What is happening to the children of war- torn Natal? How do they survive? Learn and Teach spoke to three youths who are struggling to cope with the war…
The war in Natal has left its mark on everybody living there — but perhaps the worst victims are the children of the area.
Over 6000 children have become refugees, with no home to go to. Some are “lucky” and are still with their parents. Others have been separated from their parents and are living far away from their villages in townships like Edendale near Pietermaritzburg. Without a father or mother, the children have nobody to care for them, no money and no way of supporting themselves.
Schooling has almost stopped. A total of 21 schools have been forced to close in the Pietermaritzburg area. Five have been attacked. Over 60 000 students are out of school. So the youths have nothing to do all day and are losing years of education.
Some of the children have seen terrible things in the war. Their mothers, fathers, family members and friends have been murdered in front of their eyes. Because they have seen so much violence, some of them have become violent themselves.
Young children use home-made weapons to play with. They have knives, pangas, and guns. Many want to take revenge on the people who destroyed their homes and killed their loved ones. Psychologists and social workers say that life for these children will never be the same again — they will never know a proper childhood.
It is difficult not to lose hope and turn to violence in such a terrible situation. But some children are trying to forget the war and get on with their lives. They are doing everything possible to pick up the pieces and start again. Three such youths are Eric Dladla, Bhekisa Luthuli and Thobeni Magubane.
Learn and Teach found the three youngsters at the YMCA centre in Edendale. They are part of a wood- work project that was set up by the YMCA in the township.
Eric Dladla fled his home with his parents in 1987. Eric was 19 years old then and was doing standard 6. Eric is still with his family, although they have lost everything.
Bhekisa Luthuli is 17 years old and very shy. He was 14 years old when his home in KwaMphumuza near Caluza was attacked. Bhekisa fled and went to stay at the YMCA in Edendale. He has seen his family only a few times since he left. Bhekisa was in standard 5 when he left and has not been back to school since 1987.
Thobeni Magubane’s parents are Inkatha members. Thobeni is not. Thobeni fled his home with his brothers in October 1986. He says that they would have been killed if they had not fled. He is 22 years old and he left school in standard 6. He has not seen his parents since he left.
We asked the youths to tell us about the project they are working in, their lives and their hopes and dreams for the future.
Can you tell us about the wood-work project?
Thobeni: The project started in October 1989 after some social welfare and church groups in Natal donated tools to the YMCA. They said we could use them and do something to make a living. We started to make tables, chairs, benches, bookshelves and curtain pelmets. We also work with tin and make small cases.
Had you done wood-work before?
Eric: No, we are learning as we go along. We have not had any training. We just look at the furniture we see around us and we take measurements. Then we work together and make the different parts. For example, if we are making a table, one of us makes the legs and the other makes the top.
What do you do with the goods afterwards?
Bhekisa: We sell them to people in the community or at flea-markets. People especially like our curtain pelmets.
Thobeni: We need money to buy food and clothes. We also have to pay R15 a month rent for the backrooms we have rented from some of the families in the township. We share the money we get from our sales equally between the sixteen members of our project. But we also save some money to buy more material and for the maintenance of our tools.
Are you going to try to improve your skills in carpentry?
Thobeni: We are already doing that. We attend a project called Sawubona Youth Project where we are taught about plans, drawings and the finer details of carpentry. As you can see, we are not all here today. Some of our members have gone to a three-week training course at the Sawubona.
When the violence stops and you go back home, will you continue what you are doing?
Thobeni: We love our work. But the first thing we will do is go back to school. Then after school in the afternoon, we will go into the workshop and do wood-work so that we can help our communities. They really need the goods we make. Besides we will be raising money for our studies. I want to be an electrician.
Bhekisa: I have not decided what I want to be, but I want to learn something that will help my community.
How do you see your future?
Bhekisa: Although it is quiet now, we are not sure if it is the end of the violence. It has spread to the Transvaal now. We cannot be sure that there will be no more attacks.
Eric: We want to go back home but until there is complete peace and we are allowed to continue with our activities — that of *enlightening our people and telling them the truth — we can’t go back. I think our future will be *bleak unless we can go back to school.
How do you think the violence will end?
Thobeni: So long as people want to take revenge, I see no way that the violence will stop. I think the violence will only end the day South Africa becomes liberated. It will be a day when we will all be reconciled and be happy again.
You spoke about revenge… Amongst the three of you, is there anyone who maybe wants to take revenge?
Bhekisa: No, we will not do that. We have suffered terribly. If Inkatha members want peace, we will accept them with open arms. We will stay together again as brothers.
Do you have anything to say to people in the Transvaal who have recently been ‘displaced from their homes?
Thobeni: We say to our comrades they should be strong and not give up. But they should expect the most difficult period in their lives if the violence continues. Lastly, we appeal to all youth to take their futures into their hands. The war has disrupted our lives but it is not yet too late to recover!
CHECK THE MEANING enlighten —you enlighten someone by giving them knowledge that they did not have before bleak — we say a situation is bleak when it is bad and looks like it will not get better displaced — people who are forced to move away from the area where they live are displaced