This is my second month with Bobbi Bear, throughout which I have been continuously astonished by the team’s unfaltering dedication, energy and passion. The team here are either at work (6 days a week) or on standby for emergency call outs, day in day out, week after week. There are no evenings off for restaurant suppers, there are no weekends off to unwind; Bobbi Bear is a lifestyle with no respite to those party to it. A lifestyle which produces hope, justice and love, but very little financial renumeration. And the work here isn’t easy, the things these people deal with are emotionally exhausting and traumatic. It’s a nightmarish carrousel which does not stop spinning.
Bobbi Bear’s mandate stipulates that it’s work is confined to rescuing and upholding the rights of sexually abused children, whilst aiming to minimise their risk of HIV infection. Yet the expansive remit of the organisations work stretches far beyond that of their primary objective. Since joining I have seen cases involving homelessness, drug addiction, poverty, suicide and everything in between. Cases outside of child sexual abuse, yet cases that Bobbi Bear are dealing with, day in, day out.
This week I have spent time visiting an elderly peoples care home after reports of neglect and mistreatment of residents. The condition that these people are living in is nothing short of distressing. No electricity, a shortage of food, sofas sodden with urine, a shortage of basic hygiene products and concrete stairs at the end of four corridors meaning that the elderly are unable to leave their bedrooms, and if they do, often fall. The owners of the centre have no care based qualifications between them and are enrolling care staff on a voluntary basis, pocketing the costly monthly fee from their residents and boasting new motorbikes on their social media platforms. The remaining care staff are unmotivated and unmonitored and have been caught beating the elderly and stealing their belongings.
Bobbi Bear have spent over 4 months working with these old people, on top of the relentless child rape cases which flood through the doors, and have made some fantastic progress. They bring the elderly daily food parcels, nappies, treats and equipment which can be used for mental stimulations (sewing machines, magazines, thread, clothes etc). Impressively they have been single handedly responsible in relocating 9 of the 21 residents into beautiful new care homes – they assure me they will not stop fighting until all the residents have been relocated.
I have so much admiration for these people, but the enormity and scope of their workload is unsustainable, particularly given their perpetual struggle for funding.
The Older Person Act 13 of 2006 legislates that it will combat the abuse of older persons and regulate the registration, establishment and management of services and the establishment and management of residential facilities for older persons. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights strive to ensure that governments take all measures to protect and promote older peoples human rights. But again, as I have seen in other areas of South African Law, enforcement and protection seems defective.
Why? The short answer is; because the Government and their Public Services are failing.
You only need to walk around healthcare provision and service delivery to see the gaping cracks in their walls. Government Hospitals are overflowing with patients bursting out of corridors, the public education performance is very poor, schools and universities are frequently on strike or being burnt down in protest, the suicide rate within the South African Police Service (SAPS) has reached epidemic levels and the country has a Corruption rating of 45 as at April 2017 (0 highly corrupt, 100 very clean), placing it marginally ahead of countries like Iraq and North Korea.
There is some wonderful work happening in South Africa, yet many of the models of good practice I see have been developed by NGO’s like Bobbi Bear rather than the government. Long term systemic problems such as poor education and justice systems seem easy for politicians to ignore. What is needed is societal and governmental engagement and awareness of these problems to enable change and mobilise the poorest segments of society.
As I leave the office at 5:30pm on a Friday afternoon, I walk past the directors office; a new case of child sexual abuse has come in. And so the carousel keeps spinning.