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Last Updated: Monday, 5 April, 2004, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
South Africa's survivors of violence
By Justin Pearce
BBC News Online in South Africa

Aged 27, Thami Langa has considered himself a "former combatant" for the last 10 years.

Thami Langa
Thami works to return to school
He lives in Lindelani, a township near Durban in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province.

This is a region that was wracked by violence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as factions loyal to the Inkatha Freedom Party(IFP) and the African National Congress (ANC) battled for control before the arrival of democracy.

Just a teenager at the time, Thami was forced to participate in so-called "self-defence units" which were responsible for perpetuating the violence.

Deep poverty

"Our schooling was interrupted by violence, and many of us could not complete school. We decided to initiate a small business project as a way of generating income so we could go back to school," Mr Thami says.

The result is a cement block-making project, which with investment from a local businessman, has been contracted by the city housing department to produce blocks for government housing schemes.

Here and elsewhere in KwaZulu-Natal, people are trying to overcome the trauma of conflict, and to lift themselves out of the deep poverty which has resulted from the years of apartheid and violence.

Mr Thami recalls how, in the past, political divisions even affected the clothes one wore.

They put a tyre filled with petrol around his neck, and set it alight
Ntombizonke Ncobo
"You couldn't wear All Star tackies (trainers) or sports hats like this - they would say you were associated with the other political party. You'd be prosecuted, they might hit you, one day there might be bullets coming towards your head." he says.

He believes a lot has changed - for example, it is the democratically elected local council which has enabled the block-making project to take off.

But the experience of violence has left him sceptical about politics.

"They [politicians] say a lot of things, and they just want our votes. A lot of people don't want to vote," says Mr Thami.

Shooting

Bhuyisile Mathe, has survived both political and domestic violence, and is now involved in community projects in Bhambayi township with the help of the Programme for the Survivors of Violence (PSV) - an organisation which also offers trauma counselling.

IFP supporters clash with ANC counterparts

"I was involved in negotiations with the city council to get the clinic built here. As a woman, I have the strength to negotiate with anyone in South Africa. My family are proud. I am proud," she says.

But for Ms Bhuyisile, it has been a long journey to get to that point.

"At the height of the war they would come inside the house and shoot women and children," she recalls.

"I was running away when I was shot in my leg, while I was pregnant," says Ms Bhuyisile.

At the same time, she was regularly beaten by her husband.

Abusive husband

Lindiwe Gasa, a counsellor working for PSV, has seen the particular effect of violence on women.

"Men would give women weapons to hide, or women were used as informers," she explains.

Then violence was directed at women, because they were seen as being involved.

"Men will use their power - those in the forefront will propose in a forceful manner, and women have to succumb to that. That had an impact on HIV infection, with one man being involved with many women." Gasa explained.

Becoming involved in community projects gave Ms Bhuyisile the confidence to leave her abusive husband.

But it is still a challenge to feed four children, when her only income is from sewing and knitting clothes.

Nightmares

Irene Ndlovu lost her husband in political violence in Ashdown township near Pietermaritzburg.

"Then I would have to wait up all night while they took my children away to help with the violence. I remember when they were shooting each other - afterwards I would have nightmares and flashbacks," she says.

Bhuyisile Mathe
Bhuyisile was often beaten by her husband - now she is on her own
Irene Ndlovu is now the only breadwinner in a household of seven.

PSV has offered counselling to women affected by violence in Ashdown, as well as helping to start a sewing group as a means of income.

"It would help us out of poverty if we had the right channel to sell the things we are sewing - for example if they were taken overseas for people to buy - at the moment we can't sell them," Irene says.

Ntombizonke Ncobo recalls how her cousin was burnt to death during the fighting in Ashdown.

"They put a tyre filled with petrol around his neck, and set it alight. PSV was able to help me understand the need to forgive, to become involved in reconciliation and peace building - this is really helping the communities. Yet as we approach elections again I am unsure. I have been through political violence before. Will it happen again?" says Ms Ncobo.





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