Friday, November 2, 2012

South Africa Census Results

In my last post, I had mistakenly said that the mine strikes were settled and over. Some of the miners did settle, but there have been other miners continuing to strike. There are many issues and hopefully things will soon be arranged so that the workers can go back to earning a living for themselves and their families.

This week the census results that were gathered last year were released. The previous census was ten years ago. Since then the population has increased about 7 million people to now exceed 51 million. 
About 2.2 million of the people were born outside South Africa. South Africans are moving from the rural areas to the two biggest economic hubs.

Black Africans are 79.2% of the population, coloured and white are each 8.9%, Indian/Asian are 2.5% and other are 0.5%

While the number of dwellings has increased about 3 million since 2001, 13.6% of the people still live in shacks. The number of households with tap water inside the house increased to 46.3%. About 9% of the country still used septic tanks, while 5.2% of households did not have access to any kind of toilet. 75% of the households had a television while only 68% had a refrigerator. Nearly 90% had cellphones.

Though employment had increased from 9.5 million in 2001 to 13.4 million in 2011, about 14 million people aged between 15 and 65 were still economically inactive and 5.6 mission classified as unemployed. The unemployment rate has just exceeded 25 %. Black households earned an average of about $5,000 a year while white households earn about $45,500 a year. Coloured and Indian households earn on average $14,000 and $31,000 respectively. Women in women-headed households earn about 1/2 of their male counterparts.

The number of South African children who have lost one or both parents has increased in the past 10 years. More than 3.3 million children up to the age of 17 years have lost one or both parents. The loss of fathers is more than double the loss of mothers. The percentage of double-parent orphans has more than doubled between 2001 and 2011. The number of households headed by children between the ages of five and 19 has been halved from  246,000 in 2001 to 150,000 in 2011.

This information was gathered from two daily newspapers and the TV news.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A sigh of relief

The wildcat strike of miners is settled. After about 5 weeks of striking at the Merikana platinum mine, the strikers have accepted an agreement. This is a major accomplishment because the atmosphere was so charged by events of the past weeks.

The living conditions of the miners is apparently terrible. But the pay rate was agreed on last year in a two year contract with the miners and the unions. So the strike this year was a wildcat strike, and there are also new unions trying to gain influence among the miners.

Unfortunately there was violence two weeks ago with over 40 people being killed. In one day 34 miners were shot by the police, reportedly some of them were shot in the back. There was escalation of feelings after this event that the media called a massacre.  The miners of some of the neighboring platinum mines and at least one gold mine were starting to go on strike also. There were thousands of people protesting and carrying traditional weapons. The army was called in to assist the police to regain control.

The platinum mine managers, some of the union people, government people, and religious leader sought a solution. Reportedly this was successful last evening. So the miners are now expected to return to work and will be given a salary closer to a living wage. It is a harsh life for those in the mining community. But workers come from neighboring countries as well as from distant areas of South Africa to work in the mines because there is a lack of other employment.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Snow made history

Last week the snow made history in South Africa. It was the first time that there was snow on the ground in all nine provinces of the country on the same day. It was also just the 8th time there was snow on the ground in Gautaung Province in the past century. Our Center Manager said that the snow is occurring more frequently now as she first saw it in the 1960's and then the second time in the 1970's. Now she has seen the snow on the ground twice in the past few years, for a total of four times in her lifetime.

The snow last week was enjoyed by many and there was even a picture of a snowman and two children with smiles in our newspaper. But there were also deaths from the snow as the roads in the mountains were closed down for several days. And people were unprepared for this event. So many were stranded on the road without supplies of food or water or warm clothing in their vehicles.

Now we have returned to more seasonal weather which is cool at night, near freezing. And warm in the daytime, sometimes even into the 70's when the sun shines.

Best wishes from Cecilia

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Prayer Preparations

Father Stan Brennan, the founder of St. Francis Care Center, died last Friday. This week there are many preparations being made for the funeral which will be on Thursday. Over 1000  people are expected at the funeral. And the St. Francis Center is preparing for the event. I wonder if this will be the most people here on any one occasion.

The hall that is used for Sunday Mass is being cleaned thoroughly. Yesterday the pictures were taken down and the walls scrubbed. Also the 400 or so chairs were cleaned and set up again. The extra space at the back of the hall which usually holds extra equipment for the Care Center was cleared out. Today more chairs are to be brought in for the Mass on Thursday.  And plans for parking the many cars expected are being discussed.

But it is not just rearranging that is happening. Yesterday about 7 PM we heard someone calling Tim and I as we were watching the news on TV. Father Stan's secretary was outside to tell us that prayers were going to be started in the Center chapel as soon as we could join the people there. And we did gather with a good number of the regular church attendees for prayers and songs. Afterwards plans were made for food to be brought and shared for the all night vigil before the funeral as well as a meal after the funeral. People arranged for further cleaning help to come on Tuesday in the day. And another prayer service was planned for Tuesday evening, as we all need "divine guidance during this week" explained Father's secretary.

I think it is wonderful that this reliance on prayer is such an integral part of the happenings with these wonderful people. There is sadness at the passing of Father Stan. But the cohesion and cooperation of this group of people is a wonderful testimony to the love he showed to so many.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Visa Application - Step 4 Final Visit

Tim and I went to the Home Affairs Office for our fourth and final time this morning. We left earlier than ever and arrived at the office before even the outside gates were open. There were still about 20 people in line ahead of us.

After about 10 minutes the outside gates were open and we moved inside through the large complex  to the area which we needed. After another 15 minutes outside of this office we were allowed inside. There we took seats in the waiting room. A bit later a woman collected the receipts of people like ourselves who were waiting to pick up the visa results already applied for at an earlier date.

In less that an hour our names were called and with very little extra paperwork our visa extension papers were affixed into our passports. So we received the additional time which we had requested. We can now stay in South Africa until November, 2012. Our wait for service this morning was less than one hour at the Home Affairs office. That is a record for us and wonderfully amazing.

Tim and I celebrated the achievement by driving through a park we had been passing on our trips to and from the Home Affairs office. It is a large park called President Park. It is mostly a grassy area with some trees. There was a small area that had some farm animals and a few ostriches. There were signs warning of a snake infestation. So we stayed in the car and just drove slowly around.

So now our plans are to return to the United States on November 18, 2012. We have not discussed our travels then except that we need to be in Washington, D.C. from January 4 - January 20 for the Franciscan Mission Service re-entry program.

We wish you well, good health and happiness.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Visa Application - Step 3

Tim and I returned to the Home Affairs office yesterday to submit our visa application. This was our second time of coming to the Home Affairs location in Springs, so the travel was easier although we still needed the map. The main "limited access" road between the St. Francis Care Center and Springs is under construction. So getting on to the road required a detour which we were now familiar with from our trip of two weeks ago. And the exit before the one we wanted did not confuse us this time even though it was labeled with the road name that we wanted. Two weeks ago we learned that there are two exits in sequence with the same road name. So that saved us exiting too early and needing to rejoin the limited access road to continue to Springs. And then driving through the town of Springs we knew where to turn, where the building that we wanted was located, and where there was parking. There were no road signs giving this information. We arrived at the proper door at exactly 8 AM when the office opened.

About 20 people were in line ahead of us when we arrived. When the first person was leaving after being served, I asked her what time she had arrived to stand in line. She said at 6 AM. So she had waited two hours for her service. We gradually advanced in the line, with the convenience of being inside and being in seats without many people jumping ahead of those waiting longer, because the line was in view of those waiting as well as those in the office. This alone was a big improvement over the first location of the Home Affairs office where we had gone to on our first attempt at getting a visa. 

We waited about 2 hours for our turn to get near. Then the only man working behind the desk at that time said that if anyone was over 60 he would take them next. Tim and I took advantage of that offer. When our documents were examined, we were found to have all that we needed. Even though we had brought with us copies of everything needed, it still took quite awhile for all the process of rubber stamping, photo copying some other papers, paying and getting a hand written receipt, watching while the man typed with one finger, and hand wrote other information. It definitely looked like there was a need for more office help. We were told we would be telephoned when our visa was ready. I asked when it might be, and the man said "about 3 weeks". When we got home I examined a paper we had been given, and the paper said that it was our responsibility to check on the visa within one month, but there was not phone number provided.

As we were leaving we noted that the line for the visa office was much longer and was out the door and people needed to stand. There were so many people in the line it seemed doubtful that they could all be served on that day.

On our return trip to the St. Francis Care Center, we were again glad that we knew the way. The entrance to the limited access road was not marked, perhaps because construction is underway. And the exits were not marked where we needed to get off. We recognized the scenery, so we did not drive out of our way.

So perhaps in a few weeks we will know about Step 4 when we will need to return to the Home Affairs office in Spring to receive our visa.


Monday, May 7, 2012

A Holiday on Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In South Africa May 1st is celebrated as a National Holiday, Workers Day. So the Home Affairs Offices were not open. Tim and I took the opportunity to spend a couple of very pleasant hours in a park. Tim had discovered this park on one of his long walks, 25 miles on that occasion.

On last Tuesday we borrowed a car and drove to the park which is nick-named "bunny park". There are hundreds and hundreds of rabbits loose in the park who enjoy being fed carrots by visitors of any age. The park is quite large although probably a neighborhood park. It has a stream running through it which has small foot bridges in many places along the curving paths to cross the stream. And scattered in the park are large enclosures for many types of farm animals and a few other types of non-threatening animals. There were also some rock art structures which the children climb on as well as three circus types of mechanical rides for children and a pony to pull a children's cart.

It was pleasant to see the families enjoying the park on the Holiday. We most enjoyed watching the children interacting with the animals. When we left in the late morning, there were families starting to grill food, which is a very popular family activity here.

Tomorrow is again Tuesday, and we plan to return to the Home Affairs office with our previous documents supplemented with the additional papers we need so that hopefully our applications for Visa renewal will be accepted.