Category Archives: South Africa
As many as 60% of all HIV positive people have experienced homelessness or unstable housing (such as staying on a friend’s couch, where a person could be kicked out at any time) in their lifetimes, according to research by Angela Aidala, Ph.D. of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. But often, even when organizations or governments provide housing as a part of HIV services, the issue is talked about in a way that blames individuals for “risky behavior” and assumes that if someone is dealing with both housing problems and HIV, these two challenges are a result of being a “risky person.”
For 20 years, AIDS housing activists have known that housing challenges are often beyond the control of an individual because lack of stable, adequate housing affects whole communities and is rooted in racism and poverty. The research of Mindy Fullilove, also at Mailman, has shown that destruction of urban neighborhoods uproots whole communities of people and makes them vulnerable to homelessness, drug use, and HIV.
Rodrick Wallace, an epidemiologist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, also points to the forced displacement of Black neighborhoods, whether through urban renewal programs, redlining (when banks refuse to lend money to African Americans to buy homes), eminent domain (a legal process by which houses are taken for city or commercial use of the land), gentrification (when residents are priced out of their neighborhoods by an influx of wealthier residents), or disasters like Hurricane Katrina (due to neglect of infrastructure), and the Bronx fires in the 1970s (due to the closing of firehouses). “Health disparities in the Black community can be traced to a 70-year course of serial forced displacement,” Wallace says, and he offers a dire warning for New York City. “Gentrification is driving African Americans from Harlem, the South Bronx and Bedford-Stuyvesant [Brooklyn], which will create a ring of refugee camps around an alabaster white city. Multi-drug resistant HIV will be allowed to grow in these communities over time before spreading to the rest of the world.”
Poor communities are experiencing forced displacement in cities around the world, with even worse implications in places like South Africa, where the HIV rate is already extremely high. But people living in shacks around the cities of South Africa are resisting forced evictions, and people living with HIV in New York City are demanding housing – not just for their own survival, but also as a prevention tool. Activists at Housing Works, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and the New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN) are leading a campaign to force New York City to provide housing to all people living with HIV by expanding the city’s unique policy that guarantees housing only to people living with an AIDS diagnosis.
“One of the single biggest ways to prevent HIV by reducing risk behavior is to provide stability in housing,” says Charles King, president and CEO of Housing Works. “As long as you have chronic homelessness, people will be involved in drug activity that’s related to their homelessness and sex trade that’s related to their homelessness. Whether you’re HIV positive or negative, homelessness increases the risk of HIV transmission. The more people are forced to engage in survival activities, the greater the risk.”
Alan Perez, coordinator of the Legislative Action Group at GMHC, agrees and emphasizes how unstable housing puts people at risk. “We have clients who have to sell their bodies just to stay where they’re at,” he says.
With organizing help from Housing Works and the National AIDS Housing Coalition (NAHC), researchers have come together with new data showing that housing is integral to HIV treatment, care and prevention. And activists are using the research as tools in their advocacy. This collaboration between activists and researchers is further strengthened by collaboration between AIDS housing activists and housing justice activists, people who fight to end homelessness and gentrification in cities around the world. This issue of Solidarity Project explores some of this inspiring work.
|This mural, “House Every One,” is a collaboration between Groundswell Community Mural Project and NYCAHN (© Groundswell Community Mural Project; Lead artist: Belle Benfield; Assistant artist: Claude Cantave, with youth from TEMA (Teen Empowerment Mural Apprenticeship Program); 14 x 28 feet on canvas, Park Slope, Brooklyn, 2004).|
— Suzy Subways
|Abahlali organizers and sisters Nellie and Nosipho Mtshali amid the wreckage of a shack demolished by the city of Durban, South Africa, in the Arnett Drive settlement on January 17, 2008 (photo courtesy of Abahlali baseMjondolo).|
|Abahlali marches on Mayor Obed Mlaba, September 28, 2007, demanding an immediate moratorium on forced evictions, as well as land for more housing and basic city services (photo by Mnikelo and Richard, courtesy of Abahlali baseMjondolo).|
South Africans living in the imijondolo – shack dwellers – have by far the highest HIV prevalence in the country. Sometimes called shantytowns or informal settlements, these communities of people, living in shacks made of materials like tin and paper, usually have no water, electricity, sanitation, healthcare or garbage removal. According to the 2005 South African National Household Survey on HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication, commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, HIV prevalence among 15- to 49-year-old shack dwellers is 25.8%. Nationwide, women ages 15 to 24 are up to four times more likely to be HIV positive than their male counterparts.
“Our women and children are vulnerable to HIV because they become homeless through eviction by the government from the shacks,” explains Zandile Nsibande, an AIDS activist and member of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack dwellers’ movement. “Others are unemployed and find it hard to rent an accommodation. They involve themselves in conditional love, because they need a place to sleep with their children, and they are voiceless when it comes to condom use,” she says. “That is how our women become vulnerable to rape and HIV infection.” Also, without access to toilets in the imijondolo, women are raped in the bushes.
Abahlali baseMjondolo began in the large port city of Durban in early 2005, with a road blockade organized by people living in the Kennedy Road settlement to protest the sale to a local industrialist of nearby land that had long been promised by a local government representative to the shack dwellers for housing. The movement grew quickly, and now includes tens of thousands of people from more than 30 settlements, according to a history of Abahlali written by the Abahlali baseMjondolo Book Collective in October 2006. The document reports, “Amongst other victories, the Abahlali have democratised the governance of many settlements, stopped evictions in a number of settlements, won access to schools, stopped the industrial development of the land promised to Kennedy Road, forced numerous government officials, offices and projects to ‘come down to the people,’ and mounted vigorous challenges to the uncritical assumption of a right to lead the local struggles of the poor in the name of a privileged access to the ‘global,’ i.e., Northern donors, academics and non-government organizations (NGOs), that remains typical of most of the NGO-based left.” The group’s peaceful demonstrations have frequently met with police beatings, rubber bullets (and sometimes live ammunition), and arrests. Continue reading
- Advocate for Policy Changes: This Tool Kit from the National AIDS Housing Coalition can arm you to advocate for housing on both local and national levels, using research findings to demonstrate the link between housing and health for people at risk for or living with HIV.
- Donate to Abahlali baseMjondolo’s women’s support group: Women of Abahlali have just started an income generation program for the survival and independence of women shack dwellers who are at risk of HIV because of their economic dependence on men. The group hopes to purchase a sewing machine and other supplies. Visit Supporting Abahlali baseMjondolo to donate – specify that the money is for the women’s support group.
- Stay informed and active: Subscribe to the Housing Works AIDS Issues Update to read action alerts in your e-mail in-box and support AIDS housing rights.
- Help build the movement against gentrification and the destruction of neighborhoods:
- Visit the Right to the City Alliance and click on “Alliance Members” to find a group fighting gentrification near you.
- Defend New Orleans Public Housing supports the Coalition to Stop the Demolition in its resistance to displacement of communities in New Orleans, which is increasing HIV risk.
- Sign on to the International Declaration in Defense of El Barrio [English and Español] and support Harlem’s Movement for Justice in El Barrio by hosting a fundraiser, launching a support committee, attending a protest, or just expressing your organization’s support.
- Two more New York City groups to watch: Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, an activist group that uses lawsuits and organizing strategies to defend communities from displacement; and the New York Is Our Home!: Affordable Rent Campaign, which fights for affordable housing.
By Lucio Verani , volunteer for Friends of TAC-North America
NOVEMBER 2006 • Issue 1
Blending fierce street activism and political organizing with community education and lawsuits, South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has won significant change, becoming a model for efforts worldwide.
The below piece, written by staff at TAC and the AIDS Law Project, provides an analysis on AIDS treatment in South African prisons. As background, in April of 2006, after unproductive meetings with prison officials, 15 prisoners at Westville Correctional Centre, TAC and the AIDS Law Project (ALP) used their Constitution’s right to health care (including the right of prisoners to adequate medical treatment) to bring a court case against government. On June 2006, the Court ordered government to roll out ARV treatment at Westville. Sadly, one of the 15 prisoners (known as MM) who won the case died this past August. He needed ARV treatment since 2003 but only got it on July 12th, 2006, just three weeks before dying.
TAC has struggled against their own government’s incompetence in responding to AIDS, but as they recently stated:
“The eight year struggle to end government HIV denialism and confusion has ended. A renewed focus on local and global mobilisation with the prison HIV deaths, the unnecessary appeals in the Westville Correctional Services Centre matter, and, the country’s painful embarrassment at [the] Toronto [International AIDS Conference] created the space where government and civil society are jointly facing up to the challenge of saving lives.”
In the spirit of co-operation, TAC has offered to settle its pending lawsuits against the government. One of these suits responded to the government’s appeals in the Westville prisoners’ case. Much work remains in building a functional health system, but the government is now on the right path and TAC, along with all of civil society, will play key roles in holding government accountable and in empowering South Africans.
For more information, visit TAC’s website at http://www.tac.org.za. You can also subscribe to TAC’s e-newsletter, issued around once every two weeks, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, readers can support TAC politically and financially by getting involved in Friends of TAC-North America.
By Nathan Geffen (TAC), Jonathan Berger (AIDS Law Project) and Cynthia Golombeski (TAC)
NOVEMBER 2006 • Issue 1
Coughing blood, wasting away from diarrhea, uncontrolled bowel movements, a strange white fungus growing on your tongue and throat that prevents you from eating: this is what tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of people in South Africa experience daily, as they watch their once healthy bodies deteriorate. Dying from AIDS is usually painful, slow and undignified. But it is also avoidable. For the vast majority of people whose HIV infection has brought on AIDS, antiretroviral (ARV) treatment can restore health and dignity.
Since it is both possible and affordable to stop people from dying of AIDS, most people recognize that ensuring access to ARV treatment is a moral imperative. But is this true for prisoners, especially in the context of a society with extremely high levels of violent crime? Are they not the lowest, least deserving of people?
In 1994, we took a decision – as a society – to accept that everyone in South Africa has the rights to life and dignity. In respect of prisoners, we expressly recognized a right to adequate medical treatment. In 1995, the Constitutional Court declared the death penalty to be unconstitutional. When we adopted our final Constitution in 1996, we also included the general right to have access to health care services.
All these constitutionally guaranteed rights apply to prisoners too, no matter how vile the crimes that landed them in prison. Interestingly, treating prisoners decently is not solely a product of our constitutional democracy. As early as 1912, our courts recognized that the state must provide adequate medical care to prisoners. In practice, however, the health care of prisoners under Apartheid was more likely to be imperiled than improved. Continue reading