16 Days Of Activism: Meet Nozipho Mpahlana, from Marikana – South Africa

I came from the Eastern Cape looking for a job in 1998 and when I couldn’t find one I sold alcohol until I became a community health worker in the following year. Originally I gave support to those with HIV but I now give support on other conditions too, especially those that require chronic medication like diabetes.

I am based at the clinic here at Wonderkop and it is my job to make sure that people take their treatment. There are many who default on their ARVs, especially young people. They start to take it when they are feeling sick but once they feel better they don’t continue. We are now giving out treatment weekly instead of monthly, after group counselling on a Monday. But even with this the numbers fluctuate; some weeks there are 38 people, some weeks there are 56 people.

I receive a stipend of R1500 for my work as a community health worker. I also get R1000 from Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation every month to provide counselling to people after the massacre. CSVR gave me some training to do this and I am part of an emotional support group. For the most part I have been dealing with how disruptive that time was in 2012 to people’s treatment. People were disturbed after and depressed, making sticking to the regime difficult.

The money I receive is not enough. I have to use it to call people and find out if they are coming to the support group and sometimes I give them transport money when I know they don’t have any. Without this help they won’t be able to get their medication.

One of the biggest contributing factors to people defaulting on their treatment is that they don’t have food. If you have no food you can’t take this medication. One man died after taking his medication long after he ran out of food to take with it. So I do home visits to follow and make sure people had some food to take with the medication. I have often had to reach into my pocket to buy beans and bread so they had something to eat. But things are much better since they started a soup kitchen which has been running since the strike, which I hope will continue.

MaviNozipho Mpahlana (43)


I have a son, he is 22 years old and has a hairdressing saloon in the Eastern Cape. My son is gay. I took him to the doctor, he has been for circumcision but he is still gay. People back home have the same attitude they have here towards gays. They make fun of him but there is no real hostility and they accept him.

There is discrimination here. It is cultural, people are discriminated against by where they are from. I often encounter the attitude from locals here that people from the outside can’t tell them what to do. But still there is tolerance. Generally men tend to stick to seeking out sexual partners from the same culture, more so for the Tswana and then Xhosa men but women date across cultures, apart from the local women of whom very few branch out.

Women don’t fall in love here. “Who is going to give me R1000 if I demand a condom” is a common attitude I encounter when promoting safe sex. They also do the washing and the cleaning and the cooking and the shopping but they must get something for this.

As women we live together here with the locals, the migrants from around South Africa and the immigrants. But the locals have advantages over us, like they have preference for job placements that are available. The migrants don’t have it so good but at least are able to access social grants. It is really hard for the immigrant women, they can access very little support if they don’t have the support of a man.

Oftentimes men leave their women without any support to raise their children. Since the state decided to stop giving mothers tinned milk to encourage breastfeeding, we see many cases of malnutrition especially amongst immigrant women and their children. You can see that these children are not developing properly and early childhood deaths are common.

We try to assist women that are pregnant. If a woman wants an abortion it is relatively easy to do as long as she has a letter she can go to the hospital in Brits, we don’t have facilities here for this at the clinic. Recently a teenager wanted an abortion but her family wouldn’t let her have one so she tried to overdose by taking the ARVs given to a relative. She didn’t die but it shows the desperation.

Domestic violence is very bad here. I was a victim of domestic violence. My work meant I came into contact with other men, who he would get suspicious of and accuse me of cheating and end up beating me. In the meantime he would be with other women and never have any money. It took me five years before I was able to leave him.

Here domestic violence takes place behind closed doors and usually goes up after pay day with fights over money. Even though we live very close to one another there is little intervention by neighbours. They don’t want to be seen as interfering because these women often choose to go back.

There is also child abuse, especially of young girls. There was a ten year old girl that was abused repeatedly by her father. Her older sister and mother were also abused and managed to get out but they left her there and he hurt her so badly she walks with a limp now. You see the level of violence children are exposed to by their behaviour. Often times they will also commit violence and turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with it all.

There is little support for women and children in abusive homes, we don’t have the resources to accommodate those that want to leave so they have no choice but to go back. We didn’t have social workers here before but now after the strike we have three that are coming every day so may be things will improve.

Our healthcare facilities are poor. We have a clinic for the community here for some 27,000 people. There are nine nurses that work here but it’s not enough. There is a doctor that come in one day of the week. The clinic is not open on the weekends or past 4.30 in the afternoon. If there is an emergency then you have to hire a car to get to a hospital. Ambulances won’t come here at night. The same goes for labour; there are no maternity facilities here at the clinic so the woman must be transported to a hospital in Madibeng or Brits.

There is a hospital at the mine but it is only for the miners. I think legal wife and children can be attended to but they must have the same name on a document from home affairs. What happens as a result is that miners pretend to have an illness in order to get medications and they bring these home if someone is ill.

I don’t like my job and I don’t like my life here but I have to stay because I have no other choice. It is very sad doing this work but I feel it is my duty to help and I do what I can. But it is very hard. I have a boyfriend who I have been seeing for about three years. He has to send money home to his wife and family so there are problems. I stay here because there are not enough opportunities in the Eastern Cape. I am not part of Sikhala Sonke but I think it is a good idea that women help themselves.

Please click here  to read more about our series of articles on the Marikana Women.

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