Aids grannies’ lifeline cut off

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The telephone lines at Grandmothers Against Poverty and AIDS (GAPA) are down and as a result they cannot receive calls from donors or potential donors. Pictured left to right is Nomfusi Grace Memani, Nosibongiseni Tsusane, Sylvia Ngewa and Nozukile Gusha. Picture: David Ritchie

Cape Town - For most Aids relief NGOs, an endorsement from the likes of international pop star and activist Annie Lennox is a break that brings unprecedented international exposure.

Yet for Grandmothers Against Poverty and Aids (Gapa), Lennox’s public pledge of support last week could not have come at a worse time – for a little over a month, the Khayelitsha organisation’s phone lines (and e-mail) have been down.

Telkom has said it is working on the problem, which it attributes to cable theft. But Vivienne Budaza, Gapa’s director, has not heard from the service provider in more than a week.

“This is a nightmare and Telkom just isn’t getting back to me,” Budaza told the Cape Argus on Thursday.

“The phone is the key to our organisation. We are accountable to our donors, so communication is very important. And if supporters and donors cannot contact us, we lose out on the materials and the funding that we need. Every phone call missed feels like a million rand down the drain.”

What is most frustrating for them is that a caller to the office hears a phone ringing without answer, even though there is no registration of the call on the other side.

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Annie Lennox performs at the Cape Town Stadium. Photo: David Ritchie/Cape Argus

David Ritchie

“You know how these things go – NGOs are always going under. Callers either think that Gapa is lazy and not answering, or that we no longer exist. It is very frustrating.”

Gapa provides psycho-social support for grandmothers who have been affected by HIV/Aids. As a generation of young mothers and fathers die prematurely because of Aids, the burden of care for orphans often falls on the grandparents left behind.

Gapa’s work, coupled with financial support from donors and professionals who donate their time and expertise, the organisation provides a space where grandmothers can come to learn skills and ask for help. There are skills training workshops, crafts making programmes, a vegetable garden and an aftercare where the grandmothers look after children during the afternoons. The organisation also provides legal and psychological support.

In 2009, journalist Jo-Anne Smetherham and photographer Eric Miller teamed up to document the organisation. Two years later a photo exhibition, The Nevergiveups, along with written profiles of the grandmothers, opened at the District Six Museum. The exhibition travelled to the US last year where a book of photos and stories by the same name was launched.

Lennox was impressed by the book and posted some of the stories on her Facebook page last week. The reaction was overwhelming. Her last post, accompanied by a photo, detailed her meeting Gapa grandmother Alicia Mdaka. It received more than 14 000 likes, 350 comments and was shared around 1 000 times. “I sent a message to the contact e-mail address on their website, asking how to donate from the US. Haven’t heard back yet,” said one of Lennox’s fans.

“I never would have heard about this if it weren’t posted here… hmm… who knew,” commented another.

Telkom spokesman Pynee Chetty took Budaza’s complaint reference number and promised to investigate. However, he said that a disrupted service owing to cable theft was out of Telkom’s control and that the company was also a victim of crime.

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Cape Argus


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