Events and News

How is COVID-19 affecting CLEF students?

Africa Foundation established the Community Leaders Education Fund (CLEF) scholarship program in 1996, and is supporting 100 students in 2020.  The aim of the CLEF program is to assist young people to acquire education and skills that would not otherwise be available to them, with the ultimate goal of reducing unemployment levels, increasing household incomes, and uplifting communities.   

As universities around the world close due to lockdowns, family homes have become the new university campuses, backyards the new quads, and bedrooms the new lecture halls. While students in countries like the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are finding that studying from home comes with many struggles and obstacles, we wanted to find out how students from rural African villages are facing this pandemic – our CLEF students.  We spoke to four CLEF students from three different countries to find out how their studies, and life in general, has been impacted by COVID-19 Here is what we learned from them:

 Family is what matters. 

Kwanele is an 18-year-old South African from KZN studying Aerodynamics at WITS university. He normally lives on campus in Johannesburg, but due to COVID, is now back at home with his mother and three brothers. When we asked Kwanele how the closing of the university has affected his life, the main concern for him was in fact, the health and safety of his family – and especially his mother who is a nurse at the local clinic. He said he would be ‘too worried’ about his mother if he was still living far from home on campus, and is much happier to be able to help support and take care of her as she works in a high-risk environment. As for his studies, he will have to write his exams online and is particularly missing the face to face content with other students and the lecturers. While living at home means he has less access to his classmates, and resources such as internet, libraries or even quiet study spaces, Kwanele was sure that home was where he was meant – and wanted – to be right now. In fact, all students we spoke to expressed in some way the important role their family has played during the pandemic. They said they were enjoying the extra time with their families and that this was the main, if only, positive take-away from the whole experience.

 Internet access is a privilege not to be taken for granted. 

Unsurprisingly, access to data and internet, as well as the related infrastructure, was the main stumbling block cited by all of the  students we interviewed.  It is the main barrier to them achieving productive work. Nhlayiso, from Mpumalanga, South Africa, is 17 and in his first year of Law at the University of Limpopo. He has had limited access to data, no Wi-Fi, and no laptop to work on. He said, with some pride at the achievement, how he had typed up his essays on his phone.  Many CLEF students do not have access to electricity in their home and must walk to charge phones and laptops at neighboring houses or electricity points- something made difficult in the context of social distancing. The consequence is that it is almost impossible for our students to effectively study to the level that they strive for and that meets the demands of  their universities. The impact is an overwhelming feeling of frustration and stress about the progress of their degrees.

 Economically speaking, the seas are rough. 

For all of us, there is no doubt that one of the most serious impacts of this pandemic and subsequent levels of lockdown is the economic one – on us as families and on the countries in which we live. Many of the students in the CLEF program are from families who solely rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods. Now, with markets, shops and other forms of trade all but vanishing and the price of goods dropping, these families are finding themselves with little to no income. Tezra, a 22-year-old from Tanzania is in her third year studying Water Management and Safety at the University of Dar Es Salaam.  Tezra’s father is a subsistence farmer. Tezra told us that he planted a lot of crops and usually sells all his produce, however since COVID, the price has dropped, and he cannot sell products over the border due to lockdown. Tezra says that her family has experienced ‘a great loss’, and this is a huge worry on her shoulders on top of thoughts about how her graduation and ability to join the working world is also being put on hold.

 Their futures are uncertain. 

When we asked these students how much communication they were receiving from their universities, the answers were disappointing. Apart from one South African university which was putting up online material and supplying underprivileged students with free data, support from other universities has varied significantly leaving some students feeling stranded.  Rather than a criticism of universities, this appears to be the result of a general insecurity and uncertainty that has pervaded all facets of life – educational institutions notwithstanding. John, 33, is one semester away from graduating from Kenya University as a Special School Teacher majoring in physical education and history. The closure of his university and the subsequent radio-silence has had a huge impact on John; it will inevitably stretch out the date of his graduation and the acquisition of a job by at least a year. He says, ‘I am just there hanging somewhere. I’m just in a cocoon and I can’t think outside’.

They will not give up. 

While there have been many barriers to productivity in the last few weeks for these students, one thing we can be sure of is that they do not lack motivation or determination. The goals and dreams spoken about by our interviewees was nothing short of inspirational. Kwanele wants to improve aeroplane and rocket fuel efficiency to help the environment and progress human scientific exploration. He will be an innovator. Tezra hopes to improve water management, security, and quality in her rural community and beyond. It is important to her that her community has safe water, and she wants to help make that happen. She will be a life-saver. Nhlayiso, on his path to being a lawyer, has been fascinated by the legal system since he was a boy – constantly reading law books in his spare time. He will fight for justice. John wants to provide better access to education for children living with disabilities in his community. He said that it was watching his younger brother struggle with his disability that motivated him to pursue this career. He will be a life-changer. In fact, these are the people who will change the world.

But this is not exactly surprising.

Since its inception, the CLEF bursary has been incredibly impactful and has helped nurture students into adults who can be looked up to by their communities and indeed, whoever they meet. The program first and foremost aims to empower individuals. As you can imagine, this results in students who are passionate and dedicated to their chosen area of study. Secondly, the program does not fully fund a student’s university education. The CLEF bursary is a partial bursary and students must fundraise or obtain other bursaries to fulfill the full fee of their studies. This is hugely empowering as it places responsibility on the student and the community to support and prioritize university education, creating students who have a sense of ownership over their degree. The benefits of this are clearly visible now when all of our students are adapting to their new challenges and finding solutions that work for them. Thirdly, the CLEF program, its program manager Nonhlahla, and the entire CLEF community compromising of past and present students, creates a strong network where students can access emotional, mental and practical support from their peers and the adults involved in running the CLEF  program. This third point has been one of the more crucial aspects of our CLEF students managing lockdown, as each of them said the support they receive from the CLEF network has helped them tremendously – not just to study but also to stay positive.

Article by Tanya van der Ploeg, Africa Foundation (SA) Donor Relations Officer


Worldwide, news reports talk to the overwhelming strain that the COVID-19 pandemic is putting on healthcare systems. Even the most well-equipped facilities in developed countries are buckling under the pressure.

How then, do we imagine the hospitals and clinics in rural African locations are going to cope?

Africa Foundation works with clinics in rural South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, where many do not even have a direct water supply. Most do not have beds or capacity to isolate infected patients. All have a shortage of equipment and medical supplies. None have ventilators. They are under-staffed for the number of patients and have limited access to testing laboratories and medical specialists.

Every single one is woefully under-resourced to effectively manage an outbreak of COVID-19.

The situation is compounded by the fact that these clinics are serving communities in which poverty, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria and diarrhoel diseases are rife. Where whole families live in small one or two room homes. Where household water supplies are a scarcity.

In essence; the most ‘at risk’ people are in environments least equipped to respond.

Requests for support have been flooding in to the regional Africa Foundation teams. Clinic staff are expressing their deepest fears, of not being able to care for COVID-19 patients, prevent the spread and protect themselves.

With your support, Africa Foundation can help.

Our team are well positioned within communities and have access to key suppliers and transportation. We can act fast and help to equip these clinics.

Click to make a donation online. 

Increasing community resilience in the face of COVID-19

“Sanitation is one of the basic necessities, which contributes to human dignity and quality of life and is an essential prerequisite for success in the fight against poverty, hunger, child deaths, gender inequality and empowerment.” ~Dept. Water & Sanitation SA.

319 million people in sub-Saharan Africa still do not have access to a hygienic water point, a figure which equates to 48% of Africa’s population (WHO). In the rural areas of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa, more than 12% of the population have no access at all to piped water and a further 13% have to travel over 200 meters to reached piped water from a communal tap.

The people who are affected by water scarcity also tend to be the most vulnerable members of society in other ways; they suffer from poor nutrition, limited funds, and the effects of the countries HIV/AIDs and TB epidemic, significantly reducing their immune system.

The main precautionary measures advised by WHO in the face of COVID-19 are:

  • Frequent and comprehensive hand-washing practices.
  • Social distancing.

Both of these are made difficult by a lack of household access to water, and a dependency on communal taps.


The Government of South Africa has taken stringent precautionary measures to ‘flatten the curve’ of infection so as not to over burden the healthcare system. However, in rural communities, the healthcare facilities are already woefully under-resourced and under-capacitated to effectively manage an outbreak of COVID-19.
Many rural clinics do not even have a direct water supply. They are dependent on municipality deliveries of water in tanks, or their own collection of water from community taps.

The Government closure of schools is a step to increase social distancing. While beneficial, the result has been an increased strain on centers which provide support for orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs). Children whose home circumstances are unable to meet their physical and emotional needs depend on these centers for food, mentorship, life skills education and access to healthcare and social workers. Children are now attending the centers more often and for longer periods, and in doing so are at increased risk of infection.


Our goal is to act fast and ensure that:

  1. Clinics have access to water – through the repair or provision of new boreholes.
  2. The children and staff at OVC centres are kept as safe as possible, through the provision of safe water supply and sanitizers.
  3. Vulnerable households with no direct water supply have a hippo water roller which easily transports and stores 90 litres of water, reducing the frequency at which a person has to visit a communal water collection point.

£50 – Provides 10 liters of hand sanitizer to an OVC centre.

£160 – Buys a Hippo Roller for a vulnerable household, to collect and store water more easily and efficiently.

£1,500 – Can fund repairs of broken boreholes and taps at clinics and OVC centers.

£8,000 – Enables the drilling and installation of a water borehole to provide additional water sources in critical locations.


Robin James Award


To mark the 25th year of Africa Foundation, we have launched the Africa Foundation Robin James Award.

About the Award

The award in the name of Robin James, honours one of Africa Foundations trustees, and chair of Africa Foundation (UK), who passed away in 2016.

Robin James’ childhood interest in wildlife grew into an adult passion for conservation and the upliftment of rural communities. At Africa Foundation the legacy of Robin James began in 1992, when he provided the initial funding and vision for the organisation’s work. Thereafter Robin remained an active ambassador for Africa Foundation; his influence and inspiration, invaluable to the organisation’s continued growth. His daily dedication was unwavering and his years of service to the cause is unparalleled by any other.

The Africa Foundation Robin James Award aims to recognise people who show the same commitment to empowering people through access to education, health, economic opportunities and conservation. The award celebrates those who embody the same foresight, wisdom and sustained commitment that enabled Robin James to have an extraordinary impact on the lives of others.

More about Robin James

Robin James was born in 1945, and  spent his childhood growing up in Natal.  His  father, Ted James, was a Director of the Natal Parks Board, and through this involvement Robin developed his love for the outdoors and his fascination with birds. After finishing school at Michaelhouse, Robin spent a year in the Navy before attending the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, followed by a long and successful career in financial services in South Africa,  London and latterly the Isle of Man. Robin died suddenly on 17 May 2016.

The African bush was Robin’s sanctuary from the world, and it would be here where you would find him most relaxed and at peace. Robin photographed every aspect of bush life, and this love of the African bush set him on a philanthropic path 25 years ago.

In 1992,  he was a part of the visionary team of investors with Mark and Tara Getty that founded Africa Foundation after the creation of the Phinda Private Game Reserve.   Back then, Robin had provided the organisation’s initial seed funding and he remained instrumental in charting its course to present day, as a Trustee of the Africa Foundation in South Africa and Chairman of the Africa Foundation UK.

Below are just a few examples of the wonderful photographs Robin took:

Robin James Bee EaterRobin James Wildebeest
Robin James LeopardRobin James Yellow Bird

Selection Criteria for the Award

It is in Robin James’ name that Africa Foundation has chosen to recognise people who:

  1. Have had a significant and sustained positive impact on communities in which Africa Foundation is active.
  2. Have demonstrated the key aspects of the Africa Foundation methodology to empower communities by: doing things with people and; always building on the capacity and local wisdom of the community, to ensure sustainable solutions.
  3. Embody the key qualities of Robin James – humble; wise; persistent; positive; gentle; measured, with a long term outlook.

The Judges

The judging panel have been selected for their experience of Africa Foundation in action, their knowledge of the communities in which Africa Foundation is active, their valued professional insights and varied perspectives from regional and international positions

For more information about the judges click here.

The Award

  1. A sculpture, especially created by famous South African sculptor Dylan Lewis
  2. A cash prize
  3. A cash prize to be donated to an Africa Foundation community project of the winner’s choice.

Meet the 2017 Award Winner:

Mrs. Nomusa Haslot Zikhali, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

Africa Foundation Robin James Award winner

Mrs. Zikhali first became known to Africa Foundation when she applied for support in 1999. For 2 years she had been running a school, teaching 60 children under the shade of trees in Mnqobokazi. Her commitment to and love of children, combined with sustained determination and strong leadership, led to Nkomo School today being a full service primary school for over 1000 pupils, of which she is the principal.

Her community focus meant that she was also integral to the development of Khulani Special School in Mduku. Mrs Zikhali raised funds for its construction and played a key role in the consultative processes with community and the Department of Education. Her involvement has ensured the long term success of the school which serves 300 pupils living with disabilities.

Mrs Zikhali went on to secure funding to build a centre for orphaned and vulnerable children, based at Nkomo School, which provides after-school care for children attending Nkomo and other neighbouring schools.

Recognising the importance of conservation and the role of education in protecting the environment and wildlife, Mrs Zikhali is a leader in the Eco School programme, and Nkomo serves as a training school in the area.

As an ambassador for the Africa Foundation methodology for community empowerment and sustainable change, Mrs Zikhali mentors school principals in the area, illustrating how to take ownership of their own sustainable growth.

Mrs Zikhali is recognised by the judges as a humble leader, visionary teacher and a devoted community member.


A Graduate of Distinction: Graduation of Sumayi James Korogwe, Tazania 2010

By Judy James, Africa Foundation Advisory Board

We first met Sumayi James when we visited Lukungu School near Grumeti in 2006 and the projects the Africa Foundation were undertaking there.  Sumayi was the Maths teacher, and we couldn’t help being impressed with this fine young woman.  She was already a Local Champion who, in addition to her teaching duties, was reaching out to AIDS victims in the community and continues to look after AIDS orphans in her own home.

So, when the opportunity arose, the Africa Foundation were pleased to sponsor Sumayi to attend a two-year Diploma course in Early Learning  at the Tanzanian College of Early Learning in Korogwe, so that she could take these extra skills back into her community.

As a result, Sumayi gave up her teaching job at Lukungu, left her three young children at home and – with the blessing of her very supportive husband and the community – took her place at the College to gain her Diploma.

My husband, Robin is the Chairman of Africa Foundation UK and we had promised Sumayi we would attend her Graduation, so, on 4th June 2010 we travelled out to Tanzania  and were met at Kilimanjaro Airport early in the morning by Ernest Mgonho from &Beyond Foundation, and Jeremiah,  Sumayi’s husband,  who had come up from Lamadi near Mwanza on Lake Victoria.

We set off for the four hour journey to Korogwe, following the road to Dar es Salaam about 100 kms inland, through flat arid land, with the dramatic Usambara range of mountains running alongside us, then through extensive sisal farms, and climbing through the lush, almost tropical, foothills to reach Korogwe.

On the morning of the graduation, we gathered at the entrance to the College, established by Norwegians in 2001, and situated outside Korogwe with a beautiful view over the hills. Students, teachers and graduates, resplendent in their robes, had begun to sing and dance as the band played.  Then, at a signal from the Principal, the band  led the happy procession singing and swaying up the drive to the College and into the beautifully decorated main hall, open on all sides to the cooling breeze,  packed with dignitaries, students from the College and from the Primary and Secondary schools associated with the college.

There was a full programme of events – performances from the school children from Hill View Primary and Hill View Secondary Schools, including poetry, a fashion show, recitals, dancing and singing and a particularly moving solo from a teenage AIDS orphan who had composed the hauntingly beautiful song himself, and which brought tears to many eyes.  The graduates each gave a dissertation on a certain person in history who had made a significant contribution to early child care/education – Sumayi chose Maria Montessori as her subject.

The dignitaries, who comprised the Principal of the College, Chairman of the Governors, representatives from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Administration of Children’s Rights, Law and Constitution, the Ruling CCM Party, the Water Board, and the District Doctor who attended to the students needs, all spoke eloquently and at length and then Robin and I were both called on to address the assembled crowd.   Then the Principal awarded each Graduate their certificate, and their family and friends draped their candidate with brightly coloured garlands while everyone clapped and laughed.

So much preparation and forethought had gone into ensuring the success of this happy occasion and afterwards we were treated to lunch set out in the large dining hall, also open on all sides to take advantage of any cool air during the intense heat of the day.

That evening Sumayi had organised a special dinner at a local restaurant in Korogwe which was a joyous event, to thank the Africa Foundation as sponsors, to say goodbye to some of the graduates and teachers who had become her friends and to celebrate a tremendous achievement.  There were more speeches, although this time one of the teachers acted as interpreter from Swahili to English, and the other way round when it was Robin and my turn to say our thanks.  We congratulated Sumayi on a superb effort to achieve second place overall for the year,  and we thanked her husband , Jeremiah, and the rest of her family for their amazing support which made it possible for her to spend two years so far away.

The Tanzanian Government is encouraging all Primary Schools to build a separate Pre-school and the Africa Foundation have raised funds to construct a Pre-school and OVC day-care centre next to the Lukungu Primary School – of which Sumayi will be the Principal.   We hope that this Pre-school will become a centre of excellence for the surrounding areas, and that Sumayi will be able to use her qualifications to train local teachers wanting to specialise in Early Learning and to advise on the setting up of other Pre-Schools in the area and beyond.

In Memory of Robin James – 1945-2016

It is with extremely heavy hearts that we convey the passing of Robin James, Chairman of Africa Foundation (UK) and trustee of Africa Foundation South Africa. Rob’s incredible legacy of uplifting the rural communities of Africa began 25 years ago, when he was a part of the visionary team that founded Africa Foundation. Back then, Rob had provided the organisation’s initial seed funding and was instrumental in charting its course to present day.

A truly dedicated and passionate individual, Rob’s steadfast commitment to empowering people through access to education, health and economic opportunities meant that he had an extraordinary impact on the lives of thousands of people. His daily dedication was unwavering and his years of service to the cause was unparalleled by any other. Our gratitude and words will never suffice. His wisdom and selfless contribution will truly be missed.

From all at Africa Foundation – we thank you Rob.

Rob is survived by his wife Judy and his children Stuart and Richard – our thoughts are with you all.

Photo from left: the late Lance Japhet, former Chairman of Africa Foundation; Africa Foundation Patron Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and the late Robin James, Chairman of Africa Foundation (UK)