When South Africa has been included in international news over the past decade, it has often been for an unfortunate reason: its scourge of HIV-AIDS. The government of Thabo Mbeki (1999-2008), successor to Nelson Mandela as the nation’s second president, was widely condemned for its stance on HIV-AIDS, namely its denial that AIDS was caused by the HIV virus. Just as the government followed a course of misinformation during these years, so many of South Africa’s citizens remain misinformed or uninformed about a disease that affects all of them directly or indirectly.
7-8 years ago, Mavis Tshandu (below), a student-leader of Bethany Bible School and a nurse by trade, led a series of trainings on HIV-AIDS throughout the Transkei (the eastern part of the Eastern Cape Province with Mthatha as its principal city) as part of an off-shoot organization of BBS. That organization no longer functions, but our expansion of BBS’s program with three additional workshops throughout the year has created new opportunities to bring understanding of HIV-AIDS and other social issues affecting South Africa. On 4-5 March, Mavis led the first of these workshops in 2011 for 25 students who had gathered. Of these, only one person had participated in her trainings years ago. Moreover, Mavis reported that the knowledge of HIV-AIDS of those gathered last weekend was next to “nothing”; it seems that the time had definitely come for this workshop.
It was well-received. With an air of surprise and a sense of empowerment, one participant exclaimed, “This workshop was very nice—we are doctors now.” Hyperbole, yes; but also testimony to knowledge—and a measure of power—gained over an otherwise overwhelming burden in the rural communities from which these students come.