford Governing Council (GC) meeting of the year. I have been on the GC since 1994 so have some institutional memory! In 2008, for the first time, since I joined, the GC was faced with having to make a decision around pregnancy. One of the female students, from a poor area, had fallen pregnant. We decided, probably wrongly, that the main concern was the baby. I say wrongly because as Governors our prime concern should always be the well-being of the school. We took a decision that the girl should be sent down for a year, but could return at the end of this. She did and is now a scholarship student at an internationally known university. Having set policy, the Headmaster then took the same decision in 2010 when he was faced with a second pregnancy. The same outcome was reported, the student is back at school and doing well.

At this GC we had a variation on the theme. A pregnant female student, but the father acknowledging his paternity, is also at the school. A policy decision had to be taken. What was most interesting for me is that while we can make a broad policy, we cannot cover every eventuality. What if the girl says she was made pregnant by a male student, but he refuses to acknowledge this? Given that he would face sanction this probably makes sense for him. Do we carry out a paternity test? What do we do if the girl says she was raped? It is clear that while there are in many instances there have to be rules, flexibility is necessary. Of course in other cases there should be no leniency, for example the school has a zero tolerance rule when it comes to drugs.

Back in Durban I have been very busy with work but found time to go to two gallery openings, one at theKwaZulu Natal Art Society Gallery. The main exhibitor was a botanical artist which I do not find terribly exciting. The second at Durban ArtSpace is a very unusual gallery in an industrial area of town next to the railway line.This was entitled and was way over my head. Most interesting though, I did not know a single person there although I did recognize one, he had been at the KZNA opening. Perhaps this is a little sad!

Cultural activities continued when I went to listen to ‘Prime Circle’ a South African band who described themselves as South Africa’s leading rock band This was at the Gateway shopping Center about 35 km from my flat. I find I drive slowly along the motorway, trying to treat the car with love and respect. It is after all nearly 20 years old now, bought new and registered in 1992. However as it has only done 130,000 km I think it is good for a few more years yet.

We have been looking at ways of building the HEARD staff into a more cohesive unit. Much as I hate the term, ‘team building’ is a good idea. So last Thursday we headed off for a team building experience. The decision was taken to go to cooking school for a half day. Fusion is not very far from our campus in Westville see and they have a great restaurant in Durban We were divided into three teams, and set to the task of cooking Thai style chicken breasts stuffed with various herbs and spices. For the vegetarians stuffed mushrooms were the option.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Each cooking station was allocated a student, described as a ‘cooking fairy’ to assist us. It was quite an experience. The key learning for me was that you need equipment and enthusiasm. The desert was banana pancakes skewers lightly brushed with a reduction of sugar and flavorings, including vanilla, and rolled in grated chocolate. A good time was had by all, and certainly I feel less intimidated by the thought of cooking now. To be fair the bulk of the work was done by one or two people on the team.

I am amused to look at my browser and see that I have two websites open one for Fusion and one a classic article by Sidney Kark on the ‘Social Pathology of Syphilis’ published in 1949. It identifies migration as one of the major drivers of sexually transmitted diseases in southern Africa.

This week I have twice been reminded of how nice it is to be fit and young, although it is possible to be young and not fit. I played squash with Jeremy Grest and his son Adam, who is in his early 20’s. Adam gets round the court without stopping, it was only guile that allowed me to win points and he beat me! On Sunday evening I went for a long run (in time rather than distance). Two of the children from the flats were playing by the gate.

“Are you going for a run”, asked one.
“Yes”, I replied.
“My brother has just gone”, he said. This brother being a lean lad of about 14.
“I’ll try to catch up with him”, I responded as I started my standard slow plod.
“He was running much faster than that”, said the boy disdainfully.

I ran up past St Augustine’s hospital to Ridge Road, and then down the bottom of the Pigeon Valley nature reserve. The monkey troop that live there were raiding across the street and looked at me with disbelief. From there to the Howard college campus, then back along what was Manning, and is now Lena Ahren’s, Road. It was the magical hour when the sun has a particular evening tint, and Durban was stunning. Interesting up the hill, security gets tighter, and the dogs bigger, more numerous and louder.


Men who stare at Goats, we bought a DVD of this film a while ago. It was seriously damaged and so unwatchable, but this only became apparent about 40 minutes into it. I hired the DVD the other night and so have finally seen it. I really enjoyed it. It is just about credible that people could behave in this bizarre way in the interests of … what? It is the story of reporter in Iraq who meets Lyn Cassaday who claims he was part of the New Earth Army who employ paranormal powers. George Clooney stars and there is no love interest!

On The Road Again: March 2011

The train journey from London to Norwich is one I have done countless times. On the third Sunday in February I flew from Durban to London, spent Monday at the DFID office in Palace Street (the building actually overlooks Buckingham Palace), then headed for Norwich to spend a few days with the family. It was dark by the time we pulled into Norwich in the late afternoon, I had forgotten how early the night begins in February in the UK. Long summer evenings make up for this to some extent, but it was still a shock.

On Friday I went back to Heathrow to fly to Boston for an International AIDS Society Executive Committee meeting. The railway company advertised wireless access on the train and I decided to try it. It cost only £2.95, which seemed reasonable. The signal was excellent the whole way down, better than mobile phones which fade in mid-conversation! It is a pity the battery on my computer is not keeping a charge at the moment. It is really good to see technology that works well.

I wish the same could be said for Virgin Atlantic. They were flying a small Airbus on the route from Heathrow to Boston, and the only way to get computer power was to spend £50 for a special adapter. The cabin controller explained to me that Virgin had ‘incidents’ when passengers left their laptops on and there was overheating and fires (I think she meant potential fires). I said that my usual carriers KLM/AirFrance and South African Airways did not have this problem, and why was that? There was no sensible answer. I gave her my card and she assured me that the airline would write and explain. I am still waiting for the letter. It may, of course, be that they do actually send a letter and it has gone to Durban, but surely most people use e-mail.

In my few weeks in Norwich in February and March, there was evidence that spring had finally arrived. There were snowdrops and crocuses out in the gardens, looking very pretty, and the daffodils appeared by the time I got back from the second trip. I love the scattering of flowers across the lawn, looking like islands of colour. There is a small pond next to my office window, and this year there were probably four or five pairs of frogs busily laying their eggs in it. There was been a chorus of croaking, which I have not heard before in the UK. It has taken a few years for the frog population to build up to this level. I wonder if part of the causality may be that the cat is older and less likely to hunt them. The pond will be full of tadpoles in a few weeks, then the garden crawls with tiny frogs.

I was in Durban for about five weeks in January and February, although it is hard to believe that looking back. I did get to the beach a few times with my body board, and can confirm that I really don’t know what I am doing. In a 45 minute session I am lucky if I manage to catch one wave! It is time to get a few lessons; fortunately the former boyfriend of one of Rowan’s friends was the KwaZulu-Natal champion body boarder so I know where to go. Learning to surf (well body board) was one of my 50th birthday resolutions. The other two were to learn to fly and ball room dance. It is possible to be bad at body boarding and dancing and I am; flying is another matter.

I normally dread February in Durban, it can be so very hot and humid. This year was surprisingly clement, and although I used the air conditioners, it was not excessive. Towards the end of last year I noticed a small bird nesting in the unit that cools the lounge. It had to be cleaned and serviced before it worked. My decision was to wait until the chicks had fledged and departed. Fortunately the Berea Gym, which is where I go in Durban, attracts a range of people and my trainer recommended one to do the work. It was at my convenience and a reasonable rate, both hugely advantageous for me. There is now a new wire mesh in place so the birds will have to look for a new site next year, they have been given notice. There are definite advantages in belonging to a good gym that attracts a range of people, from professors (at least three I know) to artisans.

The highlight of relaxing time in Durban (and there was not all that much of this), was going to listen to Mango Grove at the Botanic Gardens on Monday 14th February, a Valentine’s Day concert. I told the staff at HEARD that this was where I was going and that people were welcome to join me. There were not many takers! Why be surprised though, Valentine’s with the boss is not what people would immediately think of. It was a beautiful evening, not too hot fortunately and not raining, which is always a danger for events there. Sitting listening to great music of Africa with, as background sound, the piping of the tree frogs and the chirps of the fruit bats was a treat. The Gardens are an asset for the city, over 100 years old now.

An unexpected occurrence was the passenger window of my car falling into the door. This is one of the things that happens as the car ages. It is nearly 20 years old, but only has 120 000 kilometres on the clock. Another reason to be grateful for the weather is that the car’s air conditioning stopped working about five years ago. I was told that it was simply not worth getting it fixed, it would cost nearly as much as the car is worth. I don’t mind driving with the windows open though, an environmentally friendly, manual mode of cooling.

The team at HEARD is working really well. We have a large number of academic publications, which is one of the key metrics by which we are judged in a university setting. More than that, I believe that the work we are doing is influencing policy and even making a difference in people’s lives. The direction seems reasonably clear; we have a very good senior management team with Kay Govender having joined us from Psychology for two years as Research Director. Samuel Gormley has been there nearly a year now as the Operations Director. We even had good news, finally, on a grant that we ran for 10 years. The close-out accounting they produced suggested we needed to pay back about $40 000, our figures said we were due about $66 000. Having gone backwards and forwards our figures were finally accepted and this money will pay a salary for a year or more.

I hope that in the course of this year we will see a couple of staff graduate with PhDs, or at least submit them. There is a good chance that some can do this via the publications route. I need to find some time to sit with the CV’s and as we say in South Africa “make a plan”.

Having been in Boston for two cold days on the Sunday I went on to, even colder, Ottawa. Travelling is mostly fun and I am really lucky to be paid to do it. Leaving from Boston encapsulated the human condition with two vignettes. As I went up the escalator to the departure gate I looked back down to the arrivals area. There was a little tot of a girl, bundled up to the nines in a puffy pink coat, pulling her case which, standing up, would have been as tall as she was. She caught my eye, beamed at me and waved furiously. I wonder why? Then at the top of the top of the escalator were two airport staff, both Hispanic. He was weeping, red eyed and desperate; she was standing uncomfortably but clearly wanting to give solace. What was going on there? Airport stories are frustratingly fleeting. There was a US security officer who stood solemnly, watching the passengers who had passed through the screening. What was going though his mind, what a waste of a person. But perhaps not, it is a job and one of the real challenges we face in Southern Africa is employment creation.

From Ottawa I flew to Montréal and then to Geneva, a direct flight which was a blessing. I had the Sunday mostly free, found a gym, had a long workout but also did a great deal of work in the hotel room. I have been going to Geneva for a long time and have always found the hotels to be of a mediocre quality. This is one I had stayed in before, Hotel Rue des Alpes, and I have to say it is transformed. The rooms are comfortable, light and well furnished. Quite a change from the pokey, dark and expensive hotels I stayed in on previous visits.

I returned to the UK via Stansted airport on EasyJet. This was a complete shock; it is years since I was on a budget airline. The way costs are cut seems to be to reduce customer service to a minimum. I had my boarding card, it actually constituted the ticket. Arriving at the airport you are required to print your own baggage tag, not complicated for people who are used to doing this, but as a first timer I found it very stressful. When I get stressed I sweat, not an attractive sight at all.

The next step is to queue up and deliver your luggage to the check-in counter. As an EasyJet passenger you have no access to any lounges and once you board the plane there are no allocated seats. There was a trolley service but you pay for everything. The plane was about an hour late leaving and 30 minutes late getting in to Stansted and then there was a huge queue for the immigration control which I was not expecting. It is clear that budget travel has transformed the way people think about distances. My view is I would rather not travel at all if this is the way I have to do it. However this may be mediated by the fact that at the moment all my travel is paid for. I might have a different view in the future.

I was back in Norwich for a couple of days and we drove up to York for a night. The dog came with us; as did the dog food was in a rather nice Tupperware container. This was unfortunate because in the hotel in York I took a pinch of it and ate it thoughtfully, thinking it was muesli. I don’t know who was more offended, me or the dog. She looked at me with shock. Douglas had a day with a friend, and we went into Scarborough, a Victorian seaside town. It is really nice, and I observe that budget airlines and cheap travel mean that these resorts are battling to sustain themselves, a great pity. The town is nestled in a little hollow on the eastern coast in Yorkshire. There is a ruined castle sitting brooding on one of the headlands. There is a small harbour, which is used by fishing vessels and pleasure craft. The fishing boats ranged from tiny to trawlers with their own rubber ducks.

In mid-March I was invited to present at a briefing for the Africa All Party Parliamentary Group (AAPG) at the Houses of Parliament in London. The title was: ‘Swaziland: a kingdom in crisis? HIV AIDS, gender and rights’. This was a joint meeting between the AAPPG and the Royal African Society. The main speaker was Siphiwe Hlope, the founder and director of SWAPOL (Swazis for positive living). She is a powerful individual who spoke authoritatively and from the heart.

It is always amazing to go to the Parliament, the building is remarkable and to walk through the Great Hall where both Charles I and Guy Fawkes were tried and condemned gives one a sense of history. Today most people simply hurry through, oblivious to the story that the stones, have to tell. My brief intervention was to say: to understand the HIV epidemic in Swaziland, it is important to know the history of the kingdom. I believe, and this is what I am trying to write in my book, that colonialism, alienation of the land, capitalism, apartheid, gender relations, the monarchy and migration have all played a critical role in allowing HIV to get a foothold in the country and to spread so rapidly. If we understand the history we may be able to act.

I had a couple of weeks in the UK and then headed back to southern Africa. I will get to Swaziland for a Waterford Governing Council meeting and HEARD is hosting a number of conferences and trainings in Durban. One is on systematic reviewing; it is something I am very keen to attend as it seems a methodology that we can use in our research. It is a way of getting one’s head around the big picture. We will have someone from the South African Medical Research Council come up to Durban and teach it to over two days. Somehow I have to get going on the Swaziland book and finish it, it is long overdue. So let me end this update here.


RED is the story of ex-CIA agents being hunted down and killed because of an event they witnessed or were involved in decades earlier. It has an all star caste which included Helen Mirran and was great fun. I regard it as perfect airplane viewing.

The American by contrast was excellently made and full of suspense. It is the story of a hit man hiding out in a picturesque Italian village. The characters are well developed and sympathetically drawn. There were only three main characters; the hit man, a prostitute and a priest. The star is George Clooney, which is why I choose it in the first place. This was shown on the Virgin flight and all the entertainment was on a cycle which meant that it was important to be sure that you wanted to watch the film when it started! The ending was quite unexpected and moving.

Black Swan. This is a disturbing film. It is the story of a ballet dancer pushed to the limit. For me the big question was:’to what extent did she have agency’? Was she a helpless pawn in a system that takes people in, uses them, and spits them out or was this what she wanted? What was her mother’s role in this? The director came across as a total shit, but maybe that is the way you have to be if you are leading a company and have to turn out commercially successful productions. I am glad I saw it though and will now try to see ‘The King’s Speech’ which is what I have been looking for on the flights I have taken, but it has not been on.

Love and Other Drugs is a the only film not seen on a plane. It is a 2010 comedy based on the non-fiction book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. The story is of a young man who becomes a medical representative selling a Viagra. He meets and beds the patient of a doctor he visits, she is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The film describes how they negotiate their relationship and is done sensitively. It is typical aeroplane viewing, but I went to see it in a cinema.

Slow Durban: January 2011

In front of my flat there is a jacaranda tree. Since I am on the third floor I look straight out into the upper branches. The first blossoms begin to appear in October. By November the tree is covered with purple flowers. Gradually the green leaves take over, and today, in early February, there are only two sprays of flowers. The rest of the tree is a verdant green. The birds enjoy it, constantly flitting in between the branches. I have slightly mixed feelings about the birds. I am woken up by the dawn chorus, which begins at about 04:30. By five o’clock it is light. I generally get up soon after this and make my breakfast.

For the last week I have been at my office by 06:30. This has its advantages. One is that the world seems clean and bright at that time of day. Driving up through the bush and nature reserve surrounding the University the other morning I saw the largest gathering of monkeys I have ever seen in Durban. I suspect that a number of troops had joined together, because with all the rain we’ve had food must be abundant. A few minutes later there were two mongeese next to the road.

I have even seen a legavaan. As an aside I note that my computer does not like the word mongeese. What is the plural of a mongoose? Mongeese or mongooses? Nor does it recognize legavaan (a species of monitor lizard) the link is:

I got back to Durban in the middle of January, having spent four nights in Johannesburg at a Global Poverty Dialogue. This was organised by the Brooks World Poverty Institute of Manchester University. The out of town delegates stayed at Melrose Arch in a very nice hotel, and the meeting was in Turbine Hall in downtown Johannesburg. This was once the city power station, coal fired and huge. It has been turned into a spectacular and historical conference venue and it was great fine to be there, although having to board buses and go backwards and forwards in rush hour traffic was not so much fun.

I have rather enjoyed Durban. January, February and March can be very difficult months as it is often hot and humid. So far, touch wood, this has not been the case. We’ve had a fair amount of rain but also there have been cool breezes blowing. This was just as well as the air conditioner in the lounge was not working. I noticed a small bird nesting in it just before I left last year. When I switched it on it just blew hot air. Today one of the chaps from the gym came up and pulled a mass of twigs from the inside of the unit and gave it a service, so room is cool and it did not cost me a fortune. I had not switched it last year on as I did not want to disturb the fledglings.

This past month has been marked by two sad events, the deaths of two people who were very much part of our Durban experience. The first was Dinah, who lived in the servant’s quarters at Manor Drive. She had been there for a long time when we bought the house and we allowed her to stay there, as she worked in the neighbourhood. It was a real eye-opener to see how people were treated under the apartheid regime. The room had no ceiling, only one window, no electricity, and no hot water. The walls were of a thinner brick than was used in the main houses. We put in a ceiling, a second window, and ran a power supply to the khaya, as these little houses were called. Dinah retired about six years ago and moved back to her home in the Transkei.

She was in regular touch with her last employer. Apparently he phoned her couple of weeks ago. She asked after his ancient parents. He replied, “they are very tired”.
She said, “yes I am tired too”.

The following evening Dinah went to bed and simply did not wake up. This is not a bad way to go.

By contrast the death of my past time domestic helper has been difficult for everyone. About three years ago she got TB, which was I learnt, because she was HIV-infected. Fortunately in South Africa people with TB and HIV go on to antiretroviral therapy earlier, and although her CD4 count was about 350 she got the medication. Unfortunately some of the drugs have side effects and she was one of the unfortunate few who experience this. In particular a drug called d4t causes difficulty for the peripheral nervous system and makes it very difficult to walk. This affected her. It was clear that she would have to stop working and her other employer and I were discussing what pension arrangements we could make.

Before Christmas she had a bout of flu and never really recovered. She was bed ridden and extremely unwell. Early in the new year the person one whose property she lived took her to a nearby private hospital where they diagnosed dysentery, TB and pneumonia. She was relocated into a government hospital and a few weeks ago transferred to a TB hospital for recuperation. Unfortunately she did not recover. Her daughters were able to visit her the day she died and learnt that the plan was to send her back to the main hospital. She was just not doing well.

She was one of those powerful women who held the family together. She got her two grandsons into good local school in Manor Gardens and was very ambitious for the grandchildren but less patients with her two daughters. I was appalled to learn that her eldest grandson, having had the benefit of an excellent primary education, is currently not in school because his parents have been unable to find a place for him. Had she been well enough she would never have allowed this to happen. While the proximate cause of death may have been TB, I suspect she was simply exhausted. She was about 54 years old, two decades younger than Dinah. You will have noticed I have not written her name, the stigma surrounding HIV means I am very reluctant to identify her.

I had intended to spend my first Saturday of February working. This did not happen. I went to the gym at eight o’clock, and met the person who was to fix my air conditioner. He came to the flat after he had trained, worked out that is – he knew what he was doing with the units. This meant I only left for my office at the university at about 11.00. I discovered that the air-conditioner there was not switched on, and it was far too hot to concentrate.

I came back to the flat and decided to go to the beach with my body board. On the way there I went to the voter registration station. At the moment the government has a campaign to register voters and since I have moved I needed to get on the electoral roll. There are local government elections coming up. This registration was surprisingly painless: an interesting combination of high and low technology. The form was filled in with a pen. Then the identity documents of both the person registering me and mine were scanned by a hand held device. The machine spits out a piece of paper and this is glued (prit) in the ID book, to prove that I am registered and have the right to vote.

I headed for the beach and discovered that there was no one else even thinking about going into the waves. The sea was incredibly choppy and unfriendly. Not a great end to the day.


Malla Nunn, Let the Dead Lie, Simon and Schuster, 2010, 382 pages.

This author lives in Australia, was born in Swaziland, and writes about crime in 1950s South Africa. This is her second book, the first was set in an area just north of Swaziland. The story in this book takes place in Durban. Many of the areas are familiar to me. The key character is working undercover in Durban’s docks and witnesses a murder. The story is about how he solves the crime. The book is set at a time when the apartheid laws are just being introduced and the classification of Emmanuel Cooper, the hero, is ‘coloured’, although at the end it seems he regains his status as a ‘white’ South African. Nunn is an excellent author, she astutely observes the tensions of the 1950s, the rise of the racist regime, and the complexities of relationships in this setting. I look forward to her next book.

David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Hodder and Stoughton, 2010, 469 pages.

This is a complex and fascinating book. It is set in Japan from 1799 to 1817. It is the story of the Dutch trading center and the interactions between the Dutch and Japanese men and women. The heroes are Jacob, and the woman he falls in love with, Orito Aibagawa. In the course of the book they meet perhaps half a dozen times before she is sent to a monastic order. Mitchell has clearly done a great deal of homework and his depiction of life in Japan in the 1800s is deeply fascinating. The story is initially slow but engrossing.

ABC News Australia Interview

ABC News Australia Interview

I was a speaker and chaired a session at this year’s Australasian HIV/AIDS Conference which was held from 20-22 October in Sydney. ABC News (Australia) interviewed me and I spoke about the epidemic in sub-saharan Africa.
I will be in Melbourne next week where I will present as various universities including the University of Melbourne and La Trobe University.

To read more about the conference, click here.

Football Mad: Mid-June 2010

I got back to South Africa on Thursday 3rd June having spent over a month in Norwich, where Douglas was preparing for his GCSE examinations. He worked really hard, and I left feeling proud of him. I travelled on the 06.20 flight out of Norwich to Amsterdam, then took the daylight flight to Johannesburg. It is an arduous journey, but I made good use of the time, marking a PhD, and watching two films, (which are reviewed at the end of the posting). The theme is sport though.

The World Cup kicked off on the 11th June. South Africa held Mexico to a one all draw in the opening match. The mood in the country has been just amazing. The previous Saturday there was a rugby test between Wales and South Africa at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. I played squash with my friend Jeremy Grest. After the game we had tea and watched the first 20 minutes of the game. I took his gardener to the bus stop and, on the way home, drove past my local shopping mall. There is, beside the road, a rather seedy bar behind massive steel burglar guards. The clientele are mainly older white people some with missing teeth and most with uncombed hair. I have been there twice and find it a bit odd. In order sit in the bar and watch the television you need to be buy drinks. There on the pavement was a group of, mainly black, car guards, delivery people and security staff, all peering in and cheering wildly as South Africa took the lead. It was truly an astonishing moment to see this engagement around what was, and still is largely, a white sport.

I had the good fortune to be invited by SAB Miller to attend the game between South Africa and the United States in Rustenberg. I spent three nights in an idyllic cottage in Magaliesberg mountains to the east of Pretoria, flying up on the Thursday evening and back on the Sunday. It was a real privilege and very intense. Let me try and bring these events together.

The first theme has to be distances, traffic and infrastructure. Everywhere seemed a ‘long way’, and the traffic made it even longer. My airport pick-up was organised by SAB and we were driven around by a team of older black entrepreneurs. They have set up a co-operative company to provide shuttles and chauffeur drive services. It was a pleasure to be driven by people who are working together. It means, among other things, that all the drivers get a decent salary and most have an investment in the organisation. I have been quite shocked by the salaries paid by the big companies, who, through out-sourcing, totally exploit their drivers.

The traffic generally was quite appalling; on Friday the itinerary had us visiting a project, going to the Indaba Hotel in Sandton for lunch and then dispersing to our various hotels to watch the opening game. We left the project site late, and on reaching Johannesburg, the traffic slowed to a crawl. It took two hours to do 10 kilometers. We abandoned the idea of lunch, bought sandwiches from a shopping centre and went into a bar to see the game. Two outstanding features were the great good humour of everyone we interacted with and the good South Africa response of “we will make a plan”. South Africa came to a standstill on Friday. Most offices and places of employment closed at 12.00 and I gave my staff the whole day off on the grounds that it was not really worth coming in just for four or five hours.

The great achievement of the World Cup (apart from the mood) is the new infrastructure, including the public transport system which is working extraordinarily well. The problem is that South Africans don’t trust it and so clog the roads with their cars. This will be a legacy for a long time.

My cottage was at Phefumula (see The site is well worth looking at. They describe it as: “Against the slopes of the Magaliesberg range is an escape from the hectic Highveld rush, a place of peace and quiet romance. A place to breathe, or just take a deep breath”. It is indeed right up in the mountains at the end of a truly appalling dirt road. Driving the three kilometers from the main road to cottages took 20 minutes in the saloon cars run by the shuttle service, and the undercarriages of the cars kept hitting the ground. It only took five minutes in a 4×4.

The second theme is the amazing feeling in South Africa. It is hard to describe the vibe in the country at the moment. Fans everywhere, the constant blast of the vuvuzelas. I traveled down from Johanesburg on Sunday and the plane, a large Airbus, was jam packed with German fans, all very good humored with occasional football chants being heard about the plane. The announcement is: “passengers are requested not to blow vuvuzela’s on the plane”.

South Africans have put their hearts and souls into making this work. Our crime problem is being addressed by very visible policing and swift justice. Near where I was staying is a lodge where Portuguese journalists were accomodated. They were held up by armed robbers and relieved of cash, laptops and valuables. The police acted incredibly swiftly: the men were arrested, tried and sentenced all within four days. The media, or at least the South African media, made a point of telling us that two of the culprits were Zimbabwean and one was Nigerian. The reason for the speed of the justice is we will only have our visitors in the country for a month and so could not ask them to return for trials. As long as this is real justice I don’t have a problem with it.

We visited two SAB Miller projects. On the Friday a bar in Duduza Township which is part of the “Men in Taverns” project. The goal is to develop responsible drinking and we sat and talked to a number of the participants who are involved in this initiative. The question is whether or not it is possible to have responsible drinking. I believe this is achievable but it is the whole culture that must be changed. I found it most encouraging project.

The second field trip was to the Masakhane Village outside of Magaliesberg. This village of 55 households and approximate 700 people comprises of farm workers who were evicted from their land in 1994. They were allocated land and built their village of corrugated iron shacks. What is unique about this is that they own title to the land and it is run as a form of cooperative. SAB has supported them in a number of ways. We sat in their brand new community hall and walked around the village. What was striking was that this is a community led initiative with SAB and other partners responding to community needs. They have water, a community center and an investment in training people in areas of empowerment and health (a first aid course but wow, it works and people feel empowered). The Masakhane Project website is:

Each household in this community has a small plot of land and on it, with one or two exceptions were shacks, made of leftover bits of corrugated iron. While what there is available seems minimal and the community poverty stricken we found this community is moving forward in substantial and substantive ways. The young men who were appointed as our guides were articulate and confident.

Nonetheless South Africa is a land of contrasts and from there we went to have lunch in a 5-star luxury hotel called De Hoek . What a contrast and how unjust it seems that there can be so much wealth and so much poverty right next to each other. We sat in a superb dining room; were fed a world class meal, incredibly meticulously prepared and served with aplomb and dignity by staff whom probably spends time in poverty stricken surroundings not dissimilar to those of Masakhane.

We drove from Masakhane straight to Rustenberg for the game. It was amazing. The streets were well patrolled and our movement into the stadium area went very smoothly. Of course we had parking available right next to the stadium which made life very much easier. The English supporters were out in full force with St George flags, face paints and enthusiasm. I made the mistake of saying use my forehead as a canvass and the picture is in the gallery! There were some Americans but they were in a minority. We arrived on schedule at 4.30 and discovered that the hospitality area did not open until 5.30. We waited outside, but it was all very good humored; people standing around chatting and enjoying the vibe and the environment. Once in the hospitality area we had drinks and yet more food before going in to take our seats. The Royal Bafokeng stadium holds about 42 000 people and was almost full. I suspect the empty seats were those people who had been unable to get tickets to travel to South Africa. It was a sea of colour and wave of noise. I can’t even begin to describe it. We had been very well provided for and this included earplugs. They were most necessary as the vuvuzelas are quite deafening. I was absolutely amazed by the volume. Our seats towards the middle of the pitch and just nine rows back. The game itself was scrappy as there are high levels of nerves among the teams. Nonetheless everyone was out of their seats when England took the lead and again when the USA scored an equalizer.

Traveling back afterwards was a lengthy process. The roads were clogged but it turned out that this was due to a motor accident, something that one cannot plan for. My World Cup experience has begun with a bang and I really feel that we, in South Africa, should be proud and pleased with what we have achieved to date. It is remarkable.

A few striking things. For some reason there were real glass bottles available in the stadium. This has been banned at rugby matches in South Africa and I believe in most other settings. It meant that trying to move down the row was treacherous as it was like walking on ball bearings. I cannot believe that they will allow these to be sold at future matches. The way the game is supposed to work is when the ball goes out of play one of the six or seven strategically placed ball holders around the field will throw a new one in for a quick continuation of the game. Clearly this experience was not one that the staff had had and as a result it was very funny to see a ball being kicked into the crowd and the man almost pleading that it be returned as soon as possible. The teams are transported to and from the matches in coaches and these are provided with a police escort. I’m not certain that I altogether approve of this blue light cavalcade as it disrupts traffic for everybody else.


“Crazy Heart” is the story of a moderately successful country and western singer. It is similar to “Walk the Line” the Johnny Cash story. The key character is played by Jeff Bridges, who sympathetically portrays an older man, with a serious drinking problem, battling to make his way in an unforgiving world. The film ends with him having cleaned up his act, but not making it with the woman he falls in love with. It is an unusual but touching ending.

“Invictus” directed by Clint Eastwood, tells the story of the Rugby World Cup won by South Africa in 1995. It describes the astute politics of Nelson Mandela in allowing the Springboks to keep their name and their colours, in the face of opposition from the new Government. The story covers the period from the release of Mandela up to the when Francois Pienaar played by Matt Damon accepts the Cup at Ellis Park after beating the All Blacks. It is a remarkable story in terms of rugby and the politics around it

Mandela is sympathetically portrayed by Morgan Freeman. There are some little twists in the story that make it intriguing. For example there is mention of the danger of an attack on Mandela at the rugby game. A few seconds later we see a white male looking at the stadium through binoculars, but nothing comes of it. It also showed the jumbo jet flying low over the stadium at the opening match. I wonder how legal this was. This film proved to me how much altitude and wine heighten emotions. I sobbed my way through it.

“Where the Wild Things Are” is based on a children’s book. I found the film to be gloomy, odd and quite unpleasant so only watched 20 minutes.