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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 253

Paragraph Numbers 11 to 18

Volume 4

Chapter 9

Subsection 2


11 The South African social fabric was shaped by apartheid laws and structures that exposed the majority of South Africa’s children to oppression, exploitation, deprivation and humiliation. Apartheid was accompanied by both subtle and overt acts of physical and structural violence. Structural violations included gross inequalities in educational resources along with massive poverty, unemployment, homelessness, widespread crime and family breakdown. The combination of these problems produced a recipe for unprecedented social dislocation, resulting in both repression and resistance.4 This contributed to a situation that made possible the gross human rights violations of the past.

12 Many white children, on the other hand, were raised in an environment which condoned racial prejudice and fear of the ‘other’, while demanding unquestioning submission to the authority of family and state. The structural and legislated segregation of apartheid ensured that young white people were isolated and separated from their peers in other race groups – in their homes, schools, communities and every other aspect of their lives.

13 Most of South Africa’s children were born and grew up in a context of conflict. The Reverend Frank Chikane described the situation in 1986 as:

A world made up of teargas, bullets, whippings, detention and death on the streets. It is an experience of military operations and night raids, of roadblocks and body searches. It is a world where parents and friends get carried away in the night to be interrogated. It is a world where people simply disappear, where parents are assassinated and homes are petrol bombed.5

14 Resistance was fuelled by socio-economic deprivation, coupled with state oppression. Many youth were inspired to seek channels through which to fight for better living conditions. At the Eastern Cape hearing, Mr V Mbinda, a member of Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) spoke of the poverty of his home and the way he felt about it:

It caused a lot of anger when you asked your mum why she could not afford a pair of shoes when others can. You always want to commit yourself to something that would neutralise that anger ... we joined because of that anger that we inherited from our homes.

15 These conditions led to the recognition by many of South Africa’s children that they were being denied opportunities to take up their rightful place as South African citizens. According to testimony at the Athlone hearing, children had to make choices about whether to avoid, participate in or lead the resistance. Many of South Africa’s children did not stand passively by, but actively disputed the legitimacy of the state. In doing so, they contributed to the dismantling of apartheid.

16 Very early on, the former state became aware of the pivotal role of children and youth, identifying them as a serious threat and treating them accordingly. Dr Max Coleman spoke of the waging of an undeclared war against children and youth, in which they became the primary targets of detention, torture, bannings, assassination and harassment of every description.

17 The rise of young people to leadership positions was also seen as a challenge to the patriarchal authority of some of the older men, leading to intergenerational conflict between the young comrades and conservative elders. In the process, violence was unleashed against, witnessed, and perpetrated by the young. Many young people felt that the only means of dealing with systemic violence was to fight back, which led to many situations of counter-violence. Ms Sandra Adonis, who became an activist at the age of fifteen, commented at the hearing in Athlone:

Although we have done things that we are not very proud of, but the reasons why we have done it we are proud of them, because today we can stand with our heads up high and say that, together with the nation, we have done it.

18 The role of children and youth was crucial in opposing the apartheid system. However, in the process, they were drawn into an arena that exposed them to three particular kinds of violence: state oppression, counter-violence and inter-and intra-community violence.

4 Thomas, A. ‘Violence and Child Detainees’ in People and Violence, Eds. B McKendrick and W Hoffman, Oxford University Press 1990. 5 Burman, Sandra and Reynolds, Pamela, Growing up in a Divided Society: The context of childhood in South Africa, Ravan Press in association with the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research for Women, Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University, 1986.
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