African Grandmothers Launch Campaign for Rights and Resources

Source: Pambazuka News

At the close of the historic first African Grandmothers’ Gathering, in Manzini Swaziland, 500 grandmothers from 13 countries issued a clarion call to the world, demanding economic independence, and the necessary resources to build their own capacity to raise healthy families in the midst of the AIDS pandemic.

They called for urgent action to prevent acts of violence against them, to ensure social security and to enact laws that uphold their rights and those of their grandchildren.

The Manzini Statement – the document which issued the call for action emerging from the gathering – was read at the completion of a march of more than 1,000 grandmothers through the streets of the city.

Describing themselves as the backbones of their communities, they declared, ‘Africa cannot survive without us.’ In a written statement read on her behalf, Graça Machel, renowned international advocate for women and children’s rights, supported their claim saying, ‘All of us in Africa owe you a huge debt of gratitude.’ Across sub-Saharan Africa, grandmothers now form the core of family and community-based care, raising a generation of children orphaned by AIDS.

The grandmothers gathered in Manzini from May 6-8 to share their experience as ‘parents’ of orphaned grandchildren, as caregivers and as activists, and to articulate their priorities for action. They discussed care for HIV-positive grandchildren, food security and micro-credit financing as well as social security, violence and inheritance rights.

The serious tenor of the daytime working sessions was countered each evening by dancing and singing, which filled the great hall where the women gathered. At the event’s opening ceremony, the Queen Mother of Swaziland, who presided over the evening, defied the concerns of her security contingent as she spontaneously joined in the dancing with the hundreds of gathered grandmothers.

Organised and hosted by Swaziland Positive Living (SWAPOL), one of the continent’s leading AIDS advocacy and support organisations, the event’s weighty discussions, joyous celebration and bold outcome statement reflected the momentum and strength of the international grandmothers’ movement just four years after it began on the eve of the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto in August of 2006.

‘We have demonstrated that grandmothers and their grandchildren are no longer invisible,’ said Siphiwe Hlope, executive director of SWAPOL. ‘As we return to our own countries, we need to use the strength of our collective voice to call upon governments in all of Africa to change their policies and uphold our rights which are currently being violated in so many ways.’ She promised the assembled women that she would carry their messages to the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna in July of this year where she will be speaking.

Standing in solidarity with the African women were 42 Canadian grandmothers from the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. They promised to return to Canada to amplify the voices and demands of the African grandmothers, to increase their fundraising efforts, and to raise awareness with the Canadian government, international organisations, and the Canadian public to ensure that African grandmothers and the grandchildren in their care receive the support they need.

Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, executive director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation which both funded and partnered with SWAPOL in organising the event, emphasised the call for international support. ‘Today we have heard the powerful call for action which emanates from your gathering,’ she said. ‘Tomorrow the governments of the world must heed and respond to your call for justice!’

Deputy prime minister of Swaziland, Mr Themba Masuku, who attended the gathering, was clearly moved by the spirit of the grandmothers and impressed by the scope of national representation at the event. In heartfelt closing remarks, he expressed his own commitment to supporting them, declaring ‘I am going to be part of this grandmothers’ movement “till death do us part”.’

Through holistic programmes providing training, services and care, Swaziland Positive Living (SWAPOL) is improving the lives of people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS throughout Swaziland. The Stephen Lewis Foundation supports community-based organisations in Africa working to turn the tide of AIDS.


* Kari Sackney is communications officer at the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
* Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.