Fieldtrip #1 - Vuvulane (Eswatini)

State of the research – Eswatini

The Whose Crisis project team in Eswatini is still awaiting Government updates on restrictions and lockdown extensions (currently poised to end on the 4th of March). Assuming no further restrictions are in place, we are anticipating commencing fieldwork in late March in our first community (Vuvulane), before progressing to the second community (Matsapha) in April. We are still awaiting our equipment order, which will also determine the exact starting dates.

In the meantime, we are reviewing existing secondary data (reports, overviews, etc.) from project partners relating to the pandemic on a national level. We have also been communicating with our selected communities remotely, introducing people to the project and paving the way for open dialogue to better inform the process.

In this blog post, the research team in Eswatini describes their work during pre-fieldwork times and recounts a fieldtrip to the community of Vuvulane. The trip allowed them to get to know the community and better prepare for their research.

 

The relationship with the Vuvulane community has been firmly established through a partnership with the Vuvulane Orphaned and Vulnerable Children Outreach Foundation (VOVCOF) – a grassroots community organisation that have been instrumental in providing assistance and support to the area both pre- and during COVID. Our point of contact at VOVCOF, Khulekani Msweli, is an artist and activist from the Vuvulane community, and has reviewed all the Whose Crisis documentation, providing insightful feedback and advice based on their experience. After several calls and with COVID-19 restrictions allowing for socially distanced meetings, a site visit was required to continue discussions and evaluate the lay of the land. Vuvulane is a 4-hour roundtrip from Mbabane, therefore spending a full day is required to make the most out of the trip.

The RA (Dane) spent a full day in the community discussing some of the possible methods and approaches for the eventual fieldwork, and was joined by team members Sizwe Mabaso and Molefe Joseph for a tour of the community church, soup kitchen, sustainable building project and Mgidza (one of the sub-communities in Vuvulane). The church and gardens have been made available for the project to use as a base of operations (for any socially distanced workshops, interactions or recording sessions) and will greatly assist the logistics of the project.

Vuvulane offers an interesting case study in and of itself, as it has deep ties to land use and human rights issues in Eswatini – the farmers have been at loggerheads with authorities for decades now, and continue living in unstable conditions despite being in the heart of the sugar belt of Eswatini (sugar being our main export and cash crop). There is a deep history of “neglect and avoidance” of the area, and it is anticipated that there will be a lot of hesitation in terms of sharing stories and opinions from community members – but this needs to be overcome as there are “many stories and opinions that desperately need sharing” (as mentioned by Khulekani).

VOCOF have already released reports on their actions in the community during the pandemic, which will help in creating an initial overview of the situation on the ground during the course of 2020-2021. There is a community clinic which can provide insight into health statistics and visits, and a police station that will have records for the entire area. Recent assistance interventions have been noted from the WFP and the UNDP.

"There are a wide variety of societal issues, as well as clear examples of interventions, solutions and assistance mechanisms at play."

The community walk around illustrated how many people in the community are unemployed and “idle” (not working on a weekday), and how social distancing and hygiene measures are very minimal (due to a wide variety of reasons). At the same time there are many individuals tending to their small gardens, looking after children and attending to domestic chores. There was a lot of laughter and general good spirits with everyone who engaged with the team.

The community is yet to record a single case of COVID, though this may be down to a lack of reporting. They feel safe engaging with each other and their neighbours, but wear masks when leaving to town or using public transport. It is Marula season in the Lubumbo region (a fruit used to make traditional alcoholic brews), so there were a lot of fermenting buckets set up, and people brewing/selling/sharing some drinks despite the current alcohol ban (and despite the early hour of the day). Alcohol abuse is a big issue in the area, and we heard several accounts of how influential and powerful some of the illicit alcohol traders have become over the last several months. There have been recent donations of fencing and seedlings, and it has transpired that some people have been selling these donations in order to get money for alcohol (and also food) – something that will no doubt arise in further discussions as part of the research.

All in all, Vuvulane offers an intriguing opportunity to partner with reliable, grassroots partners that have the trust and access to all aspects of the community. There are a wide variety of societal issues, as well as clear examples of interventions, solutions and assistance mechanisms at play. It is a great opportunity for the Whose Crisis project to explore the complex lived experience of community members in the area, and will allow us to better fine-tune our engagements in the second community of Matsapha, where we are yet to establish a firm connection with a target area.