Wednesday, December 29, 2010


It has not been possible in the short time I had to raise enough money to ensure that I could afford to send Nhlanhla to university in January. I now aim to use the next twelve months to raise enough money for him to start in 2012. He will do some computer courses this year and some self study to prepare himself for 2012. The money contributed so far and any extra I raise will be put to one side for this purpose. I think this is a more realistic target.

He is a little disappointed but understands that it is better to wait and raise sufficient money than risk having to withdraw from the course due to lack of funds.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cultural problem exists in Swaziland which hinders development

I once said that Swaziland is a nation full of children. This may sound uncharitable but when you have lived there for three years you begin to see some patterns. Swazis are extremely traditional in a patriarchal sense. Those in positions of power whether it is the principal of a school or the king try to keep those dependent on them in a state of ignorance. There is a serious lack of social responsibility at all levels. This is evident for example in the way people drive. There was a case when I was living there of a combi (minibus) taxi driver who overtook a lorry as another vehicle was approaching the other way. The driver jumped out of the taxi to save his own life. Immediately afterwards, his taxi crashed into a bus-stop killing several people who were waiting there as well as several of his passengers.

I have seen with my own eyes coaches overtaking on blind bends. When a new bypass was being built around the city of Mbabane, I saw two earth-moving trucks racing each other along a two-way road. When I stopped at the works office to complain, nothing was done about it. Workers at Waterford school building a new building took bricks from a stack of two piles of bricks in such a way that a tall wall of bricks was left about 3 metres tall, threatening to topple over at any moment and kill or seriously injure the workers.

I have seen women in Mbabane who only wanted to sell goods on the street to make a living being beaten by police with batons and sprayed with tear gas. My abiding sense about how poor people are treated in Swaziland is one of anger - it makes me spitting mad. Those with any power over others tend to use it to further their own agenda. It makes progress in Swaziland very very difficult.

This is why I think that I can make a difference by giving even one young person the chance to go to university and get a decent job, be able to support his family and perhaps come back to Swaziland once he is qualified to make a difference.

Swaziland: Declining Customs Union Revenues Threaten Aids Response

Mbabane — An economic meltdown in Swaziland, exacerbated by a major decline in revenue from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), is unlikely to leave the national AIDS response unscathed, say local health officials.
"There will be an impact on the health sector, but to what extent we cannot say," said government economist Deepak Sardiwal of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development.

Revenue from SACU - the world's oldest customs union, comprising Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa - contributed 76 percent of the Swazi government's income in 2009 but dropped in 2010 and is expected to continue declining over the next decade.
The global recession has been blamed, but according to Khaled Ahmed of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, the decline in SACU tariffs and revenue collection is part of a policy shift towards freer trade within the region that is likely to continue.
Rather than put aside some of the additional revenue generated by SACU while it was plentiful, the Swazi government went on a spending spree and ignored warnings from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that its public sector bureaucracy was bloated far beyond the needs of a small country of one million people.
"Today we sit with no savings or new receipts. We've dug ourselves into a pretty deep hole, according to the IMF. It's serious, very serious," Derek von Wissell, director of the National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA), told IRIN/PlusNews.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How can you help?

I used to give money to charities like Oxfam, Amnesty International and also to political organisations like the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe. But I have discovered that getting actively involved and knowing that 100% of your money goes where it is intended is very satisfying.

The problem with aid is that it often encourages dependence. Swaziland depends on large handouts every year from various organisations to run its government when it should be doing more to combat misuse of funds, outright theft and corruption within government departments.

Who would argue though against paying directly for a young person's education like I am doing. Why do I pay so much money to individuals like Nhlanhla?

1) Because educating youth can never be a bad thing. He has become a role model in his community. Others aspire to be successful in their schooling like he has been.

2) Because I lived in Swaziland and adopted my son from there, I care about the people there.

3) Because I can make sure that when school fees are paid, the money goes directly to the institution. Nhlanhla manages his own finances for his daily needs.

4) He has shown that he is responsible. I know his parents and have been sponsoring him for five years.

I'll admit that there is real satisfaction in knowing that I have given him access to something most of us take for granted - being able to go to school.

So if you want to help (240 euros raised so far and offers of support still coming in), I will really appreciate it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The deadly link between police, sex work and HIV


In a country known for its skyrocketing HIV and AIDS rates, conservatism, Christianity and traditional mores, it may come as a surprise that the abuse and rape of sex workers in Swaziland at the hands of police is a growing and widespread problem.

Sex work, known as one of the oldest trades, is still illegal in the country, yet sex workers have reported targeted campaigns of rape and violence at the hands of Swazi police.

One well known investigator is notorious to sex workers in the capital, Mbabane.

"He attacks us at our hotspot," said Phumzile Mamba*, a 20-year-old sex worker. "He threatens us with a gun so that we do not run away. He then rapes us, after he is done, he lets his boys rape us while he watches, and we cannot report this to the police."

Sex work in Swaziland is not confined to urban areas, but also common in rural areas, where patterns of abuse are often less evident.

A recent report by Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAAGA), in partnership with other local organisations, noted: "It is not just that they are arrested, to a greater or lesser degree they are forced by police to comply with demands for free sex or sex in exchange for not being arrested. 27% of the sex workers have at some point been arrested by state police for loitering. 60% of those arrested end up being sexually and physically abused by the police."

The study involved 150 sex workers, both female and male, from urban and rural communities.
In an attempt to intensify the fight against HIV and AIDS, several local organisations, including SWAAGA, have called for the decriminalisation of sex work in the country. They argue that the decriminalisation of sex work would enable their organisations and other partners to reach those involved in the illegal trade.

The National Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS (NFS) identifies commercial sex as one of the key drivers of HIV and AIDS in Swaziland.

"Sex work is often characterised by high rates of partner change, low rates of condom use, unsafe sex and high rates of sexually transmitted infections. Consequently, HIV infection is often high and the virus can quickly spread through sexual networks encompassing sex workers, clients, regular partners and associated lovers," states one NFS report.

Over the past several years, Swaziland has recorded one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. Data from the country's 11th National Sero-Surveillance Report indicates that HIV prevalence increased from 39 to 42% between 2006 and 2008.

The Swaziland Demographic and Health Survey estimated the prevalence among the population between 15-49 years to be at 26%. This means that for every four Swazis in the reproductive age, one is HIV positive.
In such a climate, sex workers have become a vital link in HIV prevention in the country.

Another recent study, the 2010 United Nations Assembly Special Session on HIV and AIDS (UNGASS) found that Swaziland's sex workers are being pressured by clients not to use condoms. These clients often pay more money, something sex workers may find hard to turn down.

Sex workers are put at greater risk of contracting HIV, and the client then likely goes home to a wife, who is also put at risk.

Many times that "client" is a police officer.

Because sex work is criminalised, law enforcers often overlook that sex workers can be victims of crime, and street-based workers in particular experience high levels of assault and rape.

Yet Police Public Relations Officer Superintendent Wendy Hleta said the police have no knowledge of sex workers in the country because their trade is illegal.

However, she said in cases where they have been abused or violated by police or individuals, such cases should be reported.

"We have competent officers, both female and male, who can listen to their concerns even when it means being heard in private. We encourage them to come forward and report such violations," she said.

However, because their trade is illegal, sex workers rarely avail themselves of such services.

Zanele Dlamini*, a sex worker from Ezulwini said: "Even if I have a simple cold I don't go to Lobamba Clinic, everybody knows that I am a sex worker. Although the nurses don't voice it directly at you, they act funny and make silly comments about you."

Poverty and unemployment remain the major forces pushing young Swazis into sex work.

Xoliswa Sithole*, a 24-year-old sex worker from Gundvwini said: "I looked for a job at the textile factories for five months and I got tired of "facing" (waiting outside the factory gates before being employed) there. My friends suggested that we try selling sex at Matsapha. At first I was afraid but I have now learnt the trade. I have a room at Matsapha and go home on weekends. At least I can afford food and pay for my children's school fees. My family thinks I am working at the textile factories."

Until sex work is recognised and decriminalised in the country, desperate Swazi mothers like Sithole will continue to be raped and abused at the hands of police and other violent men. And as long as this happens the HIV prevalence rate for the entire country will only continue to rise.

*Not their real names
Alec Lushaba is the editor of the Swazi Observer. This article is part of a special series on the 16 Days of Activism for the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that offers fresh views on everyday news. For more information on the 16 Days Campaign go to

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Give me money!'

Here my son (foreground) sits outside the home in 2008 where he spent his early years. The children seated behind him are his half-sister's children. They will be several years older than they appear. This is normal in a country where malnutrition is commonplace. There was no food in the house when we visited. We brought food from the city (bags of maize meal, vegetables, oil and meat). Later I had to arrange for a new roof to be put on the building. The daughter of a relatively wealthy neighbour was the contact for this mission. They had a proper home and the mother was a teacher. I found it frustrating dealing with her because her mother actually asked for money at one point for the favour of her daughter acting as a go-between despite this family living in absolute poverty. This is unfortunately typical of Swaziland where nothing is done for free. When I used to ride my bike around Waterford school when I lived there, even little five year old kids would shout out 'give me money.'

My son's mother is buried near this homestead.

Kellemes karácsonyi ünnepeket és boldog új évet!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Midrand Graduate Institute

Information on the course Nhlanhla will be attending is located here:

At the moment, he is getting all the documents together to apply for the required study permit.

Confirmation of registration is here:

To whom it may concern


I, hereby confirm that NHLANHLA SIBANYONI ID number 40081988 is currently registered and accepted to enroll on the date as set out below with CTI Education Group.

Course details:                     

Course name                                    :                       MGI: Pre-Degree for Accounting
Course duration                    :                       1 Year
Expected start date                   :                       7 February 2010
Course Price                                    :                       R 39 200,00

We as CTI Education Group undertake to inform all local and foreign Governmental Institutions if the student for whatever reason dis-enrolls or fail his/her studies at CTI.    

Please do not hesitate to contact me if further information is needed.

Kind regards,

Sarel Venter
TEL/FAX                        :           (013) 755 3918
CELL                 :             079 219 4128
EMAIL              :   
WEBSITE            :   

HIV and AIDS in Swaziland

Poverty in Swaziland is inextricably linked with HIV and AIDS. Estimates of those infected range from 25 to 40% depending on the subset of the population you are talking about. The reasons for the very high prevalence are several. Men typically are polygamous and women have very little say in how they live their lives. Women can be forced to bear children again and again by their relatives or husbands.

Contraceptives are not widely used. The chance of HIV infection is increased by poor health and other infections. Women pass on the disease to their children. Infection can take place in the hospital by reusing syringes for example. People are not well educated about the risks. The newspaper obituaries are full of young faces.

The social consequences of HIV are dire. Tens of thousands of homes are headed by a child. There is only one state orphanage that I know of. The government is unable to organise effective support for those affected.

Someone with HIV can remain relatively healthy for a number of years. Then, with the declining immune system, the body becomes more susceptible to infections it can usually easily defend itself against. Fungal infections such as thrush can invade the throat and mouth making eating very painful. Limbs swell up with oedema, it becomes painful to walk, eyes develop conjunctivitis, tuberculosis, malaise, diarrhoea, caries, chicken pox can be fatal, and the list goes on.

Children then have to drop out of school to become carers to sick parents who can no longer work or feed their families. I am posting some videos here which are relevant.

Overwhelming Odds HIV AIDS Orphans in Swaziland

Thandiwe's story

Myths about HIV and AIDS

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nhlanhla Sibanyoni

He completed the five years of secondary school this year. He was attending Mbabane Central High School. I paid his school fees for the five years and also gave him a living allowance. He lives in a township called Sidwashini just below Waterford School near Mbabane. His friends asked me to sponsor him when they were hitching a ride up the hill to the school one day. I met his mother and so that is how it began.

I don't know exactly how much I have paid over the years but in the region of EUR 5000 would be a good estimate. For five years' of education and consistently good exam results I think it is worth it. His parents do not have the money to clothe him or his brothers properly so I have to help.

The quality of the teaching is pretty poor and so he has had to work hard to follow each subject. There are not enough textbooks. The sponsorship has generated some jealousy in the township. Fees have risen sharply and students are told to pay up or leave. This year, fees were around EUR 400. Swaziland is a country where 70% live in abject poverty but the king's 13 wives each must have their own palace and BMW. There is no welfare system, food prices have risen dramatically in the last two years, and the government is self-serving and corrupt.

He starts studying at Midrand Graduate College in South Africa next year, doing a one year pre-degree in accounting. I have paid the registration fee and the compulsory medical insurance. I have yet to pay for the study permit and first month's tuition fees.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My time in Swaziland and why I am interested in helping

I taught at Waterford Kamhlaba United World College from 2004 to 2007. Near the end of my time there, I adopted an orphan. This puts into context my interest in the country. My son's biological mother passed away in 2006 of pulmonary TB. His father passed away in 1997. He was then looked after by his half-sister who was unemployed and had no means to support him. There are tens of thousands of orphans like this in the country. Many resort to begging or are taken advantage of by extended family who use them as virtual slave labour.

My son (right) and another boy I was fostering at the time.

My balcony in about 2006.

The school playing fields viewed from a hill.

This lady used to work for me. She was wonderful.

My son's adoption order.

Visiting Swaziland in 2008. The boy on the right is now in a privately run orphanage.

My son in 2007.

With his half-brothers in 2008.

And now ...

Swaziland and its problems

Swaziland is a small landlocked country bordering Mozambique to the west and South Africa to the north, east and south. Its economy is mainly centred around forestry, sugar cane and tourism. Its economy is heavily dependent on that of South Africa. Its currency, the emelangeni, is linked at parity to the rand. The HIV infection rate is about 25% in the general population and above 40% in pregnant women. Free treatment for this disease exists in theory but most are unwilling to be tested or unable to afford the bus fares. Then if they do get to a hospital, there are long waits for treatment by often apathetic staff. The risk of catching TB at hospital or of being infected by HIV or hepatitis due to reuse of syringes is a possibility. The drugs to treat HIV can cause nausea if not enough food is available so many stop taking their medication. Then they become ill.

Help requested

I am trying to raise funds to sponsor Swazi students who otherwise cannot afford to go to school or college. In Swaziland, students are required to pay quite significant fees even to go to primary school. It costs about 100 euros to pay for a child to go to primary school for a year.

I adopted my son in 2006 from Swaziland and taught in a school there between 2004 and 2007. I have been sponsoring a teenager there through high school for the past 5 years. Now I am trying to raise the money to pay for him to go to college in South Africa. He is pictured above on a trip to the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

I teach at a school in Bratislava, Slovakia. We are trying to raise some money through our International Baccalaureate students. I will be posting information on the situation in Swaziland, resources and how you can help.