Saturday, April 17, 2010

update from bonnytoun and thoughts on crime and race in south africa

It's been a while since my last post, mostly because I haven't done much besides class and service in the past week. My foot injury ended up being a stress fracture, so the crutches have inhibited my mobility and activities. Luckily, I got a walking boot on Friday, so I'm slightly more mobile, but still have the use the crutches.

We moved on to teaching about a country per week in class at Bonnytoun. We started with the United States (since that's the easiest for us!), and then this past week we did a unit on China. None of us are experts on geography or world history, so we just teach the basic information on geography, culture, history, religion, cuisine... whatever we feel is important and can be grasped relatively quickly. On Wednesday, we brought in paints and had the boys work on some Chinese calligraphy. They LOVED it. I think we are going to try to incorporate more artistic/craft activities. Some were quite talented (most likely related to their hobby of tattooing one another).

A few examples of the boys' work with Chinese calligraphy.

I'm beginning to realize more and clearly now little the boys know, and are informed, about the status of their cases. All the time, the boys are saying "I'm going home tomorrow," only to be back in class the next day, or "I'm waiting on this man to call about my case" without knowing who the man is. None of them seem to have any interaction with their attorneys. None of them seem informed on a level that they can understand, if at all.

We've also begun to hear a few of the stories behind the boys' presence at Bonnytoun. After Max finished asking one of the boys questions for a Young in Prison evaluation the other day, the boy started talking to Max about his life. He told him that his father is an alcoholic, and hits his mother and sometimes his siblings. He is the oldest of the children in the family. He told Max that his father would spend the money that his mother earned for food for the family on alcohol, and the family would go hungry. I guess the boy hit a breaking point of desperation, and one day robbed some Zimbabweans so that he could have the money to feed his mother and younger siblings. Now, he's in Bonnytoun. But, his dad is free, drinking away the family's money, and abusing his wife and children. Not to say that the boy made a good choice in robbing those people, and I'm sure they their own money, too... but what a desperate, impossible situation to live in. He is 16 and generally one of the quieter boys. One thing that is really lacking in Bonnytoun is proper counseling. There are social workers that deal with the boys' cases, but there is not a psychologist or psychiatrist available for the residents.

One of the brighter boys in the literacy program (and one of my favorites - though I shouldn't have favorites, I suppose) told me a bit about his case the other day. On New Years, he and a couple friends were out and about, and he saw a truck and decided he wanted to break into it. His friends told him not to, but according to him, he was on tik and the the influence of the tik clouded his decision making. Tik is similar to crystal meth. He broke into the truck, stole some car part (something with the brakes I think). He and his friends began fleeing the scene, when they crossed paths with a few policemen. His friends eventually got charges dropped on account of lacking evidence, but this boy is in Bonnytoun, still awaiting trial. His mother just had daughter, and he's so excited about his new baby sister. There's really no way around it with his situation, he simply made a stupid decision. But I hurt for him, and hope for the best for him. He has a good heart, and he wants to go home and be a better big brother for his siblings and new sister. I want that for him, too.

Another shot of the courtyard at Bonnytoun. There are a few interesting murals on the buildings. I don't know who painted them.

From what I've gathered from stories and reports of others, there seems quite a dichotomy between the crime in Xhosa communities and crime in Coloured communities. Coloured crime tends to be more gang related, more hate driven, and drug induced. Black Xhosa crime tends to be more poverty and desperation driven, and there is not nearly as much gang involvement, or gang related crime in these communities. Most of the people in my program who work at service sites in townships work in Black townships, particularly in Khayelitsha. Though Mark, Max, and I work with many Coloured boys at Bonnytoun, and Tina works with mostly Coloured girls at St. Michael's, Betsy is the only service-learner to work primarily in a Coloured township, at Manenberg Primary School. She has told me how desolate the community seems in comparison with Khayelitsha. There is greater poverty within Black townships, but she said in Manenberg people aren't walking around the neighborhood, hanging out in their front yards, or chatting with the neighbors. It's not the same kind of community feel. There are also very few township tours in Coloured townships; nearly all take place in Black townships. Though the Black population has historically been more harshly oppressed, they have also been the group that has united under that oppression, that elects presidents to represent them, the race of Nelson Mandela, the group that has hope and unites over their shared ancestry. My perception of the Coloured people of South Africa is that they lack a shared culture, and don't identify with one another in the same way that the Xhosa people do, and that Black people across the country to, even between Zulu and Xhosa and Sutu. There isn't the same vibrant quality and cultural pride. The Coloured population seems eternally overlooked. Not white enough, and not black enough, so the saying goes. Sadly, it seems our service group has overlooked them, too.

On Friday, three boys went missing at Bonnytoun. Not boys in our group, other residents at Bonnytoun. It seems like boys can escape quite easily. Often, they come back, bearing drugs.

1 comment:

  1. Generally, we tend to overlook those who make us most uncomfortable about ourselves. I'm not sure that is what is going on there since I have no experience of life in S.A. And, I'm not really sure that would apply, unless something in "coloured" people reminds black and white people of something they don't want to be reminded of - that they are indissolubly bound to each other.