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AIDS IN AFRICA: A desperate situation

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (BP)–Miles of shacks built from bits of tin, wood and cardboard hunch shoulder to shoulder amid subsistent living conditions, often exacerbated by the AIDS/HIV epidemic. A stone’s throw away, large shopping malls and suburban homes loom large. Cape Town, clinging to the tip of Africa, stands as a microcosm of the wealth and poverty of South Africa.

It is the wealthiest country in Africa, but that wealth is disproportionately held at the top end of the financial spectrum. The richest 6 percent of South Africans earn 40 percent of all income received, while the poorest 40 percent earn a mere 4 percent.

Consider these facts about the disparity in South Africa:

— The average white household earns six times the income of the average black household.

— Unemployment is six times higher in black communities -– more than 41 percent do not have jobs.

— 57 percent of South Africans live below the poverty level, earning approximately $120 per month; more than half earn less than $500 a year.

— HIV/AIDS infects more than 28 percent of the country’s people; nine of 10 cases afflict people living in townships around the cities.

— Only 52 percent in South Africa complete school.

Shacks small enough to fit comfortably inside the average American kitchen offer little to no protection from the elements in townships and squatter camps surrounding Cape Town.

Children wander aimlessly in the streets, playing in the dust with sticks. Teenagers hang out in streets teeming with gang violence and drug abuse. Most men roam the streets looking for work or raiding trash cans for anything usable. Many turn to alcohol.

These conditions spawn substance abuse, prostitution, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies, all of which proliferate the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The townships are a holdover from the apartheid system, in which the white South African government restricted people to residential “islands.” When apartheid ended, so did most of the government services in the townships. People moved together as communities and built squatters’ camps wherever they could find vacant land, usually around the townships.

Less than five minutes away, white people with incomes of $10,000 or more dominate the city’s wealthy side. Only about 7 percent of the residents are unemployed and fewer than 10 percent are infected by HIV/AIDS. Also, 82 percent of these South Africans complete school.

In these affluent neighborhoods, people live in spacious homes with an average of two rooms per person. There are plenty of clean, beautifully decorated stores and restaurants, many with waterfront views. Barred windows and gates around suburban houses are reminders of the crime that has escalated in Cape Town as the city has grown from 700,000 to more than 4 million people.

Here, missionaries partner with local Christians in a desperate struggle to share the hope of the Gospel amid the realities of a seemingly hopeless situation.
Katherine Kipp is a junior journalism and English writing major at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

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  • Katherine Kipp