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Situation overview

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: 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 ( 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.