Knysna is a stunningly beautiful place, and most of our blog posts include plenty of smiling youth and positive stories. Sadly, this post is different, yet we believe it provides valuable perspective on our initiatives in South Africa.
Yesterday, one of the youth Jim knows was stabbed and killed. Yibanathi was only 16 years old, and the youth who stabbed him was 18 years old, so will be prosecuted as an adult. One young life ended, another likely lost to prison, and 2 families impacted forever.
Update (August 19, 2015): Charges against the 18 year-old youth who stabbed Yibanathi were dropped by police due to insufficient evidence.
Yibanati (ee-ban-ah-tee) was one of the boys Jim worked with at the high school where 3 youth gangs signed a truce in late April. The truce remains in effect between these 3 groups of boys. Yibanathi may not have been completely innocent in life, but he was a good son, a likeable kid, artistic, and introspective.
Over the past few weeks, gang issues flared up at the second high school we frequent. There have been fights and stabbings, including 3 boys from one of the gangs being charged with the stabbing murder of a 22 year-old male outside of school. Allegedly, the incident pertained to a dispute over a cell phone. The boys, aged 16, 17, and 18, who we do not know, have been charged with murder.
The vast majority of youth we have met over the past 5 years are responsible guys who never get in trouble at school, and certainly not the law, and remain focused on their education and a brighter future. Accordingly, some might argue that the path one follows in life is a choice, and it was Yibanathi who made some bad choices.
When you know the boy personally, it is difficult to be so pragmatic. Jim knew his mother, visited their modest wood home (a shack) on a few occasions, and maintained contact with Yibanathi’s mom since returning to Canada.
Yibanathi and his family lived in poverty. His mother is unemployed. There was no father in his life. Growing up in a township environment can easily pull one in the wrong direction, and inappropriate actions may bring trouble. Remaining safe can be a challenge. Safety and protection is one of the main reasons boys band together.
Starting Monday, the Safe Schools Project will provide 4 safety officers to patrol the school’s perimeter fence. As is common in South Africa, both high schools are surrounded by a high chain link fence topped with razor wire.
As one of our “in-the-know” friends in Knysna frequently comments, life in the township is difficult.