Kristin Palitza works as Africa correspondent for dpa, the German Press Agency. Her articles have also appeared in Forbes Africa, Monocle, the Guardian and TIME.

She lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa, but regularly goes on assignment throughout the continent.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Kristin Palitza arbeitet als Afrika-Korrespondentin für dpa, die Deutsche Presse Agentur. Ihre Artikel sind außerdem in Forbes Africa, Monocle, Guardian und TIME Magazin erschienen.

Sie lebt und arbeitet im südafrikanischen Kapstadt und reist regelmäßig auf dem Kontinent. 

+27 72 287 2202

Latest tweets
Editor Login

I spy...

I travelled to Zimbabwe in April where a mainly EU sponsored, multi-donor Health Transition Fund is supposed to help the national health system recover from the country’s 2002-2008 economic crisis. Skilled doctors and nurses had left Zimbabwe in droves, medicine supply had dried up and entire hospitals, including operating theatres, had to close down.

Mothers and babies suffer the most under the crumbling health system. Every day, eight women and 100 children die in Zimbabwe from pregnancy- and delivery-related complications. Thanks to foreign funding, the conditions of the health system are improving, but only slowly. In a district hospital in Masvingo province, there is no running water most days. Power outages are frequent, the hospital kitchen is out of order and so are the washing machines. Resuscitation machines and much other life-saving equipment is broken, too. Drug shortages remain frequent.

While I was in Harare and Masvingo province, political tension could be felt wherever we went. We were either accompanied by a government official, or saw undercover intelligence officers lurking in the background. President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF continues to have the country firmly under control. Ordinary Zimbabweans say they feel intimidated on a daily basis and not free to speak their minds. With elections scheduled for the second half of 2013, the atmosphere in the country is becoming tenser with every month. Soon, the doors will be closed on foreign journalists completely.



No change

I returned to Lesotho in February 2013, a year and a half after I had visited the small mountain kingdom to report on the harsh living conditions of its children, especially those orphaned by HIV/Aids. It was heartbreaking to see that nothing had changed. Still today, every fourth child in Lesotho is orphaned, many live without proper shelter and almost 40% of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition and are stunted.

15-year-old Montseng Khoache lives with her grandmother in a bare one-roomed stone house (see picture). The girl, who lost both parents to the disease, is one of hundreds of poverty-stricken orphans in the district. She and her grandmother mainly survive on the yield from a small vegetable garden. Montseng also makes brooms from dried grass, which she sells in the community. “Life is hard,” she says, with little hope that the future will bring positive change.



Cancerous world

When Zena Mwamjengwa was admitted to Tanzania's only hospital that treats cancer after 18 months of suffering, it was already too late. The tumor had spread throughout her body. "I didn't know anything about cancer," says the widow and mother of four who comes from a small village in Tanzania's southern highlands, more than a thousand kilometers from capital Dar es Salaam. "There is no access to prevention where I live."  

Mwamjegwa had sold her most valuable possession, her mattress, to buy a bus ticket, asked a neighbour to watch her children and made her way to the Ocean Road Cancer Hospital in Dar es Salaam, where I met her in December 2012. But by the time she arrived, it was too late. The 46-year-old suffers from terminal cervical cancer.

The widow is no alone in her suffering. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women living in sub-Saharan Africa. Almost a quarter of the estimated 275,000 women who die every year from cancer live according to the World Health Organisation, south of the Sahara. Only a third survives.


Angry Birds - an epic battle for food between birds and men

I came across this sad but beautiful story about Mauritanian farmers' desperate fight for food during my recent trip to the Sahel desert where Africa's next major hunger crisis looms. I wrote this piece for Roads and Kingdoms, a new media venture by former TIME editor Nathan Thornburgh and renowned New York Times food writer Matt Goulding - a new journal about foreign travel, food, war, politics and music. You can read my full article here.


Fighting hunger

I met Kertouma Mind Sedatty, a 39-year old mother, and her seven children on my recent trip to Mauritania to report about the looming hunger crisis in the Sahel. They live pretty much in the middle of nowhere, more than 800 kilometres from the capital Nouakchott. This small, rickety tent is there home.

Living way below the poverty line of $1 a day, Kertouma and her husband struggle to bring their family through with a small millet field, three cows and few goats, even in a good year. But because there was almost no rainfall last season, they had no harvest last September and there is no blade of grass left for their cows to eat -- just dry sand and stone. In February, Kertouma told me they had just used up all of their food reserves. And she had no idea how to feed her children, most of whom are already chronically malnourished.

Governments in the Sahel have called an emergency and appealed for aid, but donors are slow to come to the party. Since I returned to South Africa, I have often been wondering what has happened to Kertouma and her children. Would I find them alive, were I to return in June, at the height of the dry season?


COP17 Durban

2011 ended rather stressfully, with me covering the international climate change summit COP17 in Durban, South Africa, in December. Not only did the conference end up being one of the longest global summits in history - initially scheduled for 12 days it went almost 2 full days over time! I also faced the added difficult task of having to report complex scientific and political issues in both German and English, under severe deadline pressures. One 14-hour workday followed the next, and the occasions when I was able to leave the conference centre before dark were rare.

But it was an exciting 2 weeks nonetheless, sometimes even fun. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon (see pic), reconnected with many (new and old) journalist colleagues and networked with a number of interesting people from the politicial, scientific and NGO sectors. Still, I must admit I'm glad there's only one climate summit each year (and I only have to cover those on African soil)!


Child poverty Lesotho

The tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho and its 1.8 million people have pretty much fallen off the map. Entirely enclosed - and it seems almost suffocated by - South Africa, the constitutional monarchy doesn't feature much in international news or global political agendas. And so nobody had really noticed how drastically poverty has increased in this nation, where now every second child is destitute.

Flagging economic fortunes and a persistent AIDS pandemic have devastated the southern African nation, leaving little hope it will ever be able to pull itself out of its bleak poverty trap. Every fourth child here is orphaned.

The granny in this photo lives with her two granddaughters in a dark, crowded mudhouse, struggling to provide even one warm meal for her family a day. Like thousands of other children, the girls are chronically malnourished and mostly go to school on an empty stomach.

While the whole world has been anxiously following the grave humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa for the past months, hardly anyone has noticed that Lesotho, too, has become one of the worst places in the world to be a child.


DR Congo

I spent 10 days travelling through the Democratic Repubic of Congo (DRC) in mid-October - spending time in North and South Kivu, the country's mineral-rich and war-torn East, as well as in capital Kinshasa - to find out more about the pre-election atmosphere in the country.

The DRC will hold its second democratic elections on November 28. Only that this time around, it will have to manage without massive support from the United Nations and the West. Six weeks before the polls, tensions were already running high. In the countries east, rebel attacks remain the order of the day, while a corrupt military and police force are regarded as enemies, not offering protection to its people. No matter to which side of the political spectrum I spoke, hardly anyone expects free, fair and peaceful elections. Many feel abandonned by the West, which many believe has a vested interest in keeping the DRC politically unstable to secure its continuous and cheap access to the central African country's vast natural resources.

It was disheartening to work in a country that, as a fellow correspondent once wrote, "seems to have fallen victim to a paradox of sub-Sharan Africa: that countries with the greatest natural assets are doomed to war and stagnation, while nations with nothing somehow prove better at building contented societies. The richer the nation, the more spoils to fight over." But what gave hope was that quite a number of exiled, highly educated Congolese have returned to their country and are actively involved in trying to turn its politics around. Perhaps not all is lost after all...



Child tobacco labour

In late February, I went to Malawi to research an investigative feature about the country's child tobacco labourers. The children are not only exploited, but the work is also extremely dangerous to their health.

One can imagine that the Malawian government was not too keen to have international news coverage on the issue. They had told tobacco farmers not to speak to journalists, in the same month that they passed a new media bill that allows them to shut down publications without having to provide reasons. A few weeks later, President Bingu wa Mutharika announced everyone who criticises him would "be beaten".

Due to the questionable human rights situation in the country, a group of international donors, including Germany, the US, Japan, France and the UK, had sent an open letter of concern to the Malawian government. Some countries are now withholding aid money.

It was in this atmosphere of a crumbling 'democracy' that I did my research about child tobacco labour. I was ignored by some, shunned and threatened by others, but in the end, I managed to find enough sources that were willing to talk. I left with a great story and photos proving it.



I am the proud recipient of 1 of 10 grants the Fund for Investigative Journalism in Washington DC gives to journalists each year. The grant is used to finance research for an investigative news story that would otherwise be difficult to realise. Mine will bring me to Malawi, where I am planning to uncover the working conditions of child labourers on tobacco farms. I can't disclose much more than that right now, but will post the full story by the end of February.

Click here to see the official announcement.


Heroin and Seaweed

I spent the last 3 weeks on tropical island Zanzibar and returned with two surprising stories.

1) The holiday island has a huge heroin problem, with one in ten of its 1 million inhabitants using the drug. When night falls, the narrow lanes of Stonetown became dark hiding places for addicts. Heroin is incredibly cheap on the island, which lies on a major trade route from Afghanistan, through India, to East Africa. The Zanzibari government is trying to keep the issue quiet, since its economy heavily relies on tourism.

2) One of the other foreign currency earners in Zanzibar is seaweed farming. It's not only used for Sushi but mainly as a gelling agent in toothpastes, cremes and medication. Who would have thought?! It's also a key income-generation opportunity for unskilled women on the island.



Five-year-old Fatime and her mother Halime sit on a thin, shabby mattress in a hospital in central-african Chad. Fatime is severely, acutely malnourished and weighs only 7.5kgs - half of what she should weigh. The family are nomads in the Sahel desert, where climate change has reduced rainfalls and temperatures reach up to 50 degrees Celcius. Thousands of people are starving here and there is very little access to live-saving services. Halime had to hitchhike with her dying child on the roofs of trucks for 700 kilometres, over 5 days, to reach the nearest clinic. It was one of my most heart-breaking experiences to interview Halime and Fatime. For more photos from my trip to Chad, click here.



Since early November, I am working as a foreign correspondent for Swiss news agency Textagentur Cafe Europe, which sells articles to a wide range of German-language print media in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg. My articles are now published in Berliner Zeitung, der Standard, Wiener Zeitung and many other newspapers and magazines.


Training journalists

In early October, I was hired by international news agency Inter Press Service (IPS) to train 15 journalists from all over southern Africa on how to report on climate change and water issues. We flew to Maun, a small town on Botswana's Okavango Delta for some hands-on training sessions on how the people who live along the river have been affected by climate change.

The training also coinciced with a conference on climate change, the South African Development Community (SADC) Multi-Stakeholder Water Dialogue. Together with the newly trained journalists, we produced a conference newspaper, which reports on the latest water and climate change policies and strategies in southern Africa.


Touring Malawi

In August, the trip to Malawi, which was part of the Red Cross journalism award (see two entries below) last year, finally came through. I had a fascinating ten days of visiting several humanitarian projects throughout the country.

First, we talked to rural farmers about food security, malnutrition and survival. Paddle pump as well as solar and wind-powered irrigation system will hopefully help these farmers to boost their harvests and gain sustainable livelihoods.

A day later, we visited Malawi's only refugee camp, Dzaleka, where more than 11,000 Africans who had to flee their countries live together. Living conditions are tough here, and alcohol abuse and domestic violence are rife. I interviewed a 13-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather and, nine months later, gave birth to his child.

We also travelled all the way to Karonga, in the northern tip of the country, where two earthquakes in December 2009 caused thousands of homes to crumble. The recovery and reconstruction process has been slow, with those affected still living in tents and makeshift constructions, ten months after the disaster. What's worse is that they are running out of time: What is not finished before the start of the rainy season in November will have to wait until March or April next year.

To see photos of the trip, click here.


Book Launch

'What is Left Unsaid: Reporting the South African HIV Epidemic' is a book I conceptualised and edited in 2009/2010. It's content is based on selected journalism, research and anaylis produced by fellows of the HIV & the Media Project, a programme run by the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

'What is Left Unsaid' will be available in bookstores from September and we will have launch events in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Look out for it.


In the News

Last month, I was interviewed about freelancing in South Africa by British media magazine Press Gazette:

Postcard from Cape Town, South Africa

With freelance journalist Kristin Palitza

Why South Africa?

Initially, I came here on a year’s sabbatical, to volunteer in a township day care centre for HIV- positive kids and AIDS orphans. That was eight years ago. I became extremely interested in socio- political issues, ranging from health to education, poverty, housing, water/sanitation and food security. So I started writing about these topics for German as well as South African newspapers.

Click to read more ...



In November 2009, I was given the International Federation of the Red Cross Good News award for humanitarian reporting in Africa. It was awarded to me for a feature article I wrote for the Mail & Guardian, called 'Gardening for Life'.

The best thing about the award is the prize: A working trip to Malawi early next year, to report about a food security and a gender-based violence programme.


Orange River Blues

This month, I am working on a media kit to inform journalists about the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM), which was established by the governments of Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia to create enviornmental sustainability of the Orange River basin.

It's a big and exciting initiative that aims to tackle a wide range of environmental issues, inlcuding the protection of the basin, optimal use of the river, Southern Africa's water footprint, job creation and climate change. Some major funding organisations, like the European Union and GTZ, have pooled their resources to support the initiative.

I am producing a fully-fledged media kit that will help journalists to report in-depth on the work ORASECOM is doing. It will include everything from fact sheets, press releases, an info booklet, a brief history of the commission and an overview of the many projects that are happening to conserve the river. Hopefully, we'll see some interesting reporting come out of this.




Threatened Wildflower Wonder

Once a year, in the African spring, a dry and barren area in South Africa's Northern Cape, called Namaqualand, turns into a lush and luminant carpet of wildflowers. Tourists come from all over South Africa, Europe and even Japan to witness this natural spectacle.

But nobody knows how long we will still be able to experience the phenomenon. Environmental experts warn that changing rainfall and temperature patterns caused by climate change will soon diminish the vastness of flowers of Namaqualand, which is one of the world's top biodiversity hot spots. Already, many of the 1350 different flower species that can be found here are either rare or threatened by extinction.

Last weekend, I drove up to Nieuwoudtville, Namaqualand's bulb capital, to observe the flower spectacle. I spoke to various ecologists, botanists and climate change experts to find out about the true state of affairs of the flower kingdom and how long we will still be able to enjoy the phenomenon. The article will be published in The Weekender this Saturday.