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The visitor to Africa comes away with a mosaic rather than a single narrative. Hence the jottings after three weeks in southern Africa.

• AIDS. Bono and the big charities keep talking about it, but Africans live with it—and die from it—daily. Africa accounts for 70 percent of the total number of people infected with HIV/AIDS and 80 percent of the resulting deaths. AIDS tends to target the young, lowering overall life expectancy and wreaking havoc with economic and social programs.

I saw the impact of the disease up close at several AIDS orphanages. African churches, governments, and NGOs are scrambling to house and care for some 12 million orphans, many of whom are infected. After we visited one AIDS orphanage in Durban, South Africa, my hosts took me to a nearby cemetery. Several funerals were going on simultaneously, and we could hear the mournful chants and wails rising from each. Outside the gate, a long line of passenger buses stood waiting. With the AIDS pandemic, Saturday has become funeral day, a ritual almost as regular as church on Sunday. Half the children in the orphanage have AIDS, but the government has allotted anti-retroviral drugs for only some of these. The others will no doubt join their friends and classmates in a plot set aside for the orphanage.

• Poverty. How do you plan an economy when a third of the work force may die in the next ten years? More, how do you conduct an economy when a government is riddled with corruption and seems destined to self-destruct? Zimbabwe is the poster child for governmental calamity. In a notorious Drive Out the Trash campaign, its dictator, Robert Mugabe, bulldozed squatter homes, adding 700,000 people to the homeless rolls. Visitors are required to pay ...

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Postcard from Africa
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In the Magazine

September 2006

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