I met an activist today. Activist with a capital “A” because this man, Mandla Majola has created changed in his community and throughout South Africa. When I first found out I was going to South Africa with GCP, I was immediately excited for what I would learn about social justice here. Only a few decades removed from apartheid, South Africa still has many social issues that are being addressed.
This morning, we talked to Mandla about his work with the Treatment Action Campaign, an organization that works to prevent and treat HIV. He got involved in this movement because he had an aunt pass away from AIDS. When his aunt died, his family would not admit that she had AIDS, even though Mandla found paperwork from the clinic with her diagnosis. He worked to save lives at a time when HIV was so highly stigmatized that indicated promiscuity, a punishment from God for having sex before marriage.
Mandla has moved from the Treatment Action Campaign to other social justice work in South Africa, addressing new issues as they arise. He has so much to say and has a tireless desire for action. When asked what keeps him motivated, he spoke about how he cannot walk away when he sees people struggling and pretend it has nothing to do with him. We can all learn something from Mandla.
I have been surprised daily to see how many parallels there are between what is happening in the United States. In Mandla’s township of Khayelitsha, they are dealing with housing, water, and sanitation issues as well as unemployment, crime, and sexual assault. The poorest people in Cape Town have access to the fewest resources. The political system is corrupt. When asked how he keeps going despite growing and changing issues, Mandla said:
“It’s not about blaming people, it’s about finding the peace.”
This is challenging for anyone working to create positive change in our world. As I continue my own work in social justice, I will take Mandla’s words to heart.