Closing Circles

July was full of travel: to Norwich for a few days, and a day in London; then to Swaziland and on to Durban; the return trip to Norwich late July. This was mostly done in economy – or on the KLM flights, in premium economy, which gives a bit more room. The exception in the class of travel was the trip to London. There seems little sense in how rail travel is priced. I needed to get an early train and the cost of a first class ticket was £46 while for an economy ticket it was £45, which really is a no brainer! On the train the toilet had a delightful sign under the lid, there is a photograph in the gallery, but it is a little out of focus. The sign said: ‘Please don’t flush Nappies; sanitary towels, paper towels, gum, old phones, unpaid bills, junk mail, your ex’s sweater, hopes dreams or goldfish down this toilet’. How nice to see a sense of humour on the train. Apparently the carriage had been borrowed, or hired from Virgin Trains.

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Vignettes of spring and summer 2014

My Skype picture is of a swallow. I think it is appropriate because I too flit between the northern and the southern hemispheres. Of course I put much less effort into this traveling than the birds do. Having said that, all my recent trips have been in economy class on KLM. Admittedly premium economy, but still economy! I won’t dwell on this other than to say the flights I took recently were packed, a combination of the holiday season and KLM doing really well.

I hope to put up a guest posting on my website as my daughter, Rowan has spent a month in Southern Africa, mostly Durban. We shared a road trip. I have invited her to contribute and we will have to see when this happens. No pressure Rowan. She is embarking on the MA in creative writing at UEA this academic year. It is one of the best MAs in the world, with an illustrious list of alumni.

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Six months in Canada and Interpol are looking for you

Six months in Canada and Interpol are looking for you

What do Waterloo, Ontario and Mbabane, Swaziland have in common? Apart from the fact that I have lived in both! A few nights ago, in Waterloo, there was a severe thunderstorm, the first I have experienced here. The flashing and crashing reminded me of the summer afternoon thunderstorms in Mbabane. The high veld of Swaziland has one of the highest rates of lightning strikes in the world. I gleaned this factoid when, as a freelance reporter, on the monthly newspaper ‘Business in Swaziland’, I interviewed the CEO of the Swaziland Electricity Board. This writing experience of nearly 40 years ago was great fun. We were paid 75 cents per column inch published, which meant that as soon as the paper appeared, we ‘journalists’ took out a ruler to work out what was due to us.

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Teeth are trauma

The idea that one should take good care of one’s teeth is drummed into us and we try to pass the message on. Boy, do I believe it now. The water in Kenya, where I was born and spent my early years, and Swaziland, where I grew up, did not have fluoride added. As a result I have more than the average number of fillings and crowns. It is likely the lack of brushing and eating sweets that were significant contributors, but I would prefer to think that fluoride was the issue.

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The Final Post of the Year and ‘last post’ from Durban

This is the last posting to be written in my incarnation of Director of HEARD. It is a time of change, and the passing of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has really shaken the country and me. It is taking time for this to sink in, but I will try to write about it.

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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 www.rushfoundation.org.  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.

Swaziland, The Beloved Country Bleeds: August 2011

Swaziland has been high on my agenda for the past few weeks. I travelled there in late July before returning to Durban. There were two main reasons for my Swaziland visit. First was to meet up with my colleagues at theNational Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA), a body formed by the government in order to respond to the epidemic. I have been working with them since they were established. The second was to go to Waterford Kamhlaba School for a number of events including our mid-year Governing Council meeting.

I flew into Matsapha airport, and as usual, picked up a car. Driving through the industrial estate, I found myself behind a mini bus with five large colour photographs in the back window. Moving from left to right they were of: Che Guevara, Osama Bin Laden, Muammer Gaddafi, Robert Mugabe and Julius Malema. The last may need some introduction; he is the young firebrand leader of the African National Congress Youth League who makes frequent intemperate and irresponsible speeches. Most recently he and his comrades called for the overthrow of the Botswana government as it is “led by capitalist lackeys”. This did not go down very well in South Africa, and of course was even less appreciated in Botswana! I wonder why the driver put up those particular photographs, and in that order. It was clearly a message but it went over my head.

The visit to NERCHA was, as always, inspiring. The staff are an excellent bunch and I am proud to be associated with them. The country is facing a crisis which is the subject of two separate postings on this website. The first is a briefing that I am putting up on this website separate from my usual monthly blog and the other was co-authored with Jacqui Hadingham for the Royal African Society.

When I was in Mbabane (and this is reflected in the postings) the talk was of imminent government bankruptcy. Swaziland had asked the South African government for a E1.2 billion loan as the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank had turned them down. On my return to Durban the news came that the King secured an E2.4 billion loan from South Africa on quite favourable terms. He was hailed in the (government owned) media as the saviour of the nation. The Swazi opposition and some of South African unions are outraged. Quite what will happen next is not clear: it is not time to give up.

I was invited to open the student’s annual art exhibition at Waterford. It was a flattering invitation. I took it seriously and carefully prepared my brief opening remarks. There was, I hope, one key message: hard work and practice are necessary for good art. I hung the message on the example of Lucian Freud who died the previous week. His obituaries described how long it took for him to complete his portraits. The second example I gave was that some years ago I exhibited a piece of work as part of the annual ‘Member’s Exhibition’ at the KwaZulu-Natal Society Gallery. This convinced me that, as an economist, I do not have an artistic bone in my body but also good art requires good craftsmanship. I was told that my remarks were well received and appreciated.

The Governing Council meeting was long but productive. For the first time in a long time there were no major issues or crises to deal with. The school is running well. It looks as though there is more demand and then there are places and the calibre of the applicants remains high. Big issues we had to consider were at what level to put the fee and salary increases at for next year. This is always the task of the July GC meeting. There was a discussion of the economic crisis and the effect it will have on Swazi parents. The best way forward may be the creation of a ‘hardship fund’ of some description. We already give a significant number of bursaries, cannot set differentiated fees, and need to be pro active and imaginative.

Films and books

Lincoln Lawyer (2011) based on a book by Michael Connelly, this is the story of a lawyer, Mickey Haller, who works from his car in Los Angeles County. He is employed to defend a wealthy Beverly Hills playboy, Louis Roulet, accused of beating up a prostitute. Initially the lawyer believes his client was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He then sees similarities to an old case where he persuaded the client to plead guilty. Haller decides Roulet was guilty of this killing but cannot divulge this because of attorney-client confidentiality rules. He gets Roulet off on the case he is retained on, but manages to get him arrested on the earlier charge. The book is good and this film is an excellent courtroom drama that I found gripping. 8/10.

Green Hornet (2011) is what we would have called a ‘skiet and donner’ movie. Literally a ‘shoot and beat up’ film. It was not my first choice on the plane. Even given the heightened emotions of travelling, it turned out to be fun and quite thought provoking. It begins with the relationship between a boy and his wealthy father who publishes an influential paper. The son inherits the paper and, with a former employee of his father (a kung fu expert) the two join forces to fight crime. . The son Britt Reid creates a superhero persona for himself, ‘The Green Hornet’. At one level this is a simple film packed with action. On another, it looks at father son relationships; the relationship between the two young men (platonic); how one can be spoiled by having too many resources; and the role of the press. Of course the classic study of this topic is Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, published in 1907, which was one of our set books at school. 6/10

Eat, Pray, Love (2010). Based on the runaway best seller by Elizabeth Gilbert this is the story of discontentment. Julia Roberts plays Gilbert, a young married woman with everything a modern woman could want – a husband, a house and successful career, yet, she finds herself lost, confused and searching for what she really wanted in life. She gets a divorce and travels for over a year to three destinations spending four months in each: Italy (eat), India (pray); and Bali (love). It is the story of a journey of self-discovery. I read the book some years ago and found it interesting but indulgent. The sequel Committed is more interesting but

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: www.heard.org.za/downloads/health-expenditure-implications-of-sacus-revenue-volatility-in-blns-countries-issue-brief.pdf.

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.

Politics

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: http://swazilandcommentary.blogspot.com.

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.

Threats

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.

Conclusion

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.