29 August 2011

South Africa: The Woman Who Woke From the Dead

Photo: Annie Rose Barber
Community group learns about saving in Xaxazana district of Eastern Cape, South Africa

Nearly 10 years ago Zandile Malgas was rushed to hospital, declared dead, then woke up to find herself in a morgue. At this point she began to take her HIV status seriously, and told her family. After six months in the local TB hospital she recovered and managed to survive until she finally got on anti-retroviral treatment in 2004. But even after getting healthy, it wasn't until she joined a savings and credit group that her financial health improved.

Now Malgas says that the most important aspect of her life, in terms of survival, is her membership in SaveAct. This NGO, operating in South Africa's provinces of Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal, aims to help poor people save the little money they have, with a focus on HIV-positive households. South Africans with a CD4 cell count below 350 are eligible for government grants, so SaveAct aims to help people use these grants to improve their coping strategies. People with higher CD4 cell counts have healthier immune systems.

Unemployment is estimated at nearly 30 percent in South Africa's poorest province of the Eastern Cape, where Malgas lives, but she is one of the lucky ones who has a job, working as a home-based carer with another NGO, Masangane. She supports people living with HIV/Aids, as well as orphans and other affected children, encourages HIV testing, and offers counselling and advice.

Malgas saves her pay and monthly grant money with her savings and credit group. When she is short of cash she takes loans at low interest rates, averaging seven loans per year. Thanks to SaveAct, she says she is able to buy healthy food, pay her sister's school fees, and send money to her parents and other siblings, including another sister who is both HIV-positive and epileptic.

There are other benefits beyond the financial - Malgas says she gets more respect in her community. Her neighbours often ask her how she makes her money go so far and owns so much without being in debt. She says it's because her days of relying on loan sharks are over. She is looking forward to the annual share-out of the money her savings and credit group makes from loaning to each other. She hopes to buy her own plot of land and build her own house, and one day to study to become a nurse.

This story is based on a case study compiled by researcher Annie Rose Barber, University of Bath, UK. For the main story please see Savings Groups Help Rural Households Affected by HIV/Aids.

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