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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Dateline: Capetown

Hi, folks. What follows is a travelogue detailing a recent trip my class on international epidemics (HON 490) took in January with the generous support of the King-Shaw fellowship and our University. I’ll divide coverage into two sections, but there is so much to discuss! My classmates will produce what promises to be a superb contribution to the next issue of LUX magazine covering many aspects of our trip I forgot to mention, so please look forward to that in the coming months. I’ll cover the rudimentary elements.

On January 13th, our group of three professors and ten students flew from Logan to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Cape Town, South Africa. Our purpose in traveling was to survey the HIV/AIDS crisis ravaging the country; sub-Saharan Africa, especially South Africa, faces the worst HIV epidemic in the world. Other infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections, combine to present a public health hazard of horrifying proportions in a country only recently freed from a viciously racist apartheid regime.

South Africa faces a slew of serious issues, but first to note is that the people mostly support their government. The African National Congress was the popular engine for fighting the National Party (comprised mainly of white supremacist Afrikaner settlers) and is the party of Nelson Mandela, who is an iconic figure in the country. The ANC is a broad coalition of diverse left-wing elements, notably the country’s largest trade union, COSATU, and the South African Communist Party, who organized militant wings in the fight against the NP. The struggle between the forces of rebellion and reaction could have led to eventual civil war but for the 1989 election of F.W. DeKlerk.

DeKlerk, soon after he was placed in office, moved to enfranchise the previously outlawed ANC and dismantle apartheid legislation. Few saw the move coming. DeKlerk, a lifelong NP conservative, was expected to would continue apartheid (literally, apartness) policies. Society was divided into four camps, White, Coloured, Indian, and Black. The classifications, of course, were arbitrary, but consequences were very real: if a black man was injured, he was not allowed to be taken to hospital by a “white” ambulance, and was expected to either wait for a “black” ambulance or die.

Beginning in the ’60s the government began a resettlement program that removed blacks and “coloured” (members of the country’s Malaysian immigrant population and others who were neither white settlers or black Africans) from their land into euphemistically named “homelands”. We spent much of our time in two of these homeland settlements, Khayelitsha and Guguletu. Khayelitsha means “Our New Home”, Guguletu “Our Pride”. They’re comparable to the favelas of Brazil, vast, sprawling informal settlements of makeshift shacks. The ANC has seen to improving living standards in the townships, recently installing water taps and power grids, but progress is slow while poverty remains endemic. Poverty breeds crime, but also disease; in the country with the world’s worst HIV epidemic, the townships are the hardest-hit regions. A 2003 Doctors Without Borders survey places HIV infection rates at nearly 25% in Khayeltsha.

To give an idea of how bad the problem is nationwide, a 2006 study by the Actuarial Society of South Africa reveals that out of roughly 48 million South Africans, 5.4 million are stricken with the virus, roughly ten percent of the entire population. A comparable epidemic in America would see more than 30 million infected. It stirs compassion to consider how, with the dawn of a new era for the people of South Africa, a new disease is robbing them of their youth. With widespread unemployment, and the crime and gangsterism that comes with bleak prospects, to have this dumped into their laps! More than thirty percent of women aged 25-29 and more than a quarter of men between 30 and 34 are so afflicted in South Africa. The U.N. places the average South African life expectancy at 54 – without HIV, the number rises to 64. South Africa is losing the core of their working class, and losing tomorrow.

We touched down in Cape Town on January 14th and established ourselves at the Cat and Moose backpackers’ lodge on Long Street. Cape Town itself is a cosmopolitan city studded with gorgeous Dutch colonial architecture. Yemi Ajayi, one of our group, noted that the Mother City, as it is called, was rather like Europe; as a native Nigerian, she felt that we hadn’t yet seen Africa for itself. That conception would soon change, starting with our first full study day.

We met Ben Jattiem, a Cape Malay, for a tour of his erstwhile home, District Six, on the 15th. So named because it is the city’s sixth established municipal area, it bears a history of questionable urban engineering schemes. The website of the District Six museum (www.districtsix.co.za) notes that its past residents include a diverse group of liberated slaves, workers, and musicians and artists of various stripes. It was a bustling community for much of its history, and Ben, a looming large man with a powerful handshake and a broad, open face, fondly reminisced over his early life surrounded by family and community. He was careful to note that crime and gangs weren’t foreign to the area, but that there was also a real, positive sense of community.

But now there are no buildings there. District Six, once a thriving community of more than 60,000 inhabitants, is today a vast, vacant grass lot studded with artifacts from a former life. When it was declared a “White” area in 1966, all buildings were razed but for the houses of the Afrikaner settlers. These still stand, like solitary rocks on the face of the moon. A solitary plaque commemorates the lives of District Six: “ALL WHO PASS: Remember the lives of the thousands of people who lived for generations in District Six and were forced by law to leave their homes because of the color of their skins.”

About the Contributor
Dan Roche served as opinions editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2006-2007; 2007-2008; 2008-2009