Photo by Lynne Ward A group of about 75 women gathered for a cocktail party Tuesday, Sept. 25, at the Rumson home of Diane Gooch to show their support for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Committee members are, from left, hostess Diane Gooch, Lisa Soderstrom, Kathy Donnelly, Naila Busacca, Geri Skirkanich, B.J. Henderson, Lynn McCabe-Tauro and Lynne Mangini.
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Aged 79, Joyce Mosweu is raising her HIV-positive grandchild in the South Africantownship of Alexandra. Now 84, Norma Geggie is the founder ofthe Canadian Wakefield Grannies, anorganisation supporting grandmothersraising their Aids-orphaned grandchildrenin Alexandra. Psychiatric nurse Rose Letwaba’s chanceconversation with Norma Geggie in aCanadian supermarket led to theremarkable relationship between thegrandmothers of Wakefield and Alexandra. Some of the Alexandra kids thetransatlantic partnership helps support. Norma Geggie at home in Wakefield. Since 2004 the Wakefield Grannies haveraised funds as only grannies can, withquilt sales, music concerts, book salesand more.Khanyi Magubane“One day, an army of grey-haired women may quietly take over the earth,” said US feminist and writer Gloria Steinem. Today, a remarkable transatlantic partnership of grey-haired women may not be taking over the earth, but are certainly helping to change it.For some four years a group of grandmothers from the small Canadian town of Wakefield have been helping other grandmothers from the South African township of Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, raise their Aids-orphaned grandchildren.It began in 2004 when Rose Letwaba, an Alexandra-based psychiatric nurse visiting a friend in Canada, struck up a conversation with a stranger in a Wakefield supermarket.Letwaba told the stranger, Norma Geggie, then 80 years old, the story of a group of South African gogos (grandmothers) who had been forced by the Aids-related deaths of their own children to return to parenting. Old women, they were suddenly heading households and raising their grandchildren. Herself a grandmother, Geggie was immediately moved to find a way to help.Geggie spoke to her friends. Soon Letwaba was standing in a church filled with elderly Wakefield women, telling them about her work with the grandmothers, mothers and children of Alexandra.Her talk inspired the Canadians to set up the Wakefield Grannies, an organisation working to provide financial and moral support to the gogos of Alexandra. Over the past four years they have raised funds as only grannies can: a quilt sale, a music concert, book readings. They also launched a range of salsa products, branded as Gogolaka sauces.They’ve used Canadian May Day celebrations to host garage sales, selling crafts and food, and to organise a variety of workshops. The money collected is wired to South Africa; a regular financial report is sent back, detailing how the money was used.The two groups of grandmothers are now the subject of a documentary called The Great Granny Revolution. Made by Brenda Rooney, a founding member of the Wakefield Grannies, and her husband Robert, it follows the story of the remarkable partnership – and friendship – that has grown between the grey-haired women of Wakefield and Alexandra.At one of the first Canadian screenings of the film, Ledwaba told the audience, “If everyone was like the people of Wakefield, the world would be a better place to live in.”The Alexandra granniesThe Alex Aids Orphans Project was started in 2001 when staff at the township’s East Bank Children’s Clinic became aware that many young HIV-positive patients were either missing appointments or dropping out of treatment altogether. As head nurse, Letwaba investigated the matter, discovering that across the township, grandmothers living in abject poverty were raising their Aids-orphaned grandchildren, some of them HIV-positive.What started out with three grandmothers sharing their grief at the loss of their children and supporting each other to care for their orphaned grandchildren has now grown to a group of 40 elderly women. The grannies, whose grandchildren were part of the Alex Aids Orphan Project, then started a group, the Gogo Granny Outreach Project. The 40 gogos are collectively taking care of nearly 160 children orphaned by Aids.Lucia Mazibuko is one such strong woman. In the documentary she’s full of joy and laughter, despite having to raise two grandsons, one of them HIV-positive. Mazibuko has lost both of her daughters and a son-in-law to Aids.Another is Magdeline Ramakobo, now caring for her daughter, who has full-blown Aids. When her daughter succumbs to the disease Ramakabo will be left, in their one-room shack, to raise her daughter’s two children.Each of the Wakefield grannies has paired up with 10 members of the Gogo Granny Outreach Project, with strong friendships developing over the years. The partners write letters and exchange pictures, keeping each other updated about their lives. The Alexandra grannies have started a sewing business and grow vegetable gardens as part of their project, as a means of generating funds.Stepping forwardOn 6 March, the City of Johannesburg, in partnership with the High Commission of Canada and the International Women’s Rights Project, screened The Great Granny Revolution ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March. The city flew the Wakefield grannies to South Africa to join their friends in a two-day project, training other elderly women to facilitate the development of the support model of the granny-headed home.“I feel so proud,” filmmaker Brenda Rooney said at the screening. “My eyes are full of tears and my mouth is full of smiles. If we all step forward I’m sure we can do enough to make things better.”Related articlesHIV/Aids in South AfricaHIV vaccine breaks new groundUseful linksThe Wakefield GranniesCanadian High Commission in South AfricaAlexandraCity of Johannesburg
A month after the Maharashtra Assembly election results were announced on October 24, the political impasse in the State seems to have reached a climax, albeit with a stunning overnight twist. In less than twelve hours, the focus shifted from the NCP-Congress-Shiv Sena alliance that was all set to form a government, to the BJP, as Devendra Fadnavis took oath as the Chief Minister early on Saturday along with NCP leader Ajit Pawar as Deputy CM.Here’s what transpired in the month leading up to the event:October 24: Divided outcomesElections to the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly were held on October 21. Allies BJP and Shiv Sena emerge as the two largest parties in the results, but both parties see a dip in the number of seats won and their vote share. Meanwhile, the NCP and the Congress are net gainers, with 54 and 44 seats respectively.Although a BJP-Shiv Sena government with Mr. Fadnavis at the helm seems like a done deal, the Sena insists on a rotational chief ministership. The BJP, however, maintains that it does not intend to share the post.October 25-29: the early signs of turmoilShiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray says he will only have discussions with BJP national president Amit Shah.Mr. Fadnavis denies acceding to the Sena’s demands. “I have confirmed with Amit Shah and he told me that the BJP has not given any assurance for the Chief Minister’s post for two-and-a-half years (each for the BJP and Sena),” he says.The two parties, in a bid to boost their numbers, enlist the support of MLAs from small outfits and independents.The Congress and the NCP stick to their Oppositional role. “We are entering the new Assembly with not only increased strength but also renewed resolve to fight the anti-people policies of the government to the end,” says Nationalist Congress Party’s Mumbai unit president Nawab Malik. Ajit Pawar, NCP leader and nephew of Sharad Pawar, says that his party and the Congress will remain in the Opposition.October 30- November 2: unlikely alliance on the cards?On October 30, former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan says the Congress high command shall decide on a possible alliance between the Congress and Shiv Sena: “These are ifs and buts… in case we do receive such a proposal from the Shiv Sena… To the best of my knowledge, no such proposal has come to us,” says the senior Congressman.Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala adds to the uncertainty. “Maharashtra is an evolving situation and in such an evolving situation, Congress general secretary in-charge Mallikarjun Kharge and the leaders of the State will decide. It won’t be proper to comment on this any further,” he says.Meanwhile, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut says that he had a meeting with NCP chief Sharad Pawar. The latter however dismisses it as a routine visit.Mr. Pawar also met senior Congress leaders in the State on October 31. The leaders then visited Delhi to discuss the party’s stand if the Shiv Sena stakes claim to form the government. The Congress is yet to receive an official proposal from the Sena.Sanjay Raut also says that the Shiv Sena can form a government on its own, without formally mentioning a possible alliance between the Congress-NCP and Shiv Sena.While Congress’ Prithviraj Chavan briefs party president Sonia Gandhi, senior leader M. Veerappa Moily says they are open to supporting the Sena.November 3 – November 12: numerous upheavalsThe Shiv Sena steps up its rhetoric again with Mr. Raut claiming to have the support of up to 175 MLAs. A Sena Chief Minister would soon take oath at Shivaji Park, he claims on November 4.Meanwhile, the BJP tries to bring Shiv Sena back to the table by offering two key portfolios.In an important development, NCP chief Sharad Pawar meets Congress president Sonia Gandhi on November 4. Though the Congress didn’t comment on the meeting, sources claim Ms. Gandhi has reservations about Sena’s secular credentials.Finally, NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik says that the party is ready to be an alternative partner in the government.On November 7, the BJP meets Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari to discuss the situation in the State. The Governor later invites the party to form a government.However, the party is unable to carve up the requisite numbers and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis resigns. Mr. Koshyari then calls NCP and Shiv Sena to stake their claim, but denies extra time to Sena. “We (Shiv Sena) were asked if we were willing to form the government. We have started talks with Congress and NCP. We have informed the Governor we have the willingness but the duration given to us is less. The process needs another 48 hours but he has refused us extra time,” says Aditya Thackeray.Shiv Sena and Congress put up their MLAs in hotels in Bandra and Jaipur respectively, amidst allegations of poaching by the BJP. The party denies the horse-trading allegations.On November 12, President’s rule is imposed in the State.November 12- November 15: consolidating tiesThe Shiv Sena moves the Supreme Court against the President’s Rule in the State. The three parties move closer to a formal alliance, working out a Common Minimum Programme. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray says he will study unusual alliances in the country for information, and maintains that it is the BJP that caused their alliance to fall apart.Mr. Pawar says there is no need for mid-term polls and the post of Chief Minister shall lie with Shiv Sena.Shiv Sena announces that it will not attend the national NDA meet in Delhi and has parted ways with the BJP.November 15-November 22: coming to fruitionThe word ‘secularism’ becomes a bone of contention between the Congress-NCP and Shiv Sena, with the latter inclined to drop it from the CMP. Nonetheless, the three parties move closer to forming a government in an alliance called the ‘Mahavikas Aghadi’.Sharad Pawar meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament ahead of announcing Uddhav Thackeray for the Chief Minister’s post. Senior BJP leaders say the meeting involved talks on the political situation in Maharashtra and that it has reignited hope that the party is not completely sidelined.On the eve of November 22, the tri-party alliance announces that Uddhav Thackeray is set to assume chief ministership of the State.November 23: a stunning turn of eventsBJP leader Devendra Fadnavis and NCP leader Ajit Pawar take oath as Maharashtra Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister respectively.“The State is suffering from farmer problems. The instability in the State is not good for the development of the State. It was important to form the government. Ajit dada came with us and we approached the Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and claimed to form the government. The President’s rule was removed and we decided to take oath today itself,” says Mr. Fadnavis, while talking to news agency ANI at Raj Bhavan.President Ram Nath Kovind revokes President’s Rule in the State in a notification signed at 5.47 am.