Duration:5 min 39 sec


Women singing a hymn’€¦

KHOPOTSO: This is a fortnightly gathering of the SEF women held in Ga-Mothodi, a small rural village outside Burgersfort, on the Mpumalanga-Limpopo border. For the last three years a number of women from eight villages in these areas have benefited from a community intervention study using micro-finance as a key driver. The study, called IMAGE or Intervention with Micro-finance for AIDS and Gender Equity, is a collaboration between the Department of Health, the Small Enterprise Foundation, which the women call SEF, and the University of the Witwatersrand’€™s Rural AIDS and Development Action Research programme. Dr Julia Kim, founder member of the IMAGE project, explains what is so different about this study.

DR JULIA KIM: You find that a lot of the approaches are very bio-medical. They focus primarily on things like vaccines, medications, or very technical solutions to the problem. But if you speak to people in South Africa and you look at why the HIV epidemic is taking off in the way that it has, it has much more to do with social conditions: poverty for one thing, economic inequalities within the country, gender inequalities.

KHOPOTSO: Under the programme women are provided with small loans ranging from R500 ‘€“ R1 000 for income generation programmes. For most of them it is their first time to ever earn an income. Ophelia Qobongwana, a mother of two school-going children, has been a member for three years and has received four loans to date. She now runs a small business selling fruits and vegetables as well as second-hand clothes.

OPHELIA QOBONGWANA: Haaish’€¦ Ungathi bekufik’€™ ifly-machine lapha kimi ngoba ingithole ngihlupheka’€¦ Bengiphelelwa amavili wamadola ukuklina la etindlini tetintanga tami. Maar kutekufika lomkgatlo we-SEF nga-joyina. Ngitiva ngiumlungu ngalendlela bengingayo ngoba ngiyathengisa, ngibamba le mali, ngiyalala. Bebathi kunogesi. Ngiyibukele ngingazi ukuthi igesi ngingaba nayo langihlala khona. Kepha ngamandla we-SEF nginegesi ekhaya lami’€¦ Ngemandla e-SEF ngiyadla. Abantwana bami bebabulawa indlala. Bengi hluleka nokubhadala kwa-school fees. Manje lapha esikolweni mabathi school fees, ngithi’€¦ ngineplan mos.                                  


When SEF came into my life it was like a fly machine. I used to be very poor. My knees were getting weak because of kneeling down and cleaning people’€™s houses – some of them my age. But after joining SEF I feel like a madam. I now have a business, I earn an income and I can even sleep well. I used to see electricity in people’€™s houses. Never did I know that one day I would also have it. But today, I have electricity in my home. Because of SEF I can now eat well. My children were dying of hunger. I couldn’€™t even pay their school fees. But now when the school says pay up, I know I have a plan.

KHOPOTSO: For Ophelia there’€™s no turning back. The micro-finance scheme has breathed new life into her. But it wasn’€™t always like that. At first, there was resistance from the women when words like condom, sex, penis, vagina and HIV were mentioned in the same breath as micro-finance. But in the 18 months the programme has been running attitudes have changed. For Elsie Mamphoke, this bold and frank approach to issues still widely viewed as cultural taboos in some pockets of South African society has helped her solve the inter-generational communication problem between her and her children.

ELSIE MAMPHOKE: Ge o ko robala ka re ‘€˜Ei, Katlego, nneletse condom moo’€¦’€™ Ke no e beha ka bomo gore a tla a tsebe gore selo se se a berekiswa’€¦ ‘€˜Ene o mphe tse pedi goba tse tharo.’€™ Ke ra o a tseba gore ba tlo tiana ga ka, ga raro’€¦ Ke gore ke no phazamisa a dule a tsebe gore nthoe e a soma.


When I go to sleep, I’€™d call out to my elder son and say, ‘€˜Katlego, bring me a condom there.’€™ I usually put them where he will see them. ‘€˜And bring me two or three.’€™ I know he will think that we are going to do it this much, she says, with her three right fingers in the air – three times. I really want to drum it into his head that he must always use a condom.

KHOPOTSO: Elsie Mamphoke says the secret is out. Parents also have sex. And everybody must be protected. The programme also addresses issues of domestic violence, rape and gender inequality. The women have also become peer educators and sought-after counsellors in their communities. Through education the IMAGE programme aims to make long-lasting changes in the community and to the behaviour of rural women. But this is treading on sensitive ground, where others might cry erosion of tradition and culture. Lulu Ndlovu is a Gender Trainer with the Rural AIDS and Development Action Research programme.

LULU NDLOVU: With the training we’€™re hoping to’€¦ maybe not completely change culture, but adjust certain tunes.

KHOPOTSO: The programme, specifically targeting women and using money as the main driver in the campaign is just one of many ways aimed at preventing the spread of HIV infection. But the question remains.

How does the economic empowerment of women enhance their ability to negotiate safer sex or to reduce their risk of contracting HIV? Zanele Hlatshwayo works with the Women’€™s Health Project, in Johannesburg.

ZANELE HLATSHWAYO: Economic independence is very, very powerful. And you find that in our society it’€™s used as a tool to reward or punish people, particularly in a relationship. There are very high levels of poverty in South Africa. So, those women who are not employed or who are not engaged in income generation projects find it very, very difficult to negotiate for safer sex’€¦ If the partner does not want to use a condom it’€™s very unlikely that the woman will be able to convince him to use a condom. So, in that instance you find women engaging in unprotected sex, just so that they can get financial rewards, either to use the financial reward for the family or themselves in their own right. So, there’€™s a very strong between HIV/AIDS and financial independence.

E-mail Khopotso Bodibe