A Disconnected Connectedness


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by Saaleha E Bhamjee

Teenagers spend anywhere between 7.5 and 11 hours of every day plugged into some kind of electronic device. A lot of this time is frittered away on social media. Much has been written about the impact this ‘connectivity’ has had on our teens. A recent Vanity Fair article,  where a teen boy was quoted as saying: “Gotta wheel the b***hes in. Gotta wheel the b***hes in. Nowadays you can do it so easy. There are so many apps and shit that just, like, hand you the girls. They don’t even know that’s what they’re doing, but really they’re just giving teenagers ways to have sex,” was especially disquieting.

I showed this to my niece whose response was to send me an even more worrying piece by Martin Daubney, former editor of ‘the original British Lads’ mag’, Loaded, where he’d been invited, as presenter of a Channel 4 documentary called Porn On The Brain, to sit in on a class with 13-14 year olds, led by sex education consultant Jonny Hunt.

To determine the extent of sexual knowledge these kids had, Hunt asked them to write an A-Z list of the sexual terms they knew, no matter how extreme. It turned out that some of these 13-14 year olds knew terms that neither the once magazine editor, nor the sex education consultant had ever heard of.

Daubney then interviewed 14-15 year olds. Some of these children admitted to being traumatised by what they’d been exposed to. Pornographic videos were often ‘distributed’ via various social media channels. The greater the shock value, the more they were shared. This involuntary (for some) introduction to the world of internet pornography has left some boys disgusted. Girls felt confused and angry. They felt pressured to conform and felt as though they were being (unfairly) compared to porn stars.

In my attempt to understand the impact social media and the internet has had on South African teens, I consulted East Rand based, clinical psychologist, Dr Greg Pienaar and put this question to him.

His response, “It’s not just negative,” he said. “I think it’s been very positive as well. I’ve found, with a lot of children, it’s given them an opportunity to be more social than they would have been normally. A lot of those children would have remained introverted personalities, not have interacted at all. It’s almost like it’s given them – not just teens, adults as well – an opportunity to communicate at a safer level and then that’s given them a platform to build up the courage to take it to the next level.”

But the intimacy is illusory at best. Having 800 friends on Facebook is no guarantee that you will have someone to speak to should you be experiencing emotional difficulties at any given time. The truth is, even on social media, we’re drawn to people who generate a sense of wellbeing through sharing uplifting, positive thoughts. We see people who constantly bitch and moan about how bad their lives are, as attention seeking energy leeches. And this is exactly what many an angst ridden teen has found, says Dr Pienaar. “I’ve had a number of cases where these children in the middle of the night go through anxiety and put a message out. And then, they don’t get any responses and then it’s ten times worse. They feel rejected. They think they have this massive friendship circle. But it’s a false friendship circle.”


Has social media has also bred narcissism and vanity?

“Definitely,” he says. That special kind of narcissism that results in a teen feeling like a celebrity when they’re retweeted a-plenty or added as a friend on Facebook by someone they consider a ‘hero’.  That sense of being a demi-cyber god when their twitter following burgeons and their instagram pictures, liked by many. The unrealistic idea that a day is made by having 50 ‘likes’ on a picture of yourself posted to Facebook.

Dr Pienaar points out the pitfalls a Facebook ‘like’ poses. How, by default we confuse someone not clicking ‘like’ for a picture with them disliking it. How that results in a sense of rejection and sometimes, heartbreak for teens with already fragile enough senses of self. “If I could speak to Mr Zukerberg, I’d tell him, take that away, the ‘like’ feature.”

Social media has also resulted in what Dr Pienaar calls ‘over communication’. There is much of our lives that we share with practical strangers, that has no place being shared at all, he says. I suppress the guilt that needles at my conscience as he says this.

That brings me to the question of internet pornography. I naively believe this to be a problem among teens and adults. Dr Pienaar corrects me.

“I get primary school children, not even teens who download things on their phones and then they start distributing it. Porn has become a, I want to say cancer but cancer is not even a strong enough word. As we know, it’s highly addictive. There’s no doubt that it’s terrible for relationships. (It leads to) unrealistic expectations. I’m all for having freedom of choice but, honestly, a child of 12 or 13, have they really got freedom of choice? Do they really know what they’re looking at?”

A big part of the solution, he stresses, is parental involvement. “It’s not an infringement on their rights of privacy. Making sure that you are aware of what your children are doing.  A teenage boy is going to be curious so I wouldn’t be shocked if I discover this with my son of 13. If I’m involved early enough I can do something. But if I’m not, by the time I discover the problem it’s too late. I think there’s a measure of curiosity but I think these days curiosity is satisfied too easily.”

Dr Pienaar is careful not to be alarmist though. He emphasises the good that cyber relationships and communicating has wrought. I cannot help but agree. My best friends were all met online.

“It’s the future. It’s more about how we control it and what we do with it. It’s never going to go away. It’s just going to expand. When these problems come up, you just have to deal with it.”


Kathrada Honoured


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Anti-apartheid stalwarts honoured in Boksburg

Several struggle veterans, on Saturday,16 November 2013, received awards from the Congress of Business and Economics (CBE) in Boksburg.

Nelson Mandela’s close friend, Ahmed Kathrada received the Lifetime Achievement Award at a dinner that paid tribute to “heroes who have created a legacy that will benefit South Africa for generations to come”.

Other Excellence awardees included Laloo ‘Isu’ Chiba, Mosie Moolla, Abhulhay Jassat, Eleanor Kasrils, and Shanti Naidoo, while Professor Khadija Moloi received an honorary accolade.

The function also coincided with the:

– 153rd anniversary of the arrival of indentured labourers to our shores,

– 100th anniversary of the 1913 Passive Resistance Campaign,

– 50th anniversary of Mosie Moolla, Abdulhay Jassat, Harold Wolpe and Arthur Goldreich’s escape from Marshall Square, and the

– 50th anniversary of the commencement of the Rivonia Trial.

The evening focussed on recollections of the past, as the anti-apartheid veterans engaged the audience with stories of underground activities and daring prison escapes.  The veterans also used the platform to give thanks to their fellow activists.

“We must celebrate seminal moments in our history as we are doing here today. We also need to remember that people from all walks of life and political persuasions participated in the defeat of apartheid,” Kathrada said.

Kathrada paid tribute to his fellow anti-apartheid stalwarts, hinting that sometimes, there is a tendency to over-glorify the Rivonia Trial at the expense of other trials. He mentioned fellow comrades, such as Suliman ‘Babla’ Saloojee and Ahmed Timol, who were killed in detention.

These sentiments were also expressed by former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, as he told the story of his late wife Eleanor Kasril’s successful jail-break. Herself an Umkhonto we Sizwe operative, Eleanor later fled South Africa to Tanzania, and later London, where she remained in exile.

The CBE also used the dinner to celebrate Ronnie Kasril’s 75th birthday.




Walk for Freedom touches Palestinian lives in Benoni


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IMG_3957Thaer al Tarifi, Khalid Al Bitaar, Sa’adideen  Al Tarifi and young family members

Azhar Vadi | October 2013

Thaer al Tarifi is a Palestinian living in Benoni. He attended the Walk for Freedom organised by the Benoni Spurs Football Club on the 29 September 2013 at the Willowmoore Park Stadium.

Tarifi participated in the day’s events as it was a simple way for him to once again reconnect with his homeland. Born to refugee parents who were forced to flee to neighbouring Jordan, he has never been able to visit his pace of origin. Participating in the Benoni fun walk made feel as if he had once again regained his identity.

“We, Palestinians, have been forced to lose our identity and our motherland. It is the most valuable thing. This makes all Palestinians depressed. We have lost the right to live where our father and grandfathers once lived. I’m a citizen of Jordan and a citizen of South Africa but I will always feel incomplete,” Tarifi told The Review.


Over 2500 people attended this year’s Walk for Freedom with participants draped in the colours of the Palestinian flag and other wearing t-shirts calling for peace and justice. The flea market and cultural activities on the day were also well attended.

Benoni Spurs chairperson, Moosa Kayat said, “This has been a successful day for us. We have managed to raise a significant amount of funds and this will be handed over to the Gift of the Givers for their relief work in Palestine.”

The first person to cross the finish line was Actonville’s Saleem Paruk. He said “What’s happening in Palestine is cruel. Its apartheid times twenty. I have lots of friends their and chat via email. They are going througha hard time but they have more courage than us.”


The real impact of the day was made on the lives of those who attended and none more so than on the Tarifi family.“I will teach my children the right of return to our homeland,” said Mr Tarifi. “It is sacred and holy. One day if it’s not me or my son, it will be my grandson that will return. We will never negotiate our land. From the River Jordan to the Mediterranean it is all Palestine. And this is where we belong.”

He added that he is humbly touched that South Africans in Benoni are so involved in the Palestinians struggle. “I can see it in the eyes of our fellow South Africans. I am grateful. Palestine is a world heritage and all honest people will fight for it.”

An evening of inspiration


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banner-advert-for-irSaaleha E Bhamjee | October 2013

If you’re a parent who sometimes is subjected to the music that your children listen to, you’ve no doubt heard snippets of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. EVERYONE was listening to it. And I DO mean EVERYONE! Aside from the endorsement from EVERYONE, Blurred Lines received an accolade of another kind. Its ‘general rape-culture ghastliness’ earned it a listing on Flavorwire’s 20 All-Time Worst Song Lyrics About Sex ( a piece by Tom Hawking), alongside Justin Timberlake who sang about a “coochie coochie coo”, saying “Little girl won’t you be my strawberry bubblegum/ Then I’d be your blueberry lollipop/ And then I’d love you ‘til I’ll make you pop” and 50 cent who was taking girls to candy shops and getting them lollipops of a rather questionable flavour.

As parents, no doubt we seek alternatives. Music that conveys a more positive message, the kind that is closer to the values we strive to inculcate our children

It was for this reason that I made the trek out to Laudium for for an Evening of Inspiration, where I’d be interviewing the ‘stars’- Zain Bhikha, Dawud Wharnsby Ali and Omar Regan.

The night was part of a fundraising initiative by an international charity and the ‘stars’ were lending their voices to it.

I got to speak to Zain first. No stranger to the South African community, he is a musician whose message has always drawn strongly from his faith.

When asked about his motivation for creating music that reaches beyond the profane, he said: “As adults we don’t realise how important music is in a child’s life. As you get older, it’s not important to us anymore, but in a child’s life, music, good and bad, is very important. Watch teenagers get together. One of the first things they ask one another is ‘what song do you have?’ – They swop songs. So we might not realise it, we might think music is foolish, but in their lives, music is important.”

Zain too, is aware of the vile nature of much of the music that teens tend to embrace. But instead of lamenting the plight of our youth, he’s taken on the challenge of providing a better alternative. His songs speak of religious tolerance, recognising the common humanity in those we meet and living lives that have value. No parent could fault his message.

Listed on Wikipedia, Dawud Wharnsby (born David Howard Wharnsby on June 27, 1972) is a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, performer, educator and television personality. A multi-instrumentalist, he is best known for his work in the musical/poetic genre of English Language nasheed and spoken word.

When asked about the messages he conveys in his music, which tend to always be profoundly moving, he said, “For me spiritual learning was very closely linked to the writing. I loved all types of music…but when it came to the music I was writing myself, it was very much linked to my observations of life, the world, my faith, it was fun going out and singing folk music, but even the fun that I got from that experience of being with people, performing, was often tainted by environments… if you did share an original song that was close to your heart and people were drinking or relaxing, it was almost as though your words were like…seeds on rock.”

In 2007 Dawud released “Out Seeing the Fields”. One of the tracks on the album, “Rachel” is a tribute to Rachel Corrie who was killed by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Caterpillar bulldozer, during a protest against the destruction of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip.

In a world where artists devote their talents to singing about their intentions to rape or kill, people choosing an alternative path remains a source of wonder.

38 year old Omar Laquon Regan is a former musician, turned Hollywood actor and stand-up comedian. The engaging father of three spoke candidly of his childhood in the ghettos of Detroit, of his struggle to rise from poverty and of the battle that lasted eight of his 14 years in Hollywood to ‘get ‘into’ Hollywood’.

He had me falling over with laughter when he did his Michael Jackson impersonation. An act that was borne of the rumour that MJ had accepted Islam, one that made waves in cyberspace. Omar has taken his comedy all over the world. And what I got to see on the night, I could not help but love.

I asked Omar about his plans for the future now that Rush Hour 2 (where he doubled for Chris Tucker), Internet Dating and Life is Hot In Cracktown were behind him.

Turns out he’s started a production company of his own, called BaniAdam Productions. He’s just completed filming a full length action comedy which is set to be unleashed on unsuspecting audiences worldwide.

Omar, like our own Trevor Noah, offer conclusive evidence that it is in fact possible to attain success as a stand-up comedian without having to resort to profanity, vulgarity or cheap shots at self-righteous businesses posing as religious bodies.

Innovative speech therapists at Tambo Memorial Hospital

Therapist, Megan Ellis and her file to help autistic kids - TRN

Therapist, Megan Ellis and her file to help autistic kids – TRN

Azhar Vadi | The Review | August 2013

South African public health institutions often bear the brunt of negative media publicity due to poor service, unhelpful staff and often overcrowded patient queues. At Tambo Memorial Hospital things operate slightly differently despite the usual problems that doctors and medical personnel encounter. They have tried their best and in some circumstances used improvised methods to better the conditions of the patients using the facility.

This spirit of positivity and commitment abounds in the Speech Therapy and Audiology Department, where therapist, Megan Ellis, has developed a tool unique to the South African medical scene aimed at improving the lives of young children affected by autism.

Her ‘invention’ has already started making a difference in the lives of so many kids and their parents as well.

In 2011, Megan, was introduced to the Picture Exchange Communication System by American medical personnel in South Africa. The training was based on a book of pictures that could be presented to children diagnosed with autism allowing them to communicate effectively with others.

The system, Megan realised, was something that was missing locally when it came to the treatment of affected kids. It was something that would be extremely useful and could make a major difference in preparing patients for mainstream life.

The file making a difference - TRN

The file making a difference – TRN

Serving at Tambo Memorial Hospital in Boksburg, a public healthcare facility, the price of the book and tools would however be far beyond the reach of the average South African. But the communication aid was too valuable a tool to simply disregard based on the price factor and so Megan set her mind on developing a local, cheaper version of the same.


Autism is known as a complex developmental disability and presents itself during the first three years of a person’s life. The condition affects normal brain function, upsetting development of the person’s communication and social interaction skills. People with autism have issues with non-verbal communication and social interactions.

“We found many children presenting with the features of autism in 2011. I then went for the training and this is what I have implemented with these children,” said Megan.

She immediately began producing her own version of a file with pictures in it associated to various day-to-day activities that autism patients could use to better communicate their needs.

Unlike the oversees version that is professionally produced by companies, Megan took a simple lever arch file, cardboard, Velcro strips, glue and pictures from her computer and hand crafted each file individually.

Megan noted: “We cut and modified the files to make them look like the ones used in America because obviously we don’t have the funds to buy the original kit. The system however works very well with these children because they are quite visual learners and it takes the pressure off them to speak. Most of the kids I see are severe cases and will never learn to speak. This therefore gives them a way to communicate.”

During the six stages of training, the children learn how to exchange a picture for something they want. Once they are taught how to use the system for themselves they learn how to do it with other people and children.



“We are sort of giving them a way to communicate and they stop getting so frustrated and actually want to communicate. They see that there is a way to get their needs across and a lot of the kids start speaking as well,” added Megan.

Working in public service

The files used in the clinic are sourced from the hospital stationary but a lot of the material used comes out of Megan’s personal account. The contribution comes with service in a public health facility.

“I absolutely love working in a public hospital. I find everyone so appreciative of what you do for them, even if it’s something very small. For me that’s very fulfilling. I love that.”

Megan’s sentiments were complement by her head of department, Asiya Mayet. “It takes a specific kind of person to work in a public hospital but I personally feel it is more rewarding. We deal with large amounts of people that don’t really have money and they appreciate every little thing you give them.”

You can help make a difference in these kid’s lives as well. The clinic needs a laminating machine, colour printer and A4 colour cardboard sheets. If you can assist with any of these items to be used in the creation of the autism assistance files, send an email to azhar@thereviewnewspaper.co.za

Should sex trade be legal in South Africa?


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Saaleha E. Bhamjee | The Review | June 2013

protsitituionWhen Arizona, at age 30, decided she’d be leaving her emotionally abusive husband and taking her four children with her, she began looking for work. She scanned the newspapers. Opportunities for women with limited work experience, especially ones who had been at home for the last eight years, were sparse. What was on offer promised long hours and little remuneration. ‘Girls wanted’ – the ad jumped out at her. It was three months before she finally worked up the courage to call the Escort Agency. She began her ‘career’ as a sex worker, a week before ending her marriage. Seven days later, she’d made enough to pay for a car. By the week, enough to pay the deposit and rent for a place of her own. She walked out.

Arizona has been in the industry for 14 years now. She has put two of her brood through school, and two are now in high school. All this without them finding out what she really does in order to live the life she does. When asked how she’d feel if her kids ever found out, she sighs heavily. “I hope they don’t. It’s hard you know. I want to protect them. I don’t want them to ever feel guilty that I did this, that I had to do this for them. I made the choice. It wasn’t an easy choice. Ultimately your children are blessings. I think the least I could do was be the best mum I could be and at that point, that was the only way I thought I could do it. You kinda trade off a part of yourself to do this. I said to myself when I started, I will do it until they finish school. When they finish school, I’m moving on.”

When asked about her plans for the future, she smiles. “I’m exporting some things into the DRC and Zambia at the moment. I’m just setting up. I’ve got lots of options open. I’m thinking about moving to Thailand and teaching English there. It’s not that I’m not educated. I have an education. A lot of the other girls do. It’s just that this becomes a comfortable lifestyle.”

For Charmaine, sex work wasn’t her first option when it came to seeking employment, but a combination of fate and circumstance led her to an agency in Johannesburg. She was one of few women of colour. Many of the white girls who worked at the agency were runaways from children’s homes, she told me. Some, she suspected, weren’t quite 18 at the time.

She’s been in and out of the trade for well over 14 years now. It has always been her “something to fall back on when jobs weren’t going well.” Like Arizona, she too advertises on a website, dedicated to helping working girls promote their ‘businesses’. I ask her about human trafficking. Media would have us believe that prostitution is characterised by this scourge.

“I’ve never come across it personally,” she says. “I only know of it from what I hear. A lot of it exists on the street. I hear that women are brought in from neighbouring countries. You see it with the Asian women. The agencies move around all the time, never stay in one area for too long.”

I ask her the legalisation question. “Yes, it needs to be legalised. But legalisation won’t fix things in the problem areas. The working girls who get raped, the street girls. How is that going to be controlled? If legal systems cannot protect a wife (in an abusive marriage) how is it going to protect girls on the street?”

I ask her how her work has impacted on her, personally. Decades of sex workers being portrayed as tragic victims of life, or women waiting to be rescued by the likes of Richard Gere, has made me wonder.

“I’ve always had an inferiority complex. My mother never told me I was pretty. It has boosted my self-esteem. ”

I am reminded of Arizona speaking of sex work as having empowered her. I put this question to Charmaine. “Not really,” she says. “It has empowered me in that I no longer have illusions about men and relationships.”

I remember reading somewhere that many women who go into the industry have either been raped or molested as children. I put this question to Charmaine. “I was molested as a kid by a family friend from the age of twelve to the age of fourteen. I was very naïve and didn’t believe that any of my friends had been molested. I used to believe it had something to do with a woman’s reason for going into the industry. But I know now that that is not so. It’s just that people don’t talk about it… Even when it comes to drugs. A lot of the girls do drugs but drugs are all over the place. It’s not just the girls in the trade. I’d never seen drugs but I’ve been to corporate parties where drugs were laid out like a buffet.”

I then ask about religion. Charmaine laughs. “I go to church once every few months. I know that what I’m doing is wrong but I don’t believe in there being a big sin or a small sin. Just sin.”

Urmila has been a sex worker for the last year. She’d been in the corporate world, working in property development and when her husband’s company was liquidated and all her assets sequestrated, her world fell apart. Her marriage ended. All the people they’d helped in the past turned their backs on her. It was a business colleague who suggested she enter the industry.

Urmila has used her earnings to study. At the beginning of this year she paid up front for a two year diploma. “When my clients heard I wanted to study, they would tip me well. They were very supportive.”

She’s begun a career in complimentary healing.

The advantage ladies like Urmila, Charmaine and Arizona have, is that their advertising their services to a computer literate clientele means that they attract an upmarket, educated lot of punters. Men who happily pay the R700-850 an hour that they charge.

I ask her about her daughter. “She doesn’t live with me,” she says.” She’s studying towards a BSC and wants to go into the medical field. I pay towards her studies. She only knows that I do complimentary healing.”

To Legalise or not to Legalise – sex work – is the question

In May this year the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) launched its Position Paper on Sex Work and called for the decriminalisation of prostitution. A move that was lauded by the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce or SWEAT, as well as Sisonke, the national movement of sex workers in South Africa, advocating for sex workers’ rights.

The process of determining whether to legalise the trade in South Africa started in 2009. The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) released the Adult Prostitution (project 107) Discussion Paper and calls were made for civil society to submit comments. The report from this Discussion Paper was meant to be released in 2011, but has been delayed indefinitely due to the Commission having no commissioners. This according to Ntokozo Yingwana, SWEAT’s Advocacy Officer.

The discussion in the media has been animated. Shortly after the Gender Commission’s announcement, talk show host and media personality, Eusebius McKaiser wrote in The Star, “By bringing the sex worker into the legal fold, the state can reduce exploitation by being able to legitimately make available state resources to actively protect sex workers,” echoing SWEAT’s Yingwana who said in an interview, “Decriminalisation will allow sex workers to take ownership of their own bodies, which are essentially their businesses. They won’t be a need for sex workers to depend on pimps and brothel owners for protection or working facilities. When sex work was decriminalised in New Zealand in 2003 there actually was a shift from outdoor to indoor sex work, with sex workers coming together to form small businesses of their own. This allowed them to own all their earnings, without having to share with pimps or brothel owners who sometimes exploited them. We anticipate the same will happen here in South Africa once sex work is decriminalised. “

Taryn Hodgeson, international co-ordinator for Africa Christian Action disagrees.

“The illusion that prostitution is a choice is manipulative and deceptive. It allows the buyers and the pimps to obscure the abuse involved and to confer a form of right on the abuser. The fact that money is exchanged cannot disguise the fact that what occurs in prostitution, the bodily and psychological violations involved are in fact sexual abuse and harassment and would be seen as such in any so-called ordinary workplace or social setting.

By recognising prostitution as a violation of the right to dignity of women, government and civil society should do their utmost to discourage women from entering prostitution and to help women escape this slavery and abuse. Legislation therefore needs to focus on criminalizing the “buyers” (i.e. the pimps, brothel owners, customers etc).”

This was the approach adopted by Sweden who saw prostitution as incompatible with a society dedicated to gender equality. In January 1999 they enacted the Kvinnofrid law which criminalised ‘the buying of sex’ and decriminalised ‘the selling’. The gender of buyer of seller are immaterial under the law. This, after decades of legalised prostitution.

In 2007 Der Spiegel, a German news magazine, reported that according to the Swedish police, 400 to 600 foreign women are brought into Sweden annually to work as prostitutes. Compare this to the between 10 000 and 15000 women who are brought into Finland annually for the same purpose? Finland, a country, half the size of Sweden.

In the work-up to the enactment of Kvinnofrid Law, Roslyn Phillips, BSc, Dip Ed and the Swedish commission on prostitution summarized the main problems of its legalised sex trade as follows:

1. Harm to woman – Prostitutes often have a bad start to life with poverty and sexual and other abuse. Prostitution adds further abuse.

2. Harm to man – Prostitution gives men sexual release, without the need of proximity, relationship or demands. Many men who use prostitutes are unable to form satisfactory relationships, and would benefit from treatment.

3. Harm to family/society. Families are the building blocks of society, and prostitution damages families. For instance the wife of a man who uses prostitutes always has to sexually live up to the man’s extra-marital sexual experiences. Sexually transmitted diseases are brought into the home. Money and time is spent on prostitutes that should be spent on the family.

4. Human rights. Prostitution mainly involves women being used by men. Prostitution transmits an unacceptable view of human beings in that they can be used, bought and sold as commodities.

5. Child prostitution increases where adult prostitution is legalised.

6. Criminalisation restrains females from entering trade, as well as clients.

When Germany legalised prostitution in December 2001 they had the same hopes with regards outcome as SWEAT, here in South Africa have. Yes, they did indeed find that legalisation gave sex workers access to better healthcare, allowed for them to have their own unions and be a part of medical schemes, but they also found an increase in human trafficking, with German’s chief police reporting an 11% increase between 2009 and 2010 and an overall 70% increase over a 5 year period.

Actonville residents still using the bucket toilet system…in 2013


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Azhar Vadi | The Review | June 2013

Abandoned and forgotten, they try to salvage whatever little dignity life throws at them every time they are necessitated to use the plastic bucket toilets so unceremoniously placed there for them. Amid piles of stinking rubbish and pools of putrid water, they relieve themselves as rats scurry around.web 7

Life in the informal settlement between Wattville and Actonville, south of Benoni, is awfully difficult and much of what the residents here suffer from is experienced by the thousands of shack dweller in the Ekurhuleni Municipality.

Every day is struggle when a single tap has to be shared between several households, when shacks are so close to each other that roofs touch and the only toys children have are dirty, rusted tin cans and cardboard cartons with the remnants of stale sour milk still stuck to it.

But for Mlamule Zwane, a young man who has moved from Newcastle in Kwazulu-Natal to Gauteng looking for better opportunities, it’s the bucket toilets that have been a real difficulty.

“These toilets are not good. It’s dirty and not good for people to use. When we use it in the mornings, the crooks see us, and then they break into our homes,” he said while sitting on the edge of the camp.

Further in, beyond a group of young men busy cleaning themselves on an early June morning, some ladies had already engaged their washing baths and were busy scrubbing heavily soiled kiddies clothing.

“Speak to those people there, they will help you,” Mlamule indicated.

When approached, one of the women quickly ran to call her husband, Nicholas Hlela, who has been in the area for 21 years. He said he had seen little improvement in his living conditions in all that time. Along with the threats of shacks fires, the cold and filthy toilets have been part of his daily reality. “The solar heating system they put in our shacks is not good enough. All it can do is run our lights for a few hours. But it’s the toilets that are really difficult for us.”web 10

Around each cubicle there are pools of water that have gathered. A lot of it is mixed with the sewage that at times overflows from the buckets in the portable toilets. “Children play in that water,” said Nicholas. “All these f***ing toilets are not good.”

A sense of anger can be heard in his voice. “It’s stinks here. They (council workers) come once a month to remove the filth that is gathering outside and once a week to clean the toilet. You should come on a Wednesday when they load it up and see the toilets are full of kak , not a Thursday when they are empty.”

The unhygienic conditions have resulted in a plague of rats taking over the place. “There are too much of them. If you come in the evening, you will see many of them busy here. If your child is sleeping in a shack, the rats will come and nibble on their noses or fingers.”

Local councilor, Imtiaz Loonat, acknowledged that local authorities have been aware of the plight of the residents. He however blamed them for the filthy conditions while saying that council had plans to improve the conditions in this and other informal settlements.

“The dirt in the informal settlement is a serious problem and a concern to residents but the residents themselves keep the place in an unhygienic state. Council removes dirt regularly but it does not seem to help,” he said.

He added that the Metro’s Environment Department has embarked on a project to create co-operatives consisting of people living in the informal settlements to keep the area clean.

“They will have a service provider who will provide the necessary training, tools, clothing and vehicles to ensure that the informal settlement and surrounding area is kept clean. This will help reduce the rodent problem as well as the general cleanliness of the area. This program is due to start in July 2013.”web 11

Writing for Sowetan Live , one Ayanda Ngcwab noted in a piece commemorating Youth Day, that perhaps our leaders and some in society have become disconnected from the harsh realities of so many in South Africa:

“If you are a councillor in Alex, how can you stay in Sandton? How are you going to appreciate the challenges that are faced by your people? As one reggae artist says in one of his songs: ‘Who feels it, knows it.’”





ANC versus DA “shit storm”


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Saaleha E. Bhamjee | The Review | June 2013

Among the newsworthy stories that had knickers in a knot this last month was the bizarre case of the faeces that got to travel in an Audi, following the ANCYL in the Western Cape’s “Shit Storm” that resulted in a pelting of a DA entourage with the crap.

Whatever the reasons, whatever the arguments and counter arguments, for me this story reeked far more than an unserviced bucket system toilet ever could.

Here were politicians arguing about the kinds of toilets people in informal settlements are obliged to use. Here they were, in their expensive clothes, talking about the plight of millions of South Africans as though they weren’t really people. Catching a free ride to what they hope will be a successful election campaign, on the backs of the poorest among us: The people obliged to live in these informal settlements. It was political grandstanding at its ugliest.

The DA came under fire. And rightfully so. But dear Ms Zille, the right response at that juncture ought to have been a humble acknowledgement of the mountain of work that lies ahead, instead of losing the plot completely and getting into a debate as to whether the tanks of your Portable Flush Toilets really were “clean and odourless”. I promise, had you done that, you would have got my vote.

But is the DA the only party failing their constituencies? Let the toilets speak for themselves.

Right around the corner from where I live here on the East Rand, in a settlement known as Mandleni, the few bucket system portable loos that exist are supplemented by toilet shacks erected by residents, some of which are so terrible, they cannot even pass for toilets at all.

The municipal provided toilets are serviced once a week. The homemade ones, never. There are no plans to replace these with Portable Flush Toilets that I know of. This is an ANC ward. Onward to Lindelani, a settlement that came into being in 1999. Here, there aren’t even bucket system toilets. Just pits that people dig and protect from view with zinc sheeting.

When they fill, they move the toilet a few steps away, after closing off the first hole. Again, an ANC ward. The residents vote, election after election, for an ANC that has promised, campaign after campaign, to provide proper sanitation. And yet, near twenty years on, the settlements have merely grown and all those election promises have proven to be more barren than your average South African politician’s conscience.

What boggles the mind is that we have a World Class system in place to take money out of the hands of working class South Africans but we cannot put a World Class system in place to ensure that money reaches its intended recipients instead of vanishing into already bulging pockets?

Residents of Lindelani tell of how one person owns up to THREE RDP houses. How, if one were to apply for an RDP house, they would find it sold, right from under their noses. They’re realistic enough to know that with elections looming large, their settlement may benefit from a few token improvements in exchange for their vote. But they’ve grown weary of the promises.

I hate paying SARS but I’d part with my tax money with a smile if I could see it making a difference in the lives of millions of South Africans most in need. I might even feel inclined to contribute more than just a spoilt ballot to the next elections if I believed it would matter.

I know I sound like your average, defeatist South African. But I’m still here. Which must mean I am still – against all odds and defying all logic – hopeful that a change will come.

Maybe it’s because I saw soccer teams playing (in proper kits, nogal) on a dusty patch of ground in the informal settlement, the day I visited. I spoke to the team manager whose work starts with the very young teens. Or because I saw little bands of kids spinning tops, like my nephew in the neighbouring Actonville, does. On Youth Day.

Or because I went to meet a community leader who lives in his own modest compound, which is really just a series of shacks and heard of how he helps those in need in the area.

Maybe because I have friends who want to come to the settlement and do something. Give something back and hopefully leave, secure in our mutual African-ness.

Maybe because deep down I still believe that the blood of Peterson and so many like him cannot have been in vain.

“Every second woman in Actonville addicted to Stilpane”

Azhar Vadi | The Review | June 2013

Teddy Perumal, an Actonville resident concerned about the abuse of drus

Teddy Perumal, an Actonville resident concerned about the abuse of drugs

A silent drug addiction has been ravaging South African communities. Actonville, Farramere, Northmead and Rynsoord have not been left out.

Classified as a legal concoction of chemicals, the pain relieving, schedule 5 prescription medication has been abused by those in the throes of poverty as well as people with some extra cash to splurge.

While men have been known to indulge, women seem to be particularly susceptible to the entrapments of Stilpane.

Shahida Chothia has been living in Lahore Courts, a set of council flats that form the façade of the Actonville CBD, for the last 21 years. Being an active community worker in The Ekurhuleni municipality and a member of the local ANC branch, she has been at the forefront of trying to rid the community of drug abuse.

Rightfully so, she has identified the rot that has seeped into the lives of so many young people via the nyoepe, mandrax, dagga and cocaine that has been so easily available. But her work in the community has shattered the image of a stereotypical drug user.

“Every second women in Actonville, whether it’s the flats or big houses, they are all on Stilpane. People are not buying a packet of twenty; they are buying bottles of a thousand at a time. I don’t know if it puts them on a high but it makes them very thin. It makes you lose a lot of weight. It kills your kidneys,” said Shahida during an interview at her flat.

While it’s unlikely that one in every two women living in Actonville is an addict, the passion with which she engaged the topic, spoke to the many encounters she has had with victims in the community.

“We have lost so many girls,” she lamented. “I phoned Carte Blanche after a mother came to me crying saying her child died because of the addiction. The girl was 21-years-old and she had a baby of a year. Carte Blanche said they were looking for two mothers to speak to them anonymously. Two days before they were supposed to come and record, the mothers pulled out. That very mother was just as high on Stilpane herself.”

What is Stilpane?

Stilpane is a pain relief medication, registered as schedule 5 drug that contains 320mg of Paracetamol, 8mg of Codeine phosphate, 32mg of Caffeine anhydrous and 150mg of Meprobamate.

Package warnings indicate that, “prolonged continuous use of this medication may lead to dependency and addiction. Paracetamol dosages in excess of those recommended may cause severe liver damage. Prolonged excessive use can cause irreversible kidney damage.”

According to Actonville residents, the drug is readily available at some pharmacies on the East Rand. “Some years ago I was working with a lady from Mayfair. She said to me one day, ‘Shahida, there’s a tablet I need’. The minute she said that, I knew she was talking about Stilpane. Reyhana said the doctors didn’t want to give it to her. I shouldn’t have, but I asked her if she wanted me to go and buy it for her. She wanted R200 worth. I went to one pharmacy and he refused. I knew somebody else who was on Stilpane and I sent her. He sold her the drug.”

Shauneen Beukes, a spokesperson for Aspen Pharmaceuticals, acknowledged that abuse of prescription medicines has been a global concern.

“Addressing the problem requires the co-operation of all healthcare professionals, the pharmaceutical industry and regulators whom collectively have a responsibility to ensure the safe use of medicines by patients who need them.”

Other drug related issues

Cecilia Maiselae is another Actonville flat resident who has taken a stand against drugs in the densely populated structures. Acknowledging the devastating effect of prescription drugs, she insisted that more needed to be done against the illicit substance abuse trade.

She said that while there are many decent police officers at the forefront of the drug battle, there have been some who have been seen in cahoots with drug lords.

“You see a policeman’s car going to a suspect’s house and does not take any action. Even if nobody called him, the policeman likes that house. You can see there’s dealing he’s doing. So, how can we fight crime if the people we trust are the criminals themselves? I can take you to people who have evidence of this but we fear for our lives,” said Cecilia.

“There’s a guy here in the flat, I won’t mention his name. I used to see school children in uniforms. Every morning I would stand by the flat gate until he moved out of the flat to meet the children outside. I think about 85% of children here are on drugs. And it starts with children as young as 12, including girls.”

Teddy Perumal, the chairperson of the Delhi Court Resident’s Association, also identified drugs as a major problem. “In this flat there are a lot of youngsters from the age of 12 to 18 years that are involved in hard drugs like cat, dagga and nyoepe. We see it every day. But one thing I can tell you, in this flat we don’t have any ‘pushers’.”


The Afrocentric Book Review – Survival Training for Lonely Hearts – Elana Bregin

indexBy Saaleha E. Bhamjee | The Review | June 2013

Survival Training for Lonely Hearts, the fourth of Elana Bregin’s published novels, tells the story of Kate, editor at Centaur Press, 43 years old, still single, seeking Mr Right.

To pigeonhole this work and call it chick lit is to diminish it. It was so much more. Lyrical and infused with some of the most delightful turns of phrase I’ve encountered in some time. It is a work that is wise, insightful, witty and often very funny. If I were forced to genre-cise it, I’d call it a work of literary fiction, some parts romance (no, that’s not a dirty word in the world of fiction), some parts social commentary.

Set in Durban, Bregin evokes the sights and smells of the familiar city beautifully. She invites us to look within, examine the little lies we tell ourselves about our own identities and examine our perceived place within the South African society. She challenged my truths about what it means to be South African, made me question how far responsibility for the past rests on the collective and whether all whites in this country should be apologising at all.

In her quest for Mr Right, Kate finds herself on dating websites. Here we are given an insight into the shadowy world of cyber dating. Bregin asks questions about compatibility and what maketh a union.

She tells how being needed and loved unconditionally can sometimes make a lonely heart feel whole. This, Kate discovers the day a Nguni pup enters her life. ‘Inappropriately’ named Jezebel, Kate learns profound lessons about herself through her interactions and relationship, eventual abiding love for the pup.

The characters in the story are finely drawn and brought to life in vivid prose that captures the attention and keeps it, right down to the very last word.

I did have a sense that Bregin’s protagonist, Kate, bordered on overly apologetic, exceedingly politically correct. At some point, during her hunt for the perfect man by playing the Dating Game online, she encounters a Muslim gentleman who informs her of his impending marriage to a near stranger. An arranged marriage, he says.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact that while arranged marriages may be rife in India, in South Africa they’re nearly unheard of; a cliché that the book would have been so much better without.

Let not these slight criticisms detract from the fact that Survival Training for Lonely Hearts is a fantastic addition to the South African literary scene. We are all so much richer for it.