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South Africa’s adoption crisis blown open by baby box6 minutes read

About 3,000 children are abandoned each year in South Africa, according to estimates by the National Adoption Coalition

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South Africa's adoption crisis blown open by baby box
House manager Francinah Phago opens a so called baby-box, a metal box built into the perimeter wall of the orphanage garden where mothers can place unwanted babies, while walking outside the Door of Hopes organisation in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on June 27, 2019.(Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

When the alarm sounds at an orphanage in the Berea district of Johannesburg, all eyes turn to a video surveillance screen in the living room.

The screen is linked to a camera inside a metal box, built into the perimeter wall of the orphanage garden.

Today, it is a false alarm, but the night before, at about 8:30 pm, the alarm sounded and an abandoned baby was collected from the box.

“It was a boy, five months old and healthy,” said Francinah Phago, the manager of the children’s home run by the Door of Hope charity.

During her 15 years at the orphanage, Phago has seen scores of babies left in the simple metal box, which has one door opening onto the street and another door opening into the garden.

South Africa's adoption crisis blown open by baby box
House manager Francinah Phago stands next to a so-called baby box, a metal box built into the perimeter wall of the orphanage garden where mothers can place unwanted babies, at the Door of Hopes organisation in Hillbrow, on June 27, 2019. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

It was installed in 1999 to provide a lasting resort for desperate parents forced to give up their infants.

About 3,000 children are abandoned each year in South Africa, according to estimates by the National Adoption Coalition.

But according to some activists, the total number of abandoned children could be as high as 10,000 each year.

READ: South Africa’s first all-insect restaurant is open for business

Many are abandoned in the street in the first weeks of their life and die of neglect.

“Baby F” — the latest arrival — is the 216th to join Door of Hope through the two “hole-in-the-wall” boxes provided at its Berea house.

He is one of the lucky ones, Phago said, during a brief moment of quiet, while 17 infants in the house were napping.

‘Not protecting young women’ –

“There are lots of babies abandoned on the street, on the side of the road, in parks or in toilets,” she said, adding that police recently arrived with a baby picked up in the street by a passer-by.

Dee Blackie, founder of the National Adoption Coalition, took up the cause after seeing a photo in a newspaper of a newborn baby left for dead in a landfill in Soweto township.

“It’s important to remember that women who abandon babies have often been abandoned themselves — by the father, by their family, and communities and society as a whole,” she said.

“We’re not protecting young women in this country.”

South Africa's adoption crisis blown open by baby box
Child protection activist and academic Dee Blackie enters her library in her house in Johannesburg, on June 26, 2019. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

According to Blackie’s research, almost half of all pregnancies that lead to abandonment are the result of rape.

Many of the mothers are minors or immigrants, and are often aware of their condition only after the legal deadline for an abortion, which is set at 20 weeks in South Africa.

In a country where almost half of the population lives below the poverty line, mothers using the baby box “are in a desperate situation and making desperate decisions,” Blackie said.

‘You let go of your traditions’ –

At Door of Hope, mothers sometimes prefer to leave their children directly with staff.

“Most of the time, they cry,” Phago said. “They love their children and do not want to leave them, but because of their situation, they decide to have them adopted.”

Adoption “is a taboo in our black community,” said grandmother Thuli Mahlangu, wringing her hands.

Four years ago, her only daughter — then 21 — became pregnant by accident.

“It would be unfair to bring another person into the way we live,” Mahlangu said. “We survive, we do not live.”

After long weeks of reflection, Mahlangu and her daughter made the painful decision to have the baby adopted — without discussing it with most of their loved ones.

South Africa's adoption crisis blown open by baby box
Thuli Mahlangu, mother of a woman who decided to give in adoption her two children after being pregnant by accident, poses during a photo session outside the Abba child protection organisation offices in Pretoria, on July 4, 2019. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

“They consider that adoption is like throwing your baby away,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Our first thought was ‘we are going to be judged’.”

READ: How South African teens are using radio to fight gun-related crimes

But the two women stuck to their decision.

“You let go of your beliefs and your traditions, and go for what seems right to you,” she said.

Two years later, her daughter again became pregnant and that child also was put up for adoption.

Adoptions becoming rarer –

Adoption agencies and children’s rights groups have been worried about a drop in the number of adoptions in the country: just 1,186 children were adopted in 2018, a quarter of the number eight years ago.

WATCH: A new beginning for abandoned babies in South Africa

Activists attribute the fall to a 2010 Children’s Act, which introduced more stringent conditions in a bid to prevent child abuse and trafficking.

The figures are likely to drop further under a proposal to ban adoption fees, which could push many private agencies to close.

  • South Africa's adoption crisis blown open by baby box
  • South Africa's adoption crisis blown open by baby box
  • South Africa's adoption crisis blown open by baby box
  • South Africa's adoption crisis blown open by baby box
  • South Africa's adoption crisis blown open by baby box
  • South Africa's adoption crisis blown open by baby box

“This legal amendment will essentially close down all international adoptions, and all private adoptions,” Blackie said.

But the government defended the plan.

“Fees should not be charged for adoption because it is not a business but a child protection measure,” said Lumka Oliphant, communication head at the social development ministry.

The more a child is moved from home to home, the greater the threat of mental health issues and learning and emotional attachment problems, warned Nicki Dawson, a psychologist at the Ububele Paediatric Health Centre in Johannesburg. 

READ: Ethiopia’s “Green Legacy Initiative” goes big on tree planting

Mahlangu and her daughter were lucky — six months after the first child’s birth, the agency found an adoptive family for the baby.

“We had the option to meet the parents,” recalled Mahlangu, describing them as “the most beautiful souls in the world.”

As thousands of children in orphanages across the country wait their turn, the little girl grows up in her new family with one last gift from her biological family: at birth, they called her “Siyamthanda” — Zulu for “We love you”.

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A people determined to tell their own stories

African storytelling in cinema is undergoing an evolution and Africans are spinning the wheels

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A people determined to tell their own stories
Kenyan-Mexican actress, Lupita Nyong'o is pictured from a scene in "Queen of Katwe". Photo credit: Variety

It was Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian novelist, who once said:

Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

This statement, made by the late Booker Prize winner during a 1994 interview in the Paris Review, stresses the importance of owning the narrative and places the onus on people of any race or culture to seize the initiative and tell their own stories; otherwise they would have strangers, who are not privy to the facts, churning out distorted narratives.

For many decades, Africans and indeed people of colour were faced with this problem: they watched in horror and dismay as the white-controlled film industry made movies that not only reinforced negative stereotypes, but also peddled falsehoods as fact and portrayed black people as savages that needed to be trained to act civilised.

READ: Opening ceremony of the 41st edition of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF)

Movies like 1965’s “Naked Prey” and the infamous “Birth of a Nation” (made in 1915) are a few examples of how people can manipulate perceptions of a race when they have the power and financial means to.

Even in recent history, there have been movies that have unwittingly advanced the white saviour complex. 2002’s “Tears of the Sun” (which starred Bruce Willis) tells the story of a U.S soldier who goes into Nigeria to save innocent children from rebel forces during a war. The film reeked of poor research, and deservedly, was panned by critics.

It would be fair to admit, though, that times have changed. The narratives are changing, and African stories are now being told in more ingenious ways. Djimon Hounsou and Leonardo Di Caprio lit up global screens in 2006’s “Blood Diamonds” (based on Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war), Gavin Hood earned critical acclaim for the 2005 movie adaptation of Athol Fugard’s novel “Tsotsi”, and Lupita Nyong’o shone brightly in 2013’s “12 Years A Slave”, a movie based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 slave memoir of the same time.

READ: Foreign investors are flocking to Nigeria’s film industry

There is a lot more authenticity as well as nuance in the making of these films, and those involved now show that they care enough about telling these stories well.

It would be difficult not to acknowledge Abraham Attah’s portrayal of Agu in 2015’s “Beasts of No Nation” or Nyong’o’s portrayal of Harriet in 2016’s “Queen of Katwe”, the latter directed by Mira Nair and based on real-life conditions of one of the slums in Uganda’s capital city.

WATCH: #MeToo movement in the African Film Industry

There are still debates on the kinds of stories being told, and how themes like slavery and racism keep being “glamorised” in film, but at least Africans are telling their stories now, and that is a major step forward.

There is also the small matter of who gets to interpret roles in these films: months ago a few Nigerian actors screamed blue murder when it was revealed that Nyong’o would be working on a picture adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah.

READ: Smartphone filmmakers take the spotlight

A lot of work still needs to be done in pushing African storytelling, but for now, progress should be acknowledged and celebrated.

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400 years after, Ghana’s “Year of Return” inspires mass return to motherland

More than 100 African-Americans granted citizenship by Ghana at a time when the US struggles with identity and racial tensions

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400 years after, Ghana's "Year of Return" inspires mass return to motherland

It was the late reggae legend, Peter Tosh who, in one of his records, crooned along the lines of “I don’t care where you come from, as long as you’re a black man, you are an African”.

That statement has been subject to conjecture over the years, but one fact that is undeniable is that many African-Americans and Afro-Americans have expressed interest in tracing their roots back to the continent from which their ancestors were captured into slavery centuries ago, and to aid this quest, the Ghanaian government recently granted national citizenship to 126 African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans.

In a year that has been tagged “The Year of Return” by the nation formerly named Gold Coast by colonialists, this could prove to be the biggest gesture of fellowship so far that has been extended to people of colour living in the diaspora.

The event which was marked on November 27, 2019 in colourful fashion as the new citizens dressed in traditional attire, is made more significant by the fact that 2019 makes it exactly 400 years since the United States officially opened its harbours to slave ships for the first time.

To its credit, Ghana has always been at the forefront in attempting to reconnect African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans to the African continent.

READ: ‘Year of Return’ attracts African-American tourists to Ghana

In 2001, the Ghanaian government passed the Right Of Abode Law, which confers rights on anyone of African ancestry in the Americas to stay in Ghana indefinitely. In 2016, former President John Mahama had 34 African-Americans naturalised into Ghanaian citizenship, and in June 2019 current President Nana Akufo-Addo embarked on a five-nation tour of the Caribbean to promote the “homecoming” initiative.

It has been suggested that beyond its socio-cultural nuances, the move to extend citizenship to people in the diaspora also serves to boost Ghana’s tourism potential and influx of human capital, with the Afro Nation and Afrochella festivals – scheduled for December – expected to attract many young blacks from North America and the Caribbean.

This suggestion is valid, and economic gain is to be expected, but what is more important is how the opening of Ghana’s doors to diasporan Africans is totally in line with Pan-African values, and this move is one that Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, would have been proud of.

In a world where African-Americans are struggling with identity amidst the racial tensions that still haunt the United States, an offer of free citizenship by an African nation couldn’t have come at a better time.

The continent is by no means perfect, but it does provide a home for those who are frequently made to feel like they don’t belong in America, and evidently, these people are grabbing the chance to reconnect to the home of their ancestors, with both hands.

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Fossil fuel: The human cost of powering Africa’s future

Avoidable deaths attributable to exposure to future fossil fuel use is estimated to be over 45,000 by 2030

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Fossil fuel: The human cost of powering Africa’s future

Official projections of the UNDP suggest that the rise in human population in the next few decades will be most visible in Africa. Thirty years from now, about 2.2 billion people could be added to the global population – more than half of this is expected to come from Africa.

The broader consequences of this are far-reaching; from the need for more automation to enhanced jobs and expanded career prospects, demand for more food; housing alternatives, need for more alternative energy sources to overcrowding in mostly urban centres.

In spite of the increasing access to renewable energy sources, firewood and coal remain the dominant energy source powering African countries. About 80% of the world energy comes from fossil fuels, and fossil fuels such as coal are limited and therefore unsustainable resources

A recent study reveals that the rapid depletion and usage of fossil fuels on the continent will result in at least 50,000 avoidable deaths as a result of emissions from power plants and vehicular emissions alone.

Annual emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide in Africa will double by 2030, compared to figures from 2012.

Avoidable deaths attributable to exposure to future fossil fuel use is estimated to be over 45,000 by 2030. Most of which is likely to occur in South Africa, Malawi, and Nigeria. Yet fossil fuels are a driver for many economies around the world.

Overfilling our atmosphere with carbon will provoke more extreme weather, deadly heatwaves, more severe droughts, and increasing bush fires.
While the adoption of renewable energy sources for power generation is frequently cited as a practical alternative but despite the promise of innovations like solar mini-grids, most governments are less invested in solar-power solutions across the continent.

But with governments and corporations counting carbon emissions and mounting concerns about climate change, reliance on these same fuels will not last forever. As attitudes and policies evolve, they will continue to see a reduced role going forward.

Even African countries who have remained major proponents of renewable energy, still show a pull towards the use of coal.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) recently declined Kenya’s request for a coal-fired power plant. The AfDB further warns that it had no plans to finance new coal plants in the future, citing environmental and social impact assessment for the Lamu project in Kenya.

Numerous investors, development finance institutions and insurers are limiting coal-related investments. China, the World bank group, Germany and Japan who are the largest providers of public finance for Africa’s energy sector has continuously demonstrated the will to move away from fossil-fuelled power projects.

Also, environmental activists and climate crusaders are continually voicing their growing concerns about the impact of burning fossil fuels.

One such group is Greenpeace which sued and won its case against the Lamu plant in Nairobi.

Ghana currently faces a severe power crisis that could have significant repercussions on the overall working of a national economy – with fuel reforms on petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel being heavily taxed.

An area in Mpumalanga, an eastern province in South Africa houses South Africa’s national power supplier Eskom. It remains the largest single area contaminated by lethal nitrogen dioxide globally. This makes it the centre of the world’s deadliest air pollution.

This is not surprising as South Africa is the continent’s most advanced economy. Power generation and distribution persist as a major challenge. It has remained predominantly coal-based with already evident attendant consequences.

It is equally not surprising, that since the nation’s power supplier had been struggling lately losing $1.46 billion in one year; the economy of South Africa had been adversely affected with job losses, inflation and the worst unemployment statistics – South African unemployment rate of 29.1% hit10-year record high in 2019.

Again, most of the likely sulphur dioxide emissions are expected to come from future coal-fired power plants across central Nigeria, along the coast of Egypt and southern Africa.

And, as droughts get worse, the air quality deteriorates with air pollution from power plants in South Africa and Botswana travelling as far as Zimbabwe and Namibia thereby impacting ocean evaporation, surface wind speed, atmospheric pressure and the chances of uncontrollable bushfires with its associated consequences on the ecosystem.

UNICEF report showed only seven of Africa’s 54 countries are home to real-time air pollution detection and monitoring devices.

The challenge of air pollution on the continent is worsened by other environmental pollution and resource-depleting activities such as desertification, population explosion, and fauna depletion.
In essence, while over 70% of children living in Europe and North America live within 31 miles of an air quality monitoring station, the number stands at just 6% across Africa’s 1.255 billion people.

Fossil fuel burning also impacts water quality and availability –acid rock drainage from coal mines, the destruction of mountain streams and soil quality.

Governments of African countries and corporate decision-makers must, therefore, continue to expand the use of renewable energy and transform its energy system to cleaner alternatives; less dependence on coal and other fossil fuels.

With effective national and regional climate strategies, policymakers must be deliberate about legislations on the quality of automobile imports, increasing vehicle fuel efficiency; deploy more waste-to-energy approaches in rural communities, introducing limits on the amount of carbon that polluters are allowed to emit and building a clean energy economy by investing in efficient energy approaches and technologies

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