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African grannies gather for landmark HIV/Aids debate

Photo: Eric O'Donnell

More than 450 grandmothers gathered in Swaziland on Thursday for a special conference bringing together grannies from 12 countries to highlight the impact of HIV/Aids on their lives. Organisers say they hope to create a solidarity movement drawing attention to the plight of grandparents who care for their grandchildren after losing their own children to the disease.


The first ever African Grandmother Gathering has been organised by Swaziland for Positive Living, the Stephen Lewis Foundation and the Swazi government.

“A truly historic event” is how the Canadian-based Stephen Lewis Foundation describes the gathering. On Saturday a march through the capital Manzini is expected to attract around 2,000 partcipants.

This conference is all about sharing of experiences

“The Grandmothers, they’re always invisible, in the issues of HIV and Aids. Whereas they’re doing great jobs,” Siphiwe Hlophe, from Swaziland for Positive Living, told RFI.

“Making sure that there’s food on the table and there’s shelter for their grandchildren. So that’s why we have said this is a very important gathering,” Hlophe says, from Mbabane.

It is expected that bringing together grandmothers to discuss their role in context of the HIV/Aids pandemic will help outline the way forward, through programming, advocacy, policy and funding aspirations.

While it is clear from case studies that some grandmothers have had to work hard to keep their families together.

“Mary is currently caring for six of her nineteen grandchildren,” the Stephen Lewis Foundation says. “She has received training in speaking about HIV and Aids and children’s rights in her community.”

One in four people in Swaziland live with HIV – the highest prevalence rate worldwide.

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