Majola and the battle for justice

2017-07-06 06:00
KTC Day Hospital staff picketed after the slaying of Andile Magama on May 7PHOTO: mbongiseni maseko

KTC Day Hospital staff picketed after the slaying of Andile Magama on May 7PHOTO: mbongiseni maseko

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Social activist Mandla Majola has a good story to tell. After all, he is back in his own backyard, in Gugs, having spent the greater part of his activism working in Khayelitsha, with the Treatment Action Campaign, to be precise.

Most people may not realise this, but he is already making whoopee and kicking some dust while raising the sugar levels of others. Nay, their HBP’s. For the good of all, of course.

It goes like this: In September 2016, after taking a bird’s eye view of the happenings around Kasi, he hit a light-bulb moment. Majola founded the Movement for Change and Social Justice (MCSJ), and had his work cut out for him. Eureka!

I digress; On Sunday, his organisation, MCSJ will be taking to the streets of Gugulethu to raise awareness around pertinent issues that seem to bedevil the rest of the country: Women and child abuse, femicide and rape. Gender violence. And real men are invited to the march, which will commence from the old Fezeka Municipal building to the Gugulethu police station. Majola and the JL Zwane Church seem to have found common ground in these kinds of activities. They will be marching together.

After hospital porter Andile Magama was slain as he was waiting for a taxi home at the end of his shift one Sunday in May, his colleagues raised their ire and concerns about the risk of working at the KTC Day Hospital. They marched around the precinct, raising awareness about their woes. Nobody seemed to take notice.

Then on May 24, the JL Zwane Church and the MCSJ marched to the local police station to demand, among others the installation of a mobile police kiosk next to the KTC Day Hospital.

And voilà, there is one right next to the clinic. It seems new Deputy Police Minister Bongani Mkongi has his ears on the ground. He is also from Gugs. A new broom always sweeps clean, they say. Everybody takes notice.

Service delivery has a pulse and a heartbeat of its own.

Residents of Gugulethu have been raising their concerns about the issues of crime around the clinic for ages until now.

Majola works for UCT’s School of Public Health and they are mostly concerned with health education and research in men’s health, to be exact, which platform has accorded him the space to see things differently from the rest of us. Add to this years of working with HIV/Aids infected individuals in Khayelitsha. Most people remember him as the lesser half of the duo of Vuyiseka Dubula and Mandla Majola.

He and Vuyiseka became famous for working hard to break the stigma of Aids in the townships. The JL Zwane Church is somewhat of a legend on these issues, as it was the place to go for all sufferers of the disease. Vuyiseka and Mandla are still together, thank you very much.

What really was the driving force behind starting MCSJ, I ask.

“Men’s health,” he says. And a host of other issues.

Majola,46, had observed during their research into this matter that most men who received their Aids or chronic medication from the KTC Day Hospital tended to default, and they went around asking why this was so.

“They said the pharmacy at the clinic was dysfunctional, that on average, it took up to three days before they could lay their hands on the prescribed medication.”

So MCSJ, Sonke Gender Justice, TAC, Parent Centre, Grassroots and other social movements banded together to confront the problem head-on.

Thus a meeting was arranged between these and the facility manager to find a solution to this problem.

“This explained why a lot of people defaulted. Because the system in place then was failing them, and people could not afford to come to the clinic every other day for their medication.”

Fortunately, the manager was very cooperative and they sat down to resolve the issues.

“Among the testimonies was that of an epileptic who had been deprived of medication for two days and whose employer refused to release him any longer.”

“The manager, in turn, hired a pharmacy manager and an assistant to reorganise the chemist and things went back to order and everybody seems happy ever after,” Majola states.

Then it was on to the dental clinic at the corners of NY1-NY3. Majola said for years, dental patients have had to wake up as early as 3am in order to secure a place at the chair of the dentist, as the clinic could take only about 30 people per day, and that on Wednesdays, the clinic was totally closed for services.

“In the most brutal of Cape winters, our people had to brave the cold and the rain just to have a tooth extracted. The clinic provided no shelter or cover for even our most senior of citizens.”

Majola says in desperation, the people had even devised a system of marshals who demanded R30,00 upfront in order to stand in the queue as proxies.

The clinic thought they could resolve the problem by introducing a system of numbers, which also meant that those with non-severe toothaches could sell their spots to those with much painful teeth.

The result was that about 75% of the patients were turned away ... “Everyday, this harrowing scene played itself out. Which meant that the indigent were at the receiving end of this dysfunctionality.”

Majola says, however, when they confronted the authorities with these facts, they were indignant, denying any existence of the cartels.

“It was the easiest of challenges(to tackle), we collected data from the people who were the most affected by this recklessness and assault to their dignity.”

The result was a resounding victory for their demands that with a second doctor, the pressure would be alleviated and that the clinic can operate for five days a week, first come, first served.

“But we still monitor the situation for any slips in the system.”

The issue of condoms and sanitary pads in schools is a contentious one, especially the first. Most civil organisations have a different take to sexuality, morality and ethics than their counterparts in government. Even though the church does not push the stance of abstinence as vehemently as they used to, some schools have taken the conservative route to other levels.

For instance, Gugulethu has only three high schools, and when Majola and his organisation broached the idea of condom distribution and sex education to school heads, they hit a brick wall.

The irony, he says, was that when they sold the same idea to school principals in Khayelitsha, the concept was accepted wholehearterdly. Speak of enlightenment.

“In 2016 only, about 19 school girls terminated their pregnancies, and the statistics have proven that these kids know less about sexuality because they are under informed, but the principals would hear nothing of it.”

Even the request to have nurses to educate learners about their sexuality was turned down. Meanwhile, the infection rate is highest amongst high school learners in Gugulethu schools, Majola avers.

“According to the SGB and the principals, parents would look like they are promoting sex among learners, but the downside is that parents expect teachers to teach their children about these things.”

Black people always hide behind culture to deprive their children of knowledge, which is tragic, he says.

“Religion, idealism and culture are the tragic boundaries that are a stumbling block to present day realities,”.

In Khayelitsha, he says, parents seem to have embraced reality and have had a change of mindset, despite their rustic backgrounds.

Majola adds that his biggest concern is people or men who default on their medication.

“Some call it ‘treatment holiday’ or ‘pill fatigue’. Soon their bodies become resistant to the treatment on retake.

“If they can only remember the effort, blood and sweat some of us put into the Struggle to acquire treatment, because antiretrovirals have not always been available to those who needed treatment,”

He says so because he knows that his TAC activism was linked to the presidency of Thabo Mbeki, who wanted nothing to do with making the tablets available, leading to the unnecessary deaths of countless of our country men and women.

“Gugs will come right, we need to work together.” he adds.

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