Nongoma is in the heart of Zululand, an isolated area of South Africa, in the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal. Nongoma has historically been isolated from the other areas as the only tarred link road used to be the link to Ulundi in the south. This remoteness has left the people feeling “forgotten” and indeed the events of the last few years have emphasized the vulnerability of these people and their need to feel that they have friends elsewhere.
Nongoma Town, also referred to as the Royal City, is an extremely vibrant rural node fulfilling a central role in the economy of the Nongoma Municipality and northern Zululand as a whole. The role of the town is often underestimated and therefore the town has historically not attracted the level of investment that it deserves. The 2001 Census statistics suggested that Nongoma had a population of 198,443 people. Of this total the majority (55%) were woman. Approximately 60% of the Nongoma population falls in the zero to twenty years age category.
South Africa as a whole has more HIV-positive citizens than any other nation. Among South Africa’s provinces, KwaZulu-Natal has the highest rate of HIV infection: 39 percent, according to UNAIDS in 2009. As a result of HIV/AIDS a whole generation of parents has been wiped off the map. This has left many teenage children, and some even younger suddenly having to be parents themselves. Obtaining food and finding time for school has taken second place to keeping their dependants alive. Many grandparents have also found themselves without their own children to care for them. There are also many disabled people and little expertise in how to care for them. The initial impression is that the problem is too big for a town like Oundle to make a difference but it has become clear that even talking to them about forming a friendship with our town means a great deal to them.