South Africa Grandmothers Gathering


From July 14-16th 2016, three hundred grandmothers from across South Africa participated in an unprecedented National Grandmothers Gathering in Durban. 

On the final day of the Gathering, they were joined by nearly 2,000 additional grandmothers, to participate in an historic march and to present their Statement, the South Africa Grandmothers Statement

Taking place on the eve of the 21st International AIDS Conference (IAC), the South Africa Gathering united women collectively caring for thousands of children who have been orphaned by AIDS. Led by six South African grandmothers representing an alliance of 21 community-based organizations partnered with the Stephen Lewis Foundation, participants discussed their pivotal roles in turning the tide of HIV & AIDS, and issued a truly powerful call for the provision of their human rights and the protection of their grandchildren’s futures! 

The South Africa Grandmothers Statement

We stand here today as the guardians of our country’s future. For years, we have struggled to raise our grandchildren, and hold together our families and communities. We came together in groups, supported by our community-based organizations, and found strength in unity. Our love has transformed the devastation of AIDS. We thought we were doing our duty. We knew we were demonstrating our love. In fact, we were raising a nation.

And we are not alone. Grandmothers across Africa have been gathering for the past ten years. From Canada, to Swaziland, to Uganda and now in South Africa, we have moved from mourning to a movement. We have been doing our part, and have become experts on how to survive and thrive in the midst of the AIDS pandemic. It takes so much more than ARVs to resurrect a community. South African grandmothers spent two days together in Durban as the world prepares for the International AIDS Conference, 2016. Today we come to insist that we receive increased support and to have our expertise counted. 

We have learned how to be parents to orphaned children in a time of crisis, developing new strategies to help them stay safe, heal their emotional wounds, and regain hope. Yet these youngsters are your citizens, and they deserve more, including good quality education that feeds their souls as well as their minds, protection from violence, and opportunities for decent, safe employment. Our government must help nurture these children and youth who will lead Africa out of the AIDS pandemic.

Our country created protections for grandmothers. There are pensions, foster care grants and stipends for home-based care workers. To see these measures put in place to protect our rights, gave us hope that our burden would be less heavy. But they are not working. When it can take years for a foster care grant to be processed, when grandmothers have to travel long distances to visit government offices who turn them away again and again, when pensions are hopelessly inadequate and don’t start until 60, then we are dealing with a system that is in desperate need of change.

As older women, we face challenges that are still ignored. The health system is failing us and HIV+ grandmothers have special needs that are not met. We wait in lines at clinics for hours, meet with healthcare workers who are often uncaring and do not have the medication we need. Violence is a constant threat, whether it is rape and assault on our bodies, or physical abuse and intimidation from family members and loan sharks who are after our small savings. We suffer without protection. And when we look to Parliament, there is no one who stands for our interests, no one who speaks for us. We are pillars of our communities, and we live our lives as examples, we are caring for so many children, but who is caring for us?

We will continue to struggle, and we will not give up the fight against HIV & AIDS. We will never give up because this grandmothers movement is powered by love. But we should not have to do this alone. 

To the international community we say: you have overlooked us for far too long. Remember – Nothing About Us Without Us. To our own government we say: It’s time to do right by your grandmothers!

Africa cannot survive without us. We are not asking for charity, for pity or for favours. Access to healthcare, protection from violence, political representation, food security, shelter – these are our human rights. We have come to claim them.


Download the South Africa Grandmothers Statement as a PDF.

The first of its kind in South Africa, the South Africa Grandmothers Gathering follows similarly historic convenings in Toronto, Canada; Manzini, Swaziland; and Entebbe, Uganda. Visit the links below for more information on these landmark events: 

Toronto Gathering

August, 2006

100 African grandmothers and 200 Canadian grandmothers gather on the eve of the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto.

Manzini Gathering

May, 2010

Five hundred grandmothers from across sub-Saharan Africa join together in Swaziland for an historic, international Grandmothers Gathering.

Uganda Gathering

October, 2015

Hundreds of grandmothers from across Uganda gather in Entebbe for the first ever national-level Grandmothers Gathering.

Media Coverage

The following is a selection of the media coverage the South Africa Grandmothers Gathering has received: 

Members of the media are invited to contact with any inquiries. 

International AIDS Conference

Following the South Africa Grandmothers Gathering, the Stephen Lewis Foundation and its partner organizations had a significant presence at the 21st International AIDS Conference itself, coming together in the IAC's 'Global Village' to share their struggles and achievements through drama, song, and storytelling

Taken together, the South Africa Grandmothers Gathering and the International AIDS Conference in Durban signify a critical opportunity to shed light on the tremendous burdens grandmothers are shouldering and the enormous contributions that they are making to Africa's next generation. In an era when 14 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, grandmothers have been at the epicentre of the response. The moment has come for grandmothers' voices, and their claims for recognition and justice, to be heard, and grandmothers are now leading the way in advocacy for their own rights and the rights of the children in their care. It is time! 

Read more about the Stephen Lewis Foundation's participation in the International AIDS Conference below: 

“Treatment is For Life!" How Communities Are Reaching HIV-Positive Children and Youth and Helping Them Succeed
In the Youth Pavilion | Monday 18 July, 12:30 - 14:00

SLF Board Member and former General Secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign, Vuyiseka Dubula, facilitated a discussion focused on reaching HIV-positive children and youth, alongside a group of SLF partner organizations. The panel was composed of Executive Directors and senior management of Cotlands and the Blue Roof Wellness Centre in South Africa, and MUJHU Care, Reach Out Mbuya Parish AIDS Initiative, and St. Francis Health Care Services in Uganda. Participants explored effective community-based approaches for keeping HIV-positive children and youth on ARV treatment, and the session centered the voices and experiences of organizations run by and for people living with HIV & AIDS.

South Africa's Grandmothers on the Move – It’s Time!
In the Youth Pavilion | Wednesday 20 July, 11:00 - 12:30

As well, the Foundation facilitated a panel featuring the voices of South African grandmothers themselves. These unsung heroes of the global AIDS epidemic have stepped into care for a multitude of orphaned grandchildren, tending to their health and battered psyches, putting them through school, and labouring constantly to support their struggling families. Yet scant attention is paid to the human rights violations grandmothers are subject to: violence and abuse, grossly inadequate healthcare, economic exploitation, and land and property grabbing on a massive scale. At this session, a group of the grandmothers participating in the South Africa Grandmothers Gathering came together with representatives of their community-based organizations to share their expertise. 


LGBTIQ organizations in Africa reporting human rights abuses linked to COVID-19 May 19, 2020

Stephen Lewis Foundation / Canada, Press release

World will survive COVID-19 only if 'swift action' taken to help Africa, UN humanitarian says March 25, 2020

Matt Galloway and Idella Sturino, Toronto, Canada, CBC Radio: The Current

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