The effective functioning of local Aids councils can be hampered by something as basic as taxi fare members need to attend meetings. Now one Mpumalanga municipality is giving grassroots activists financial support to help with the basics they need to mobilise, organise and implement the local Aids council’s action plans. Ufrieda Ho reports.
An amount of R120 000 divided up nine ways may not seem like a lot of money.
But the approval of funding for the first time ever to civil society organisations that form part of the Msukaligwa Municipality in Mpumalanga’s local aids council this October is a move in the right direction, activists say.
Sifiso Nkala, chairperson of the civil society sector of this municipality’s Aids council told Spotlight a lack of funds and basic resources is often what stands between good work and even better work that can be done by civil society organisations and activists.
Nkala said without funds activists are often unable to travel to and from meetings, print pamphlets and other documents they need, access the internet or buy airtime – the very basics for communications, engagement and organising.
Every bit helps
Nkala, who is also a community mobiliser for Section27, said funding assistance for civil society organisations has long been overlooked to the detriment of getting grassroots action and strategic planning to fight HIV/Aids off the ground, or to be executed better, or for monitoring and evaluation to improve and strengthen projects.
“The R120 000 will definitely help,” Nkala said.
“We have nine sectors in the civil society cluster [ex-offenders, labour, business, women, men, youth, children, traditional healers and faith-based]. Some sectors work better than others and we know that for some people it’s not working well because they sometimes don’t even have the money to be able to write a report or to travel to attend a meeting.”
The lack of funding for local aids councils shows how many basic elements of the HIV response (as envisaged in the Aids council model) are still not in place.
A province like Mpumalanga where about 15.4% of the population was living with HIV in 2018, according to figures from the Thembisa mathematical model, needs platforms to raise local needs and realities to inform the province’s HIV response.
These Aids councils are important platforms for communities to have their say.
The local aids council is meant to hold quarterly meetings, but they missed two recent sittings – one at the end of 2018 and one in the first quarter of 2019.
Many sectors have been unable to give report backs and to meet deadlines for report submissions.
Apologies for non-attendance, no-shows, missed deadlines, and gaps in meeting reports fill the minutes.
Resolutions amount to little more than more meeting dates, chastisements and setting another round of deadlines.
Planning for underperformance
Councillor Sipho Bongwe from the municipality’s department of planning and economic development is also a member of the local aids council.
He slammed the local Aids council at their October meeting for not being able to move forward from meeting to meeting.
He said the local aids council needed to be more self-critical about being “inconsistent and unstable”.
“We say we are declaring war on HIV/Aids but we are always planning for underperformance,” Bongwe said.
Nkala has in the past also been critical.
“People work in silos and they are not organised,” he said about furthering the aims of the local aids council.
He says it is why the funds that have now been approved will be carefully managed and optimally used.
“It is not about nice-to-haves,” he said, “but basic resources for the activists who have their ears and boots on the ground”.
Sibusiso Sithole, who heads up the local aids council’s ex-offenders sector, complained about the “misinformation” that is given in report-backs in council chambers. He said they don’t reflect reality.
“A correctional services representative has not come to local aids council meetings three times in a row now. When they do come they give false information because there are many people who are dying from TB and HIV/Aids in our prisons,” Sithole said.
Vincent Malatsi, manager for community correction at the department of correctional services in Ermelo, agreed telephonically to respond to Spotlight’s emailed questions but failed to do so after extended deadlines and a number of reminders.
Sithole expressed more concerns.
“The offenders may be able to get medicines while they are in prison but once they are on the outside, it stops and they don’t even know where to go. They’re isolated and discriminated against and we see that they don’t adhere to their treatments during this time,” he said.
Part of this sector’s work focuses on peer education and support.
Sithole said ex-offenders would benefit from a place where they can meet regularly because even though they are living within communities again, they battle with re-integration and socialising with the general population.
Out of touch
For Bongani Dladla, who heads up the youth sector on the local aids council, decisionmakers are out of touch when they remain stuck in their offices and chambers.
He said civil society saw the need to introduce programmes like youth-only clinic hours at some facilities.
“Young people simply don’t have the patience to stand in queues and so they don’t bother to get tested or to pick up their medicines.”
According to estimates from the Thembisa mathematical model HIV prevalence among young women in the province was around 13% in 2018.
The Mpumalanga Aids Council, in turn, noted HIV-infected adolescents and young adults between 15 and 24 years have poorer treatment outcomes than adults.
“Teenage pregnancy is a big problem and so is the tendency of young people not using condoms because they think that if they get sick then they will just go for treatment. Our youth also face growing nyoape problems and high unemployment,” Dladla said.
Despite these concerns Nkala said he will take the positives – like the approved municipal funding for civil society organisations.
“It (the funding) shows that the council does see the value of civil society efforts and understands the role that we play,” he said.
* This article was produced by Spotlight – health journalism in the public interest.