By Zona Mpendulo
Sitting on the back seat of the taxi on my way home on Friday, bored stiff, I took out this small book that caught my attention at the Treatment Literacy Project (TLP?) office earlier that day. It's bright yellow, with a bold print: "KNOW YOUR RIGHTS".
As I went through it one 'right' caught my attention: "THE RIGHT TO A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT: everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being (section 24)".
Sounds good doesn't it? Who wouldn't want to live in a country that grants them amongst many, that right? Is that right protected? I don't have to ponder or dig any deeper because clearly it's not. How did I come to that conclusion you ask?
Well, not so long ago with my fellow comrade Masi, we did a story on a brave woman from Lusikisiki by the name of Nonkqubela Ngcanga. Born and bred in Mvimvana location, Nonkqubela has never felt the splash of fresh, clean tap water against her skin, let alone tasted it. Yet like all South Africans she supposedly has a right to a healthy environment.
The water in Mvimvana location, and any village in Lusikisiki, is not for human consumption. People share streams with livestock, while they use it for laundry, bathing and drinking. While filming Nonkqubela's story, she took us to the places where she encountered issues because of the water problem. Her legs have gruesome scars as a result of drinking and washing with the unclean water.
What's the good of washing down ARVs with filthy water? The same water she uses to take her treatment is the very same water she has to bathe with, cook her food with. She tells me she believes her skin problems will never go away because the cycle just goes on and on. She gets sick, goes to the clinic and then comes back to use the same water for treatment while it is the cause of the problem. This was also confirmed by a doctor in the area, Dr Maharaj.
During filming, I went to the river with Nonkqubela. Not only is it far, but it's dangerous for a person carrying a bucket full of water to walk in such a place. I don't know how many times I almost slipped and fell. On our way to the river, I asked Nonkqubela if there is anything being done by the local counselor about the water problem. She showed me a cement tank with water from the last time it rained -- lord knows when that was. There weren't any pipes so the water in the tank is not different from that in the stream. The green "frog blankets" as she calls them are even thicker, with a strong khaki colour. Just looking at it made my stomach turn, I can't even imagine how it would have felt if I drank it.
She is quiet, but she’s a fighter
With that in mind I still had to be wary of not making things worse for her as my opinion was just an opinion - it wouldn’t bring about any change in the situation, and I also try not to make her feel even worse than she already does. I tried to put myself in her shoes, as uncomfortable as they were. I felt the unconditional love, the never questioning heart, but yet the fighter in her.
She tells us how she fought to be given ARV treatment. The minute she starts talking about the day she burst into the doctor's room at the local clinic with her skirt rolled up to her waist to show the sores on her legs, the fighter in her just couldn't hide away anymore. The shy Pondo girl who wouldn't even look a person in the eye in the name of respect just vanished. That 'right' she knows and fought for it. It seems that the one of a healthy environment has still not occurred to her. Or does she even know she possesses it? She feels running water is a privilege only to be enjoyed by people in the cities.
After talking to her and explaining to her that it is one of her many rights to get running water, we could see that she wasn't going to complain about the water problem, but she was going to take a stand against this disregard of her right. Even though we didn't come to Nonkqubela with litres of clean water to last her a lifetime, nor did we come with pipes to bring running water to her, we did tell about her right.
Being the fighter that she is, I am certain that after this a change is going to come for Mvimvana location, not from "people from the city with cameras" as the locals called us, but from one of their own, Nonkqubela!
Zona Mpendulo is a Community Journalist working on the TV programme, Siyayinqoba/Beat It!, which screens on SABC1 every Thursday at 13h30. It is repeated on Soweto TV, CTV (Cape Town) and Bay TV (Richards Bay-Empangeni) each Saturday at 11am. The show can also be viewed at www.beatit.co.za