Visit to Matsapha Community - Eswatini

Fieldtrip #2 - Matsapha (Manzini Region)

The Whose Crisis project team finally received permission to attend a meeting with the traditional authorities in the Kwaluseni community of Matsapha (a large, perurban industrial town in the centre of Eswatini). The community is very close to the UNESWA campus, with contact obtained through direct links from UNESWA Staff and project partners.

This existing link has proved crucial in expediting the process of informing the council of the project’s plans, as well as obtaining this invitation for further permissions and discussion. An ex-UNESWA student and current Mbuleni resident, Letsie, helped to arrange the meeting, and will be available for assisting the RA with community access and research when fieldwork commences. The meeting itself was held further away from the community than expected in a small church, with social distancing, sanitising and mask-wearing all strictly employed by the council members themselves (which was reassuring to see). The Whose Crisis team were introduced by Dr Mamba from UNESWA (who organised the meeting), with an overview provided by Dr Molefe Joseph. Dane Armstrong, Dr Samuel Seyama and Thandeka Ndlela were also present to provide more in depth information on the work required, as well as translations for the committee where needed.

"The meeting itself was held further away from the community than expected in a small church, with social distancing, sanitising and mask-wearing all strictly employed by the council members themselves (which was reassuring to see)."

"Protocol is particularly important in Eswatini where the avoidance of such channels can have significant impact on any community work."

The discussion went on far longer than expected, with clear interest and useful input coming from the group. Though this kickstarts the process, the Chiefdom Councillor (Bucopho) highlighted that he would need to first inform the Kwaluseni Inkhundla about the project, as well the Member of Parliament. Additionally, since some inner council members could not attend, the members who were present stated that they need to have a meeting to inform all council members of the project. All of this will ensure that there no problems arise once fieldwork begins. The Eswatini team will then be informed once these meetings have been held and only then will we have the ultimate green light to initiate fieldwork. This is not expected to be an issue, though protocol is particularly important in Eswatini where the avoidance of such channels can have significant impact on any community work. The authorities also expressed interest in being engaged in future projects that the hub will work on.

There was an understanding and appreciation of the aims of the Whose Crisis project, especially with regards to better understanding the knock-on effects that the pandemic has had on peoples livelihoods and spirits. There were long discussions around what the project is “offering” to participants – and it was made clear that there will be no direct assistance or payment offered or promised. This issue will be incredibly important to make clear to all project participants, especially after months of some people perceiving “failed promises” from state actors assessing or communicating directly with communities.

Timelines were not promised, as the team is still awaiting to start fieldwork in Vuvulane, which will be the first fieldwork site. Direct engagement in Matsapha will only occur in late April, giving ample time to devise appropriate methods together with the community liaison, as well as identify a possible space to hold certain interviews and engagements.

"This issue will be incredibly important to make clear to all project participants."

'Should a 3rd wave arrive sooner than expected, with extreme consequences, then this work may yet again be thrown into jeopardy - but we will cross that bridge if it comes.'

Eswatini is still awaiting Government updates on restrictions and lockdown extensions (currently poised to end on the 18th of March after yet another extension). Assuming no further restrictions are in place, we are anticipating commencing fieldwork in early April in our first community (Vuvulane), before progressing to the second community (Matsapha) in late April. We are still awaiting our equipment order, which will also determine the exact starting dates.

Should a 3rd wave arrive sooner than expected, with extreme consequences, then this work may yet again be thrown into jeopardy – but we will cross that bridge if it comes.


Nigeria - Community Engagement in Itagunmodi

The Nigeria hub began her field work at Itagunmodi, an agrarian community in Southwest Nigeria. On arriving at the village, the town crier notified members of the community via the indigenous "gong".

This made them to assemble at the community hall for a meeting. At the hall, the Research Lead explained the purpose and the objectives of the project after which the community members asked questions. They were satisfied with the responses to their questions. They then asked the second in command to the king, Chief Risa of Itagunmodi to review the Consent forms before giving their endorsement. They all gave their consents.

In an in-dept interview, an aged man is expressing his belief about covid-19.

According to him, there’s no novel illness. He mentioned that covid-19 is similar to other illnesses such as smallpox, lassa fever, malaria, etc and as such, some of their remedies can be used to cure covid-19. He mentioned some of the indigenous remedies that he knows.

A short clip of the community engagement with some of the women at Itagunmodi community about their lived experiences during the lockdown.

They expressed themselves openly and freely in their local dialect on how they were affected. Majority of the women during the group discussion agreed that children and youths were worst hit educationally and socially. The other vulnerable group that was also affected as identified by the discussants, were small scale business owners who were harassed and victimised during the same period while they were trying to provide for their families through their minor trading.


Malawi - Community engagement at Shanganani Village

They also performed a drama. The closure of the border has made them to become not financially stable as businesses they depend on are going down, therefore some youths have decided to start doing prostitution to support themselves.

The team had discussions with the chiefs (the one talking is chief Shanganani). They gave their concerns of their health saying that they meet and receive alot of visitors whom they do not know their health status. This also puts them at risk of getting the virus.

Impact on individuals

This community has had first-hand experiences in facing a Covid-related death. A primary school teacher who had been diagnosed with the virus succumbed to it a few weeks before researchers’ visit to the community. Those that were associated with the funeral have faced notable stigma and discrimination for some weeks despite the fact that they were not showing signs of the illness. At times where they should have been supported by the community, these people felt isolated. This could be explained by the fact that the social bonds of community belongingness have not been spared by the pandemic. Life has changed in its entirety; no more greetings by handshake, etc. The very foundations of community oneness have been shaken.

Community members also faced retrenchments at work. The retrenchments have particularly hit hard individuals who have had no experience in running small scale businesses as most of them were not able to sustain their new businesses in the harsh environment propagated by the pandemic.

“The future is doomed” said one community member. There are grave fears about the future of the community due to impacts of closure of schools as a result of the pandemic. Unfortunately, there has been a huge increase in the number of pregnancies and early (child) marriages registered within the period of school closure.


Impact on the economy and businesses

Businesses have not been spared neither. Whereas large scale businesses are somehow surviving as they are able to cross the “closed” Malawi-Zambia border, small scale businesses in the areas of agribusiness and tourism have been heavily affected.

Trading is being conducted mainly in smaller quantities due to the travel restrictions across the border. Moreover, there are usually fewer people in shops at the border. The problem has been exacerbated by low sales due to lower prices of goods.

A woman share that she sells groceries and liquor which she buys in bulk in Zambia. She travels once or twice a week. Business has been slow so much so that some shops have closed. Whereas some business owners are able to buy their stock from Zambia, it is not possible to export any commodities to that country. Meanwhile, she encourages her customers (beer partakers) to physically distance themselves as well as practice handwashing with soap to prevent contracting the virus.


Impact on public health care

Another impact was in terms of the public health care system. Problems in the system were exacerbated by reportedly high numbers of patients attending a local clinic instead of the district hospital. Locals chose the latter due to misconceptions about the “deliberate spreading” of the virus at the hospital as well as the tendency of the hospital to test all suspected Covid patients. The clinic has not been severely impacted by the pandemic. The main problem has been a lack of enough access to handwashing facilities and soap as well as masks for visiting patients. Another problem is that the clinic does not test for Covid. Rather, it refers suspected patients to the district hospital for such tests, and sometimes coordination between the two healthcare institutions becomes a problem. Whereas the neighbouring clinic on the Zambian side of the border treats only Zambians, the Malawian clinic treats people of both nationalities.

There is/has been little support from government, NGOs, etc. for the prevention of the pandemic within the Shenganani community. Information about Covid-19 is accessed through radios and Televisions. Otherwise, a public announcement (PA) system was used only once to disseminate such information within the community.

Community members thought that it is the government’s responsibility, through the health care system (hospitals), to disseminate accurate Covid-19 related messages within the community and across Malawi. When seeking medical help at hospitals, patients should have been told such messages and be encouraged to inform others back home. To compensate, village chiefs assist by advising their subjects on preventive practices. It appears community response to the pandemic has been poor as locals have been found to be resistant to preventive messages such as the wearing of masks. “Negligence is a problem on the Malawian side of the border” mentioned one chief. As such civic education is needed to dispel myths about the vaccine as well as the pandemic in general.

The final day on fieldwork in Mchinji was marked with concerns by some of the participants on the slow response from stakeholders on the pandemic. Other concerns were on the swindling of Covid funds by some government officials, making the community members feel “used” for the officials’ personal gain.



Artists in Gaborone ask questions regarding the research question.

Botswana - Hub debriefing meeting at Old Naledi in Gaborone

Last week the Botswana research team led by Professor O. MmaB Modise held a debriefing meeting at Old Naledi in Gaborone. In attendance was Kgosi (Chief) and representatives of the various cultural and art groups.

This was our second visit to that community. In the first consultative meeting, led by Professor Rebecca N. Lekoko, we met Kgosi and community leaders to consult on the Whose Crisis study sharing the scope and nature of the project, but more importantly to hear their ideas, questions, concerns about the engagement with the research team.

During the second meeting, Prof Modise briefed the representatives on the intentions of the study and invited the participants to be part of the historic event to put Botswana on the global stage with their artistic inputs on how the pandemic has affected and changed the way of life of Batswana. The Chief further cemented our plea to the artists and reminded them how important the study would be in furthering the community’s aspirations and desire to share their knowledge, and perspectives on and experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic in hope of better support and considerations from national governmental and organisational bodies.

In their response majority of the representatives pledged to partake in the study and the research team is now getting ready for the participatory approach they’ll be using for a mutually beneficial engagement throughout the project.


Visit to Vuvulane Community - 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.


"The community was not her usual boisterous self" - a first glimpse into a Covid-affected rural community in Nigeria

In the past 2 – 3 years, I have had several opportunities to travel to Itagunmodi either to pay a courtesy call on some stakeholders, gather information, or collect data.  Itagunmodi is a rural community located at Atakumosa West Local Government Area, in Osun State in Nigeria, known primarily for the extraction of gold deposit, hence the name City of Gold, albeit the general feature of the community does not depict the name. The road to the community is tarred, curvedly narrow, and descends the hill, making it impassable for two vehicles to drive side by side at the same time.  The trips to this community gave me the pleasure of watching nature at work: the different species of trees and shrubs that dominate both sides of the roads, farmers holding their cutlasses and hoes walking briskly to their farms, and the transporters known as ‘Okada’ (motorcycle) plying the road on high speed while conveying their passengers to the mining sites.  My trips to the community usually take place either early in the morning or in the evening, a period which guarantees that the proposed meeting will take place.

Things had changed within the last couple of months that I last visited. The community was not her usual boisterous self and I wondered what had happened!

Recently, I visited the community in the company of other project members, with the aim of  introducing a new member of the hub to stakeholders in the community, and to collectively inform the traditional ruler of the approaching Whose Crisis Project that will require the participation of members of the community. I assumed that my trip will be similar to the ones I had made in the past years, and I was keen to know how things had been with members of the community during the locked down, and the coping strategies members of the community adopted.

Characteristically, the entrance into the community was always thronged with people, both old and young petty traders selling and hawking, with loud music coming from the various kiosks opened by the roadside. As we drove towards the community, I noticed that the road was not as busy as usual, only two or three Okada riders drove past us. Neither was the entrance of the community clustered as I expected, only a few kiosks were opened when we arrived. Things had changed within the last couple of months that I last visited. The community was not her usual boisterous self and I wondered what had happened!

I wondered why there was a drastic reduction in the populace. We moved slowly towards the house of the community secretary, that is, the right-hand Chief of the community. He was going to act as our host, since the traditional ruler was not available for the meeting. The community secretary was glad to be informed about the Whose Crisis Project and promised to assist any time it starts and to as well relate our message to the traditional ruler.  A closer observation showed that members of the community were not adhering to any of the preventive measures of the COVID-19 virus – no social distancing and no wearing of facemasks! This we plan to investigate further when the Whose Crisis project takes off.


COVID-19 and Rethinking the Unsustainable “Normal”

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director, Sustainable Futures in Africa

Reconsidering Development Pathways: What is the “New Normal”?

“Sustainable Development”, that often overused term in development work, calls us to action to end poverty, protect the environment and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. However, our development pathways have been far from that ideal. With rising inequality, increasing carbon emissions, pollution, wildlife crime, and the exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation, we have continued our immoral growth beyond the carrying capacity of our earth. COVID-19 may be a wake-up call to humanity to stop this self-destruction of our home planet, lest our actions eliminate us as a species.

Reflecting on the status of the world

With the majority of us under lockdown in our homes, this is a good time to pause and look at our lives, our countries’ priorities, global development and the meaning of sustainability. While we have advanced our knowledge about green economic models, good practices for reducing extreme poverty and the use of technologies to promote wellbeing, we still have 700 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. Our consumerism and continued emissions are compromising our chances of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and our global health care inequalities have come to haunt us.

Should we go back to “normal”?

Many of us can’t wait to get back to the same “normal” that got us into this predicament. COVID-19 has revealed that this pathway of unsustainable consumption, growth, ecological degradation and inequality simply cannot continue. In an increasingly interconnected world, the pandemic has taught us that none of us is safe unless all of us are safe. Business-as-usual may not be the “normal” we want to return to.

Economic slowdown may not be all that bad

This is also a good time to reflect on what life looks like when we slow down economic growth. With air travel grinding to a halt and a large number of people working from home, we are seeing the prevalence of digital conferences and meetings taking off, making us wonder why working remotely and meeting locally wasn’t already a norm? With the lockdown, the burning of fossil fuels has dropped, causing air quality to improve significantly, triggering social media posts of beautiful clear skies and views of mountains kilometres away. With humans locked in, animals and birds are courageously stepping out and enjoying their newfound freedom. The earth is healing.

We can work together

All sectors are working hand in hand to tackle this pandemic: funds are flowing from various sources; the private sector which hitherto cared mostly about profits is stepping in and helping the health sector. Governments are realising that spending on key sectors such as health and education is more important. Scientists and doctors are collaborating for the greater good, development partners are giving NGOs flexibility to divert their funding to COVID response, and each of us is checking in on our friends and family. It took this pandemic to ignite our sense of community, to get us to make sacrifices, recognise our priorities, work for a common purpose and cherish solidarity. We now realise that we’re all in this together and we can work together.

Three lessons learnt

Three things have become clear since the emergence of COVID-19. First, we are an interconnected world and only if all of us are safe, will each once of us become safe. In that regard, the virus is an equaliser because it does not discriminate. Second, although the virus has impacted every country, regardless of wealth or power, it has also made us realise how unequal our society is. There will be many who will not be able to recover at all or recover as fast as some others. Our global interconnectivity should wake us up to our responsibility for ensuring that each and every country recovers from this shock (not just our own country). We can no longer afford to be selfish, we have to broaden our minds and assume a global identity.

Finally, the unsustainable “normal” that has caused so many challenges to the world is a social construction; that means, we can change it. We, as a society, have been able to come together and make drastic changes to our lives and economy to respond to COVID-19. This proves that it is possible to take action to create a changed future for the better. After the pandemic ends, we must not slip back to the old normal, but consciously strive towards a “new normal” that is more sustainable, climate-proof, equitable, compassionate and humane.

What is your idea of the “new normal”?

How would you envision this “new normal”? Drop your answers/comments below.


Corona

By Tom Ketlogetswe, Thapong Visual Arts Centre, Botswana

 

Your strength is not in doubt
You are stronger than many imagined

Nations are perishing
Locals are hiding in fear

Your strength knows no boundaries
Your sweeping powers are unimaginable

Leaders across the globe shiver
Heroes are neither spared

The poor have no place to hide
The rich are contemplating hiding in cosy closets

You have unleashed your strength
Indeed you have surpassed your immediate predecessors

Copyright: Tom Ketlogetswe 2020


Translation into arts

By Vanessa Duclos and Reagan Kandole

Reagan Kandole, Executive Director of ECOaction, an NGO based in Kampala, Uganda, shares with us how the current worldwide crisis coverage inspired him to translate information into arts – channeling the doubts during the lockdown into creativity. If you want to get in touch with the artist, you can do so here.


A drive to remember: ECOaction at work in the Covid-19 lockdown

By Reagan Kandole, Mia Perry, Vanessa Duclos, Raihana Ferdous and Deepa Pullanikkatil

The Covid 19 pandemic continues to expose the most vulnerable people in Uganda’s communities. As the country transitioned towards a total lockdown, banning public transport, strict regulations on the labor force and only essential services — monitored by the health and security sector — the progress and gains made by community initiatives like ECOaction have been threatened. ECOaction is a non profit organisation that creates income and livelihood opportunities for the most marginalised urban youth and women through innovations in waste management. ECOaction is located in Banda, an unplanned settlement of Kampala City, Uganda. The organisation works with the most vulnerable groups of plastic collectors, mainly elderly women and young adults, and provides them with alternative markets for recycled products. ECOaction also builds the capacity of its beneficiaries around waste management and environmental conservation. One of the main challenges in our community right now is that they are not able to sell any of the plastics they collect to the recycling companies during the lockdown, which means they have no money to pay for food to feed their families.

For most of the women we support, the main source of income is collecting plastics and if they cannot move around to collect and sell these bottles, then they are not able to feed their families. Even with the government’s attempts to distribute food to the most vulnerable, not everyone will be able to access that support and there is an urgent need for more basic supplies to be distributed. Otherwise, there is a risk that many people will die of starvation, malaria, stress and many other diseases”. Reagan Kandole, Executive Director of ECOaction.

The photo story below depicts the journey that ECOaction’s team took, despite public transport bans and distancing policies, to reach out to this community