Obituary: Zanele Mkhwanazi, community health activist and storyteller

2008-07-06 00:00

Zanele Mkhwanazi, who died recently aged 33, was born in and spent her childhood in Ndawana, a remote village near the Coleford Nature Reserve, 45 km from Underberg.

As a community worker, she became an important figure in the Underberg district, a reputation attested to by the large number of people of different races, tribal groupings and nationalities who attended her funeral in recognition of her humanity and her generosity in sharing skills, resources and expertise with the community.

In 2001, as an HIV/Aids volunteer in the Women’s Leadership and Training Programme, Mkhwanazi cared for people living with Aids in Ndawana.

The mobile clinic was poorly equipped and she often made purchases for the sick out of her own limited means.

Finally, in desperation, she wrote to the Mountain Echo in Underberg, describing the poor health conditions in the district, and in so doing helped create a constructive partnership between Canadian charities and the people of Ndawana.

At the time of her death, Mkhwanazi worked for Edzimkulu (Edmonton-Umzimkulu), the organisation she founded with Canadians Jim and Chris Newton, who paid tribute to her.

“In January 2004, Zanele introduced us to Chief Zala and Chief Mohlaoli. She helped choose team members and was a part of everything that has happened since, building the community centre, starting programmes in health, orphan support and education. She was always there with the people of Ndawana, showing us and South Africa how we can make a difference to those affected by HIV/Aids. Her Edzimkulu family of over 100 Canadian volunteers and more than 40 South African employees mourns her.”

Among the milestones in Mkhwanazi’s short life was meeting indigenous people from all over the world in Durban before the World Parks Congress in 2003 and travelling to Canada with two of her colleagues in 2006 to work with the people of Edmonton, and to make a presentation at the World Aids Conference in Toronto.

Among her gifts was storytelling, and in 2003 she won the The Witness “True Stories of KwaZulu-Natal” writing competition with an account of her grandmother, Makhulomhlophe, a San Bushman from Lesotho. She worked closely with anthropologist Frans Prins and geneticist Himla Soodyall to help people discover and reclaim their San Bushman heritage. She is survived by her 10-year-old son Mhlengi, four sisters and a brother.

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