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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 272
Paragraph Numbers 92 to 98
92 The loss of those aspects of childhood that many people assume that children should enjoy was illustrated in the testimony of Ms Sandra Adonis. She said:
It is only now that I realise that I have - I do not know what it is to go to a bioscope [cinema] on a Saturday afternoon or even to a disco like many young people do today or maybe that time as well. I mean, I never had friends really. My friends, my compadres were my comrades. Those were the only people that I could really trust at that point in time, and sometimes you were not even sure if you could trust them.
93 Children and youth who are constantly exposed to violence as a form of assertiveness and conflict resolution may perceive violence as the only option available for resolving disputes. Mr Maxlesi of the Eastern Cape Provincial Youth Commission described the negative effects of this on the psyche of the youth:
The methods of confrontation damaged the minds of the youth of our country from both sides of the racial and ethnic divide. The country as a whole has a responsibility of killing violence as an entrenched means of solving problems.
94 He elaborated on the effects of militarisation on the youth saying, “youth are products of the highly militarised confrontational past of South Africa and many of them are wearing serious psychological scars.” This includes the militarisation of white youth through conscription to the army and of black youth recruited into MK and, especially, through the formation of SDUs and SPUs (self-defence and special protection units).
95 For many white youth who were conscripted into the Defence Force, the nature of the war had varied psychological effects. Guerrilla warfare was attended by many stresses, especially for people from urban areas who were suddenly confronted with the reality of fighting a bush war. These experiences were compounded by the physical brutality to which they were subjected during their basic military training – which itself resulted in numbers of deaths. Others were engaged in violence and repression as conscripts in the townships. Many of these former combatants have since displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.23
96 Child soldiers and activists who were exposed to or involved in extensive acts of violence may have become desensitised to suffering. Many have been deprived of opportunities for physical, emotional and intellectual development. After the conflict was over, it was difficult to take up life as it was before, especially where there was a lack of education, training, decent living conditions and jobs. Effective social reintegration depends on support from families and communities.18 See chapter on Consequences of Gross Human Rights Violations for more detail on psychological consequences 19 Pynoos R, D Kinzie & M Gordon (1998) ‘Children, Adolescents and Families exposed to torture and related trauma’, in National Institute for Mental Health. 20 Presentation by Dominic Msomi and Moses Pitso at the hearing on Children and Youth, 14 May 1997. 21 UNICEF, ‘The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children’, Report of Graça Machel, Expert of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Selected Highlights, New York 1996 22 Presentation by Dominic Msomi and Moses Pitso, hearings on Children and Youth, 14 May 1997
97 Most activists anticipated the risks of incarceration, detention and torture and were thus better placed to deal with the emotional consequences of suffering than were those who had not been inducted into political resistance. Many who were activists in their youth have had to struggle with a sense that their active participation and sacrifice resulted in practical and material losses – especially through missed educational opportunities. For many, the new South Africa has not proved to be the land of opportunity that they expected and this has generated deep seated feelings of resentment. Sandra Adonis expressed it thus:
My life is messed up as it is, directionless. I mean, I have lost my education and I have lost my childhood, although we have in return received our freedom and our democracy in this country. But to what extent did we, as the comrades, members of the Bonteheuwel Military Wing gain? I do not think we have gained anything because we are still in the same position as we used to be -unemployed, homeless, abandoned. And there is nobody that looks back and says, well, these are the people that have fought the struggle, that has been part and parcel of the struggle and has brought us to the point where we are now. Not any recognition.
98 For youth who were not politically active and who were randomly arrested or injured, the psychological damage may have been more severe. Children of random violence often experience a sense of bewilderment, loss and confusion. This is reflected in the case of Mr Vuyani Mbewu who, at the age of fourteen, was caught in the crossfire between police and boycotting students near Manenberg in Cape Town. Vuyani was permanently blinded as a result of the police attack. He said:
Since I realised that I had lost my eyesight, I have never been confident again ... My presence here today is, if nothing else, the uselessness for which I lost my eyesight.23 Presentation by Gary Koen, at the special hearing on Compulsory Military Service, 23 July 1997.