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Witness
Keiskamma - A Story of Love
An altarpiece records one South African community's battle against Aids.
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2011 08:14

Filmmaker: Miki Redelinghuys

Like many other communities in rural Africa the small fishing village of Hamburg, in South Africa's Eastern Cape, is fighting a life and death battle - its population has been decimated by HIV/Aids.

Now the women there are struggling to keep the community alive through the disciplined use of anti-retro virals (ARVS).

The Keiskamma Trust started as an art project in 2000 to act as a poverty alleviation programme, aiming to connect rich and poor, black and white, educated and disadvantaged in the hope that experiences could be shared and thereby more easily borne. 

Spearheaded by Dr Carol Hofmeyr and Eunice Mangwane, and backed by the Keiskamma art project, a small HIV/Aids programme was begun in 2004, motivated by their own collective grief at the relentless deaths occurring in the village and the resultant disintegration and depression of their community.

In depth

 In Pictures: Fighting Aids
 The Keiskamma Trust
 Moving on: Keiskamma's latest art project

In 2004 they initiated six patients onto the first anti-retroviral drugs in the area, purchased with private funds from a handful of supporters.

This initial introduction of ARVS to the district helped facilitate the accreditation of the local hospital, Nompumelelo, to provide ARVS, in 2006.

Today, the Keiskamma Aids treatment programme continues to treat poor patients who cannot access the government programmes and to provide assistance to continually fill in the gaps where the government system fails to meet the needs of the most vulnerable - grandmothers, mothers and children.

It remains closely tied to the art programme from which it emerged, and relies on 52 village health workers who passionately provide comprehensive home-based care, education and help with managing their treatment, as well as assisting with social issues, especially where children are affected.

Carol Hofmeyr, who studied art history, had initiated the art programme to teach embroidery to local women, both for economic reasons and as a means of sharing their experiences of loss.

At the time, Hamburg was struggling to overcome the effects of both the apartheid system and the changes that followed re-incorporation into South Africa.

Most of the villagers were unemployed and the main sources of income were perlemoen poaching and government grants.

There was a high incidence of petty crime and alcoholism and a slow but constant destruction of the once pristine environment. And there was HIV/Aids.

After initial projects including a large tapestry depicting their region's history, the women began to plan their next project.

Hofmeyr told the women about the Isenheim altarpiece in France, which she had recently seen - a testament to the meaning and the mystery of suffering and the hope of redemption and restoration.

The group considered how they might reinterpret it, and thus began the work of turning experience into embroidery.

Keiskamma - a Story of Love is a sensitive portrait of the characters at the heart of the battle against HIV/Aids: Grandmother Eunice who is such an essential figure in the hospice that she forgets to look after herself, the musician/prophet who runs designs into the sand, the doctor constantly checking that her patients have taken their medicine, and the lost boy searching to find his place in the world.

But more than all that, it is also a chronicle of the project to bind all these characters together in an extraordinary embroidered altarpiece.

Keiskamma - A Story of Love can be seen from Wednesday, November 23, at the following times GMT: Wednesday: 2000; Thursday: 1200; Friday: 0100; Saturday: 0600; Sunday: 2000; Monday: 1200; Tuesday: 0100; Wednesday: 0600.

Keiskamma first aired from June 20, 2010.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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