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Vera Qwesha was not so different from most girls in South Africa, experiencing common struggles, such as peer pressure and various socio-eonomic factors - such as poverty, substance abuse, unemployment and domestic challenges. 

During her teenage years, she experienced a series of trials and tribulations which made her to be an outcast among society.

Lured by seduction and with a skewed fairytale view of love, she was drawn toward the whispers and open arms of the sex industry. Greed consumed her, the money an easy remedy to numb her brokenness. She began a new life with a new name. Settling under the lights of glamorous Johannesburg, she became one of the most sought-after high-class escorts, fielding calls from celebrities, musicians, politicians, and other men with endless supplies of cash.

But the lights weren’t that bright. All that glitters isn’t gold. And it wasn’t long before the dream of getting all she ever wanted became the nightmare that plunged her into the darkest time of her life.

In her debut autobiography, "My Journey: From Grass to Grace", she writes about her long journey of emotional and physical abuse she experienced at the hand of her partner and father of her child. She sustained severe physical injuries that led to her being confined to a wheelchair for three months.

She also relays how her socio-economic factors influenced her to study a degree in political science, with the hope that her active participation in the transformation of the political landscape will change her life and that of her family. She however could not find employment and this led to her deeper problems.

She resorted to a life of drug addition and sex work, with utter loneliness.

The freedom she had once sought, became her prison. Then after attending a church service one morning, drunk, Vera eventually found herself at God's feet. That’s when she finally surrendered to the love of a beckoning Savior.

Through her harrowing accounts in the clutches of the sex industry and the miraculous self-deliverance she experienced in the arms of Jesus, readers will be encouraged knowing this:  No matter how far you have fallen, God loves you and wants to save you from the depths of any pain, trauma, addiction, or abuse. And He longs to give you a new life. Today, Vera is redeemed. Healed. Free. And through her book hopes to help others.

For more refer to www.timomotoso.org.

Facebook page: Vera Qwesha

As we celebrate 39 years since the June 1976 uprising, more needs to be done to ensure that young people are educated, employed and empowered, writes Oliver Meth and Gerard Boyce.

The Class of 1976 changed the course of our history by rising up and leading the vanguard for equal education and racial equality. Like them, young people today are faced with multiple risks. For instance, young people are vulnerable to health risks such as HIV and AIDS. Teenage pregnancy and substance abuse drugs are other major threats whilst rates of depression are increasing. Disappointingly too, racism and discrimination are still rife twenty years after the transition to democracy. Few would dispute, however, that the single greatest threat facing young people today, and by extension the country as a whole, is unemployment.

It was not supposed to be this way. The government vowed to make the reduction of unemployment a priority. Leaders promised six million jobs yet unemployment still increased considerably from three million to 3.4 million during the period 2009 to 2013/2014. Bleak reading though these statistics are, it is not merely a question of numbers. It is about the lives, career aspirations and futures of hundreds of thousands of young people who are eager to embark upon productive and meaningful adult lives but find that they cannot.

Politicians were supposed to partner with young people to address the root causes of the problems that concern them. Instead, they appear to be marginalised from discussing their challenges in decision-making forums and from helping devise solutions thereto. Exclusion only breeds hopelessness. When you’ve repeatedly been promised a better future but are poorly educated, unemployed and foresee little prospect of finding decent work or feel that your voice will not be heard, despair sets in.

Living on the periphery of a society that persists in categorising them according to gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity or class, they continue waiting, struggling, crying, hustling, dying and even killing while nursing dreams of a better life, stoking ambitions and grappling with fears as they navigate an uncertain future in a society that reflects the divisions of a previous era and the actions of earlier generations. Consequently, members of the generation in who are vested the greatest hopes of nation-building and transformation still cut their identity in a society not of their own making.

It is widely believed that young people possess vast potential to contribute to their own well-being and that of other South Africans. In order to realise this potential, however, policymakers have to come up with new ideas that are different to the tired promises that politicians are so fond of spouting. 

The first step to coming up with a solution is to identify the nature of the problem: the absence of sustained economic growth and limited job creation. These are essential to reduce poverty and improve living conditions.

Even if this situation were to change, it would be necessary to address the structural constraints imposed by a large, poorly educated, mostly black population who do not possess sufficient social capital to afford access to employment opportunities that would enable them to obtain workplace skills, work experience and permanent placement.

Enhancing access would require the rollout of targeted state interventions. Without these many young people will remain trapped in poverty and be unable to actively contribute to the socio-economic and political changes that are pre-requisites for the transformation of South African society. While government has successfully undertaken several high profile infrastructural projects – South Africa hosted a very successful World Cup in 2010, put a satellite in space, and built a world-class passenger-rail service in the richest province - it has performed less admirably when projects require regular, on-going contact with a large number of end users, in areas like education and skills development for example.

Its performance in these areas could be improved by eradicating nepotism and corruption or appointing skilled people to key positions at local government level for example.  It goes without saying that, for a ruling party that is showing increasing signs of paranoia, about its position in the run up to next year’s municipal elections, doing so is likely to improve its standing among younger members of the electorate.

In conclusion, the situation of young people today is dire. Now, as in 1976, however, young people are still our greatest hope for effecting genuine societal transformation. As we embark on a new period of youth policy development, it is critical that the powers that be bear this in mind when engaging with young change people and devising plans to build their capacity by supporting multiple, diverse and innovative interventions that bridge the gaps between government, civil society and business and ensure deep accountability. For ultimately, securing possibility, affording opportunity and empowering them to act as change agents is the critical task which will define the broader situation of the country as a whole.
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Meth is a Social Advocacy Journalist and Boyce is a Researcher at the University of KwaZulu Natal School of Economics and Finance.

Exposure to HIV may contribute to delays and failure of the development of new-borns in the in the absence of compensatory treatment provided by extra stimulation. The earlier the children are given treatment the better as this will assist with the development and preventing HIV. It is recommended that babies born to mothers with HIV be tested between 14 - 21 days after birth, at 1 - 2 months, and again at 4 - 6 months. Testing should be done using virologic HIV which looks directly for the virus in the blood. Late initiation may result in some developmental improvement but not total reversal of neurological impairments.

Prof Joanne Potterton from WITS shared clinical results gathered during consultations. The outcomes show that all facets of development affected are present as early as 4 months in infants, gross motor development and expressive language are mostly affected and they recommend that a basic home stimulation programme taught to caregivers is effective. In pre-school children, all facets of development are delayed (in up to 50% of children), gross motor is better than in infants, visuospatial perception, cognition and speech are the most affected in pre-school children.

Gina Rencken from UKZN discussed the following methods of intervention to promote the children’s optimal function; massage therapy improves behaviour in neonates born to HIV + mothers and improved attention to child’s early development and psychosocial needs may prevent developmental delays.

The education system is the future of early childhood development. The society has to be trained and informed about the treatment measures that they need to follow when dealing of children infected and exposed to HIV.

Is Social Protection the Southern African Answer?

This was a question posed by Dr Lucie Cluver to illustrate the impact that money and social support has on the progress of HIV prevention and adherence amongst young people.

“Despite extensive efforts, adolescent HIV remains a major problem. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 575 adolescents are infected with HIV each day (UNAIDS, 2014), and rates of AIDS deaths amongst adolescents are rising (UNICEF, 2013). There is now strong evidence of the importance of structural drivers of the HIV-epidemic amongst young people. As a result, increasing policy and research interest has focused on social protection as a possible solution to prevention.

“But there are key questions and debates around this are: should cash transfers be unconditional or conditioned? Are cash transfers enough or do we need cash, care and schooling support? How do biomedical interventions work with social protection? How are we going to pay for social protection? There are also new questions and new evidence around whether social protection can address new challenges such as ART and PMTCT adherence,” said Dr Lucie Cluver.

Dr Lucie Cluver presented social protection solutions that can be used to prevent the spread of HIV amongst young people and answer the posed questions above. She proved that child grant reduces the incidence of transactional sex and age disparate sex for girls, children who receive free school meals, get support from their teachers and parents have a lower risk of being vulnerable. It has been proved that 40 percent of adolescents on ART are struggling to manage it because of lack of social support therefore Dr Cluver believes that if these solutions are combined they can improve the number of infected adolescent being able to manage ART.

The 7th SA AIDS Conference was officially launched at the ICC Durban. Conference chair, Dr Nono Simelela welcomed the speakers and delegates, and set the tone for the Conference with a powerful speech. She said that the conference is a meeting for people to reflect on the progress that South Africa has made in reducing the impact and spreading of AIDS. 

The conference is gathering of a community that is committed to meeting the needs of South Africans living with AIDS and ensuring that South Africa eradicates HIV related infections. She also acknowledged the challenges that our society is facing in achieving Zero New Infections and triumph against AIDS.

Ambassador Patrick H. Gaspard represented PEPFAR and its commitment to South Africa in the fight against HIV. He shared the victories that the PEPFAR programme has helped South Africa to achieve and the incredible work done through the South African National Health Department. The Ambassador recognised that although PEPFER and South Africa has made significant progress, there is a lot of work to be done to get control of the epidemic by 2020 and ending the epidemic by 2030.

Nkhensani Mavasa from TAC had a different view about South African’s progress in attending to the needs of people living with HIV. Although she agreed that there is significant progress, she also argued that the healthcare system is dysfunctional at ground level. Local communities have understaffed clinics, stock-outs of medicines and burdened with long queues. She added that South Africa has the biggest Antiretroviral programme in the world but people are still dying of curable diseases such as TB. She acknowledged that South Africa has good policies and programmes to deal with AIDS but they are not being implemented correctly in local communities. Nkhensani called for the government to take charge in ensuring that the needs of local people are met.

Siphokazi Mthathi was the voice of the voiceless. She emphasised the fact that HIV epidemic is getting worse and the efforts to reducing it are being undermined because there is still criminalisation of young people, and chances of people getting treatment are still determined by their age and where they live. She concluded that the government and the healthcare providers must own up and lead by example.

Acknowledging the issues raised by Mavasa and Mthathi, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “we must renew our commitment and determination on the social compact which has been forged over many years of shared struggle and refocus our commitment of to the achieving an HIV free generation by 2030.” He also said that; “we will not overcome this epidemic if we do not work side by side and accept that we have a responsibility as government, employees, society, scientific forums, youth groups and researchers. We have a responsibility as parents, spouses, partners, mentors and role models to ourselves and to others.”

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