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True Africa, Part 1
The remark "the only good news story is a bad news story" is sometimes quoted by cynical journalists. Positive stories don't make interesting news, they say. And in Africa it often seems it is only the wars, droughts and diseases which are reported. But Milton Nkosi, the BBC's bureau chief in Africa, who is travelling in South Africa and Tanzania, says that across the continent there are people working to improve their lives and their communities.
In Mivinjeni Primary school in Dar es Salaam I met the head teacher Mr. Alex Roberts, a quiet, unassuming man who is in the thick of his country's education challenges. Mivinjeni primary has no windows and the Indian Ocean breeze gently blows through the Swahili grammar class.
The playground is a typical sub-Saharan dirt field. There is no school bell, but a young boy picks up a stone and bangs it against an old truck wheel rim, to call his fellow pupils to assembly. In his school Mr. Roberts has two and half thousand pupils with only 50 teachers. This means that on average there are about sixty learners for each teacher and classroom. However this does not make Alex Roberts despair, instead it inspires him to struggle on until all the pupils move onto High school.
Even I, as an African who grew up in Soweto, was left with a lump in my throat, after seeing the tiny curious faces of the learners facing their future with such an incredible sense of hope and determination. They were packed in groups of 4s and 5s at desks that would normally sit just three. This told me one thing -- that Africans are not waiting for the outside world to save them from oblivion. They wake up every morning to work for their families and their future.
But Africans also wonder what image the outside world has of them. Perhaps through the mass media, people in the West imagine Africans folding their arms and waiting for outsiders to come and assist?
All too often they are denied the full picture. While they may appreciate that some African leaders have made the lives of their peoples so much worse, they're rarely told how so many African people are working to make lives better. It's been my experience from covering wars and humanitarian crises around Africa that the television sequences are almost always the same: first you see the flies around a sickly or starving baby's face and soon after that, a beautiful blond lady will come on to the screen to explain what is really happening in the refugee camps. I've seen it in Darfur, Angola, Sierra Leone, Congo, Zimbabwe. But the truth is that often local NGOs and church organisations were already on the ground helping and making a huge difference. But when the big guns arrive from Oxfam, Save The Children, Care International, WFP, WHO, with their vast resources, they get all the attention.
Just a few days ago I came across Robert Setshedi, a young pharmacist working in the rural Eastern Cape province of South Africa. His job is just to dispense ARV drugs from the local Empilisweni hospital. But many of his patients cannot even afford the bus fare to get there. So Robert drives up and down the rolling hills and the valleys of the Eastern Cape in his own car, using his own petrol, and visits his patients. He uses his own mobile phone to remind those who're HIV positive when they should take the cocktail of drugs required to suppress the deadly virus. The hospital can't afford to give Robert a computer, so he uses his own lap-top to collect all his patients' data.
There is so much more to Africa than wars, coups, dictators, death and destruction!