Never go back?
Why not? If I hadn’t returned to the Valley of Desolation, location for my previous experience of NIMART mentoring, how would I have known that those nervous – some of them resistant – professional nurses were confidently managing hundreds of people living with HIV?
A great deal has changed in three years. I’ve compared it to seeing a friend’s children after a long interval: you notice and remark on how they’ve grown. So it’s been in Graaff-Reinet and the surrounding towns’ primary health clinics.
Nthabiseng and Marlene, colleagues then and now; the road to Steytlerville.
When I blogged in September 2011 I cited trombonist Jonas Gwangwa who said of South Africa:
When you plant a seed, it decays a little bit before it grows.  We achieved so much following the end of apartheid. Now we are going through some rot. It is this that bothers us: how long is it going to stay this way before we sprout?
Friday was South Africa’s Human Rights Day, a public holiday commemorating 1960’s Sharpeville Massacre, one of many rotten episodes in the apartheid era. On its first fifteen pages today’s Mail & Guardian documents today’s rot at the top. President Jacob Zuma’s licence to loot is exposed in the public protector’s report into massive inappropriate expenditure of public funds on his personal home. What must the struggle heroes be thinking? With a general election on 7th May, many South Africans crave an end to such rottenness. Even with its leader mired in controversy the ANC seems unassailable: how long many wonder before an end to post-1994 decay?
Returning to the Horseshoe, Kroonvale, Umasizakhe and other clinics where we planted seeds three years ago has been a delight. The tattiness of out of date posters on peeling paint has been replaced by light, bright modern-looking clinics that seem fit for purpose. I’ve been hugged and had my hand shaken by staff that I worked with before. And how some of those seeds have grown. As one nurse said in her interview, “once we were just issuing ART; now it’s comprehensive care”. Such is the progress they’ve closed Ithemba, the antiretroviral clinic at Midland Hospital, Graaff-Reinet. There’s more to do but seeds have sprouted.
Sister Bosch in Umasizakhe Clinic; Nthabi, Vicky, Martin, Dolly – Vicky & Dolly unable to find suitable employment after completing assistant social worker training; Umasizakhe Clinic 2011 & 2014.
If I’d never driven back over the impressive Ravelskloof into Camdeboo I’d never have known. I’ve loved the familiar semi-desert that reveals its springbok, kudu, ostrich in a way that denser bush up north does not. It’s been a week of reunions with guesthouse owners and staff, former colleagues, people – friends – I met along the way; so different from the lonelier weeks living out of a suitcase and speaking to nobody outside working hours. As my Aa’Qtansisi host Ria welcomed me last Sunday, “you’re back home Martin”. I’m so pleased to have had the opportunity to go back.