Description of the situation / and associated problems
The main part of the Diocese of Aliwal falls under the Province of the Eastern Cape, where a few communities in the Free State. The Senqu (Sterkspruit) and Emalahleni (Umhlanga) regions were formerly part of the Homeland of Transkei.
The legacy of apartheid-times is still clearly felt in the former home-land areas (marked on the map by ovals). The many scattered villages there are overpopulated. Non-regulated livestock farming contributes to environmental damage, in particular soil erosion. Public transport works on the basis of random/unscheduled minibus taxi services that are unreliable and often unsafe. The region is known to be the least developed and most problematic in terms of social statistics within South Africa (cf: http://www.hsrc.ac.za/ Document-3611.phtml):
When considered province by province, the Eastern Cape had the highest proportion of (HIV) orphans (23.2% [95% CI: 18.9–28.1]).
Economically most of the people, in particular those in the former Transkei areas, live of pensions and social grants. Little production occurs in these areas apart from gardening. Many migrate in order to obtain work in the urban areas such as Johannesburg/Vereeniging, Cape Town or Durban. Aliwal North has two companies who provide labour, a mill (Sasko) and a dairy factory. The remainder of employment opportunities are derived from administrative duties, shops and technical workshops of which there are not many. The farming sector of the vast farm-land areas is reducing its labour-force and hence not a significant employer. The unemployment rate is very high. Most of the Catholics are among the poor. This dis-empowers the local church to a considerable degree through the lack of local financial resources (e.g. through church dues) to run projects on its own. Emigration in particular affects the economic power of the region. Those who are educated and able to generate income leave the region in large numbers. Poverty is and will remain a big problem in the area.
Most of the Catholics are black Africans, Xhosa or Sotho, with very few white and some coloured people in townships of Aliwal North, Burgersdorp, Bethulie, Indwe. In recent times immigrants from China, India, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Malawi have arrived in Aliwal North. A pastoral approach has not been challenged by such developments and traditionally focuses on the local black population which needs widening and new strategies put into effect.
A special problem is the family situation. While the traditional system of clans is still functioning, the core families of father, mother and children are almost non-existent. Studies comparing the different sections of society indicate that children of African families are disadvantaged in their development compared to their peers from families with European background. Most of the children are born out of wedlock (in 2009 in one parish 42 of 72 baptised children were born out of wedlock which is still a good ratio, another one had 14 baptisms and 13 had no father). They grow up in single parent families, with their grand-mothers or other extended family members. Teenage pregnancies are widespread. The orphans mostly of HIV/AIDS affected mothers need special attention.
The few families consisting of married couples are struggling and are in need of support. The diocese in total had seven weddings in 2009. An awareness of the importance of a Christian (Catholic) marriage as witness and nucleus for proper formation of children and of commitment is virtually non-existent.
Those local people in a position to do so tend to migrate elsewhere in search of education and employment. This is a reality that persists even after the end of the apartheid era with its forced migration. Now it is the search for jobs and education. The Eastern Cape is the province with the highest emigration rate within South Africa (www.statssa.gov.za/publications/ P0302/P03022009.pdf). The northern Eastern Cape where the Diocese of Aliwal is located is especially affected due to poor infrastructure.
Cultural practices are already changing in the rural areas. Migration affects the stabilizing factor of culture in a considerable way. The Church is challenged to actively offer an inculturated new culture which assists people to live in dignity.
Traditionally it was women who stayed at home. Now even though more of them migrate to the urban, metropolitan areas they still provide a valuable resource of human skills, and it is the poorly skilled and educated men who remain in this area. This leaves the region with a considerable number of gifted women. The pool of women’s talents can be better used and trained for small business and jobs. They need further formation and skills training to become self-reliant by developing their own vision for becoming (self-) employed and developing the skills for this.
The local hospitals and clinics provide basic services but leave a lot to be desired. Private hospitals do not exist in the area. HIV/AIDS and virus diseases such as TB are prevalent. Clinics, hospices and home-based-care programmes especially those undertaken by the diocese try all the time and under very difficult circumstances to provide services. The diocese runs eight HIV/AIDS hospices or home based care centres. These centres consists of 60 care-givers who are in need of training and spiritual accompaniment.
Many services are poorly developed, in particular the health service and the schooling system. The failure rate at the annual final school-exams is depressingly high. The causes are many, among them lack of motivation among teachers and students, poor equipment and management.
Sport facilities are poorly developed. This reduces the attractiveness of outdoor activities. It has an effect on the social life of the youth and the scope of their choices – which may often then include drinking in shebeens and personal relationships.
Crime finds fertile ground in this poverty stricken area. Children and youth, as mentioned above, are reported to commit domestic crime e.g. by stealing or violently demanding their share of the pension paid to their grand parents, sometimes even accompanied with murder. Sex-crime is becoming prevalentwith under age prostitution and human trafficking, especially of girls. In this case agents exploit even naïve parents with “job-offers” for their children, a phenomenon that increased in the run-up to the FIFA worldcup 2010.
Violence in schools is a specific form of crime as is the abuse of children in their homes. The lack of proper role models and people in authority lead to an increase in crime among young people, aggravated by the abuse of alcohol and drugs.
The Second Synod for Africa emphasised once again the importance of Justice & Peace structures. The empowerment of particularly SCCs (Small Christian Communities) in this regard is a remaining challenge despite the efforts already undertaken. The commitment of SCCs (as expression of the Church as the Family of God) provides a space for experiences in commitment which are otherwise missing for many young people.
In the follow up of the Synod for Africa a stronger emphasis was put on developing prison ministries. Some parish-communities have already become involved in these ministries. It is planned to have more training and formation in this area for various stakeholders, the volunteers and even prison wardens of whom quite a number are Catholic. There are six prisons in the Diocese of Aliwal North, the largest in Goedemoed between Aliwal North and Bethulie. The prisons have endemic problems of overcrowding and inhumane conditions. Rape is wide spread, as are gang crimes within the prisons.
The delivery of services is generally affected by the geographical conditions. While the west of the diocese consist mainly of wide farmland plains, the areas of the former homeland of Transkei are mountainous and difficult to access. The roads are mostly dust-roads. Their conditions changes with weather.
Corruption and poor service delivery are a common feature in the area.
Regarding youth and children:
Many children grow up with poor supervision and formation. Many of them are from single-parent families, and even their (often under-age) mothers are not always present in their lives. Others grow up in child headed households. This affects their human formation. There is a widespread lack of domestic values and norms.
The lack of male role models in the home (it is a “fatherless” society) has an impact on the behaviour of boys. There is nobody to teach them how a “real” man behaves. So they are assuming a merely imagined role of men and acting it out to the detriment of girls. An almost “omnipotent” macho behaviour is not uncommon.
Workshops with the youth revealed that they are familiar with the phenomenon of human trafficking. It occurs in our area and apparently increasingly so during the run-up to the FIFA worldcup. Poverty leads also to common prostitution e.g. in shebeens, informal taverns. At times this prostitution is supported by parents who hope to get their share of the income generated in this way.
The failure rate in schools is very high, the quality of teaching and learning very low. This reduces the learners chances of further education and future employment. Basic skills are missing such as mathematics and simple calculations which would be essential for the development of businesses. A statistical observation indicates that girls, though weak in the first years of schooling, perform significantly better than boys when it comes to secondary education.
The parishes of the diocese have a number of crèches / kindergardens. Some of them are spontaneous creations. These indicate the need for such institutions and the people responding to it; the quality of infrastructure and personnel, however, is questionable. The standards at these crèches need to be developed as well as their equipment. They are meant to make a difference but often are unable to do so. The principal of the Holy Cross Primary school confirms the bad state of early childhood education and formation: Many children who ask for admission to the school cannot count, do not to discern colours and cannot jump. She deplores a lack of standards and commitment at crèches. Children appear to be merely dumped at the crèches should provide a proper foundation for schooling.
A recent survey done by Siyabhabha (Caritas South Africa) unearthed a number of issues that need to be addressed with regards to crèches. The staff requires urgent attention. Those among them trained by the Department for Social Development fare are much better than those who have not received such training. Further training is needed for the crèche teachers. Moreover they are in need of overcoming their solitude and lack of exchange of ideas and peer evaluation and development.
The Sisters of the Holy Cross run a primary school in Aliwal North which is doing very well. Two former Catholic secondary schools were transformed into Public Schools on Private Property. These schools are meant to have a Catholic ethos and an approach that targets commitment to the poor. Both of these approaches are scarcely visible. Bishop Demont School in Aliwal North is notoriously weak, and has no Catholic Teachers at present. Teresa School in the former Transkei had pass rates below 20%, which increased to 78% in 2009. School governing bodies need to develop their competence in essentially co-running the schools. Despite their contractual obligation of developing and maintaining a Catholic ethos scarcely any of this is happening. The co-operation between diocese and schools with their few Catholic teachers needs attention.
The School Committee of the Diocese identified further critical areas in school-life. The number of suicides is increasing and the capacity for dealing with this crisis by way of teachers, learners and homes does not exist. Rare beneficient experiences do exist with students who have been trained to detect signs of change in the behaviour of their peers.
Those students who do well at school leave the area to pursue further, tertiary education or search for jobs. Their lives are affected by migration and the insertion into an entirely different environment where the traditional cultural patterns, as worn out as they are, don’t provide support anymore. They would need support by preparing them for migration.
The abuse of drugs is increasing in schools. External indication of this is given by is the dog units of the South African Police Service searching Bishop Demont School. The most common drugs are mandrax, cocaine and dagga (local marihuana). Apart from combating the immediate use, the search for the root-causes is necessary so that they can be addressed. Poverty and missing perspectives for the future are certainly a main contributor as are the domestic abuse of alcohol and broken down family life. The unruly strikes in August/September 2010 in the public service sector are an indication of strong social tensions due to the huge gap between the poverty of many and the incredible salaries that the “haves” receive.
There is strong influx of Chinese and other traders. The local people do not get involved. This indicates the lack of basic skills to start some business using their own initiation. Even basic mathematical skills are extremely underdeveloped. The attitude towards the development of a venture among young people is in urgent need of development.
Facilities for spare time are scarcely available often leading to boredom and related consequences. The local branch of the Department of Sports complains that appropriate facilities for sports are not available which would allow for consistent training without the usual distractions such as taverns and bottle stores.
Many young people drop out of school. Significant number are drawn into drug and substance abuse. This leads repeatedly to instances of violence and domestic violence. Children rob their grandparents of their pension. Murders occur at such occasions.
Young people grow into a prevailing mentality of entitlement that leads to a lack of initiative. In regard to employment many look for jobs instead of starting their own small business. The poor outcome of the schooling system and e.g. missing basic mathematical skills increases this problem. Creative thinking regarding opportunities and carrying them out is scarce. This needs long term attention. Authors like Mampela Ramphele point out that policies presenting the government as service provider have the inherent danger of conditioning people into the role of mere recipients of handouts instead of enabling them to take initiatives on their own.
HIV/AIDS is a long-term problem. Much is done especially by the Church to address the issue in peer education reaching out to schools. The sustainability of such approaches needs attention. Young people are involved. The services extend to home based care and care of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs).
Lack of infrastructure among other factors affects the leisure time of the youth. In the townships many are idle. There is nowhere they could find assistance in homework and incentives to further learning.
Doubtless one strength of the young people lies in their love of singing, choirs and music competitions. Skills development and creativity can still be further developed in this area.
The Farm of Mount Carmel:
The farm of Mount Carmel was a donation to the Sisters of the Holy Cross (Menzinger Sisters). The original intention of the donor was that it should serve the old sisters and be used as a place of formation. Due to dwindling numbers of sisters the congregation decided to offer the farm to the diocese. An adjacent second farm, also in their possession was handed over to the farm workers in cooperation with the provincial department for land affairs within the process of land redistribution.
The Diocese chief concern is to be faithful to the wishes of the original donor. The care of old sisters will only be part of the future, as elderly sisters will find Mount Carmel to be a tranquil place for retreats or other functions.
The Diocese of Aliwal within the province of the Eastern Cape
The Diocese of Aliwal has no centre for formation. Groups, associations and other organizations have to travel far if they want to convene bigger gatherings. This necessitates the organization and financing of transport to centres like Pallotti Farm (in the Diocese of Queenstown) or Assisi (in the Archdiocese of Bloemfontein) for distances between 180 and 220 km from Aliwal. (from other communities within the diocese the distances are still longer) and relate to the loss of valuable time.
The diocese has a longstanding tradition of leadership training and formation and of building and maintaining Small Christian Communities. It follows the Pastoral Plan of the Church in Southern Africa of 1989, “Community Serving Humanity.” While some think that this plan was designed for fighting the situation of Apartheid, it is still a major concern to serve the development of humanity in the aftermath of apartheid. Formation is very much at the heart of the diocese. This includes concern for the general formation and education of the population as a response to the poor school situation already indicated above. The formation aspect goes further to human formation and skill training which may in future also include simple professional skills.
The farm Mt Carmel will serve the formation and education in particular of the youth as well as, youth-related adults and adults in general. It will also provide for the diocesan staff for planning and implementing the mission of the local church, following the Pastoral Plan, Community Serving Humanity. This will contribute to the general development, including the pressing need of alleviation of poverty.
The diocese has 15 active priests serving the communities which are scattered over the vast area. In it efforts towards becoming more self-reliant the diocese works with many community- (lay-) leaders that need ongoing training and formation. In terms of finances some steps were achieved to improve locally raised funds. With the small number of Catholics – recent polls indicate a number probably below 25000 – the diocese is challenged to design a new pastoral outreach policy that is sustainable. This will begin in 2011 and will take some years to achieve success.. The senate of the diocese – the assembly of priest and animation-pastoral workers – will facilitate this process.