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Where violence has been:

Rural trauma intervention


The rate of violent crime in rural South Africa paints a chilling statistical picture of the lives of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. But the statistical picture is often markedly different to the resources these communities still salvage to rise above the daily terror with which they live. In no place in the country is the violence more pervasive than the long troubled KwaZulu/Natal region. Berenice Meintjies, the director of the KwaZulu/Natal Programme for Survivors of Violence, works in some of these hearts of darkness.  She writes here of unusual approaches to dealing with trauma which have allowed some light to filter into the lives of members of these communities.

"The Induna (traditional chief) asks if you eat goat meat" translated a delighted colleague. After who knows how many years training to become a clinical psychologist, I managed to splutter the profound "SssÖometimes". Drat.

Although the goat meat tasted much like my mother's roast lamb, Sunday lunch in the semi-rural Umbumbulu was not where I'd imagined my training being put to use. These events notwithstanding, it must be said that community psychology has added a richness of experiences and depth to the challenge of dealing with trauma in SA.

The KwaZulu-Natal Programme for Survivors of Violence is a South African non-governmental organisation (NGO) attempting to improve the conditions in communities affected by violence in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

For its employees, it offers new challenges and insights daily. Working through trauma and personal development, the organisation offers community-based development initiatives. One community, called Bhambayi, from the Indian Bombay, has been key to the development of several programmes of the organisation.

Saying the word "Bhambayi" still sends shivers down the spines of many residents of nearby Durban, South Africa's major port city. Bhambayi is a small informal settlement, notorious for extremely high levels of political violence as recently as April last year. There are many stories about the origins of the violence, but some community members tell an interesting version of the early origins of the tensions. It is said that, during the 1980's, people displaced from other parts of the province and the Eastern Cape by the intense political violence at this time, chased out the resident Indian population and settled in the area. During these early days, increasing dissatisfaction with the rates being charged by the local traditional healer (said to have been R60 per family), led to one part of the community shifting allegiance to another healer (charging only half that amount).

This resulted in much tension, as many believed it unlucky to change allegiance in this way. The tensions became so severe that violence eventually erupted. The one section of the community turned to the then banned African National Congress (ANC) for support in the form of weapons, forcing the other sector to align itself with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). Soon, the conflict between the two areas became the focal point of much of the political violence in the Inanda area, as more surrounding communities were drawn into this series of battles.

Anne McKay and Zandile Nhlengetwa from Survivors of Violence began the slow and difficult process of community entry in 1995, but it took almost two years before programmes were eventually established in the area. Many frightening and awkward negotiations with the leaders of both sides took place.

Zandile recalls: "It was a bit scary for us not knowing anyone in the area and going in as strangers. We were tested a lot with questions, direct challenges and after-hours meetings."

It was important to establish trust, and they tried to show complete transparency regarding all their movements within the community and in negotiations with each party. Eventually the leadership agreed that the organisation could work with youth, many of whom had been involved in the fighting, and were said to have been affected by the violence.

Two groups were started, one on the ANC side, and one on the IFP side, and a contract was agreed in terms of which exactly the same sessions would be run with each group weekly.

Initially the support groups were not well attended, but the facilitators persevered. Some of the youth would watch out for the facilitators' car and then listen to the group meetings from outside the hut, or periodically look in at the windows. The initial focus of the meetings was called "personal development", focusing on the telling of  stories of past painful experiences, work on identity and confidence, and group building. The group members insisted that sessions on running meetings, leadership and establishing a committee be included in the programme and this has become a central component of the youth programme.

The attendees reported frustration with the current situation in their area. They described being considered heros during the anti-apartheid struggle. Many gave up their opportunities for education, left their families at a young age, and suffered incredible hardships and trauma. After 1994, they expected great rewards, but found themselves unskilled, unemployed and without opportunities. They reported feeling a loss of identity and belonging, and carrying the baggage of their past experiences, which disrupted relationships.

One youth group member put it this way: "Sometimes I remember those things, and I get so overwhelmed. Then I become so angry and donít know what to do with myself. I know that is why I commit these private rapes with my girlfriend."

Despite immense resistance to the "personal development" phase of the groups, most youth subsequently reported that this was the most beneficial part of the process. The groups are inevitably compared to the gangs, which offer an alternative sense of belonging, identity and status in the communities.

As one youth member recently said: "Those guys in the gangs are powerful. They can have any woman they want." Many describe how tempting it is to be involved in the gangs, which also offer a quick and easy source of income. Many youth group members have been involved in gang activities, and at times the programme has managed to work with some of the newer KwaMashu gangs.

The programme ís youth groups concurrently work on developing short-term fundraising initiatives (such as organising a local fun run), collecting the proceeds of these activities in a joint account. Ongoing interpersonal work is done in the groups, particularly around issues of trust between members, fuelled by any inflow of money.

Many youths drop out in the early stages of the group, having hoped for quick solutions to their problems. Once sufficient money has been collected, the groups elect representatives to be sent on training courses. They learn skills such as block-making, poultry farming, hair care and catering in order to start income-generating projects.

Facilitation of this process by the programmeís staff continues until the group feels sufficiently equipped to continue without weekly assistance. Facilitation is gradually phased out, and the group operates independently, calling on support as needed.

In Bhambayi, the community noticed the effects of the programme on the youth, and requested work to be done with women and children. Similar programmes were started, and these have turned into successful joint forums.


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