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kayamandiKayamandi township. Photo by Dominique Roberts.

The Women and Children of Kayamandi, South Africa

By Dominique Roberts, Safe World Student Writer, May 2012

"One of the contributing factors that lead to the high rape statistic in South Africa is the belief amongst certain cultures that raping a virgin holds the cure to HIV or AIDS. The belief holds that the younger the rape victim, the better the chances of being cured...

Police in Kayamandi say the problem of toddler rape is much worse than people think, reporting that approximately one toddler is raped every two weeks..."

Kayamandi - originally a black-only township

Kayamandi-2Shacks in present-day Kayamandi. Photo by Dominique Roberts.Founded in 1918 during the Apartheid era, Kayamandi was originally known as “Kafferland”. It was formed due to the concerns of white farmers that black males working as labourers should not be living on potential farm land, which was located close to their wine estates. These black men were thus moved to a designated area, namely “Kafferland”.

In 1942, “Kafferland” became known as Kayamandi, meaning “sweet home” in Xhosa, which is the main language spoken.

During this time, the government also made the decision that this area would be a black-only township.

Presently, there are 33,000 people living in Kayamandi. While the number of people living within the township is growing by an estimated 10% a year, the area of land that forms Kayamandi remains the same.

The result is overcrowding, not only of the land, but also of individual dwellings. 65% of dwellings are shacks, often consisting of two or three rooms. Each shack acts as a home to an average of eight people.

Poverty leads to high drop-out rates from school

There is a severe lack of lack of job opportunities and the unemployment rate is currently estimated at 45-50%.  The majority of the population who are mainly factory workers, farm labourers ,and domestic workers earn a minimum wage, often no more than R1000 –  or about ?84 per month.

Within the last few years, changes have been attempted to improve the education system in South Africa. However, one of the biggest problems facing youths is the lack of education, with rapid drop-out rates among the poor, rather than to a lack of access to initial schooling.

High rate of HIV/AIDS impacts on children

Children under the age of 10 years form approximately 10% of the population of Kayamandi.

Half of these children are raised by single mothers. In many cases due to lack of income, these children grow up suffering many hardships. HIV/AIDS is a cruel reality in these children’s lives, with 43% of deaths within South Africa are attributed to AIDS.

Often these children are left as AIDS orphans, growing up as care-providers to either sick parents or relatives, or are themselves HIV-positive.

The list of challenges facing children within Kayamandi is long; poor nutrition, lack of formal education, abuse, neglect, child-headed households, drug and alcohol abuse – these are just a few that they face.

Dropping out from school means that girls miss out on learning about safe sex

SA-eductionEducation in Kayamandi. Photo by Dominique Roberts.Women in Kayamandi also suffer the hardships of living in poverty.

With the high incidence of deaths due to AIDS, as well as single mothers who are the sole bread winners of a family, girls are often required to drop out of school in order to look after their siblings, or elders. This often leaves them illiterate –  and if they are literate, they are often only schooled in Xhosa.

This limits their career prospects and work they can apply for in their surrounding area. Fluency in English or Afrikaans, or both, is required to be considered for most jobs. And if girls are lucky enough to be able to stay in school, they have to attend a class that the Department of Education made compulsory since 2009, called Life Orientation.

Life Orientation is aimed at teaching students basic life skills as well as sex education. This subject promotes safe sex and tries to break down any gender, or culturally based ideas on women not being able to refuse sex.

The problem though, is that many girls do not reach the level of schooling in which this subject is taught. Other attempts have been made by the government to promote a “HIV-free generation” through safe sex. Mass media such as radio and television were used to raise awareness on the issue, but the effectiveness of these campaigns has been questioned.

Due to the close living dwellings, children often grow up witnessing their parents or siblings’ sexual activities. In many cases, this can lead to young children having a tainted view of sex, and a normalisation of having multiple sexual partners, or unprotected sex.

Social pressure on girls to submit

Girls as young as 12 years-old are told by their peers and older children that being a virgin is “uncool”.

The social pressure as well as the gender-based idea is that if a man demands something, a woman should submit. This is only one of the social factors that leads to girls becoming sexually active at a very young age.

Condom use and safe sex is another huge problem in South Africa, and yet this is a vital aspect of sexual education in South Africa. Students are taught about the dangers of HIV, STDs, unplanned pregnancies, and how safe sex can help prevent them.

Many girls I have spoken to whilst working in Kayamandi said that “men don’t like using rubbers (condoms)”. And when they insist on using a condom, they are laughed at, belittled for “not trusting them” and in some cases, even raped.

Cultural beliefs lead to rape of girls and infants

SA-child-rightsKayamandi child. Photo by Dominique Roberts.Rape in the life of a woman living in South Africa is a very real problem, and Kayamandi is no different.

It is said that a girl living in South Africa has more chance of being raped than she has of learning to read.

Rape statistics are shocking; currently, it is estimated that one in three women living in South Africa have been raped. South Africa also has the highest incidence of baby rapes in the world.

In 2000, over 67,000 cases of rape or sexual assault were reported against children, and the majority of these children were under the age of seven.

One of the contributing factors that lead to the high rape statistic in South Africa is the belief amongst certain cultures that raping a virgin holds the cure to HIV or AIDS. The belief holds that the younger the rape victim, the better the chances of being cured.

Many babies have died due to rapes of this nature.

In 2001, a case was reported in which a 9 month-old baby was gang raped by six men (between the ages of 24-66); the baby survived, but needed extensive reconstructive surgery.

Police in Kayamandi say the problem of toddler rape is much worse than people think, reporting that approximately one toddler is raped every two weeks.

Domestic abuse is viewed as “normal”

Domestic violence also plays a part of daily life of many women and children within Kayamandi. Due to the common belief that men have more status than women, and that they have the say within a family, women often view this abuse as “normal”.

Abuse against women and children is seen as the most unreported crimes within South Africa.

It is estimated by the police working within areas like Kayamandi that fewer than one in ten cases of abuse is reported.

“Forget it; that’s what men do”

Thandeka is 19 years-old and is one of seven people living in a three-roomed shack in Kayamandi.

She lives with her mother, grandmother, four step-siblings and her toddler. Her life story is one that many people would not believe – a series of challenges and hardships. At the age of 8, she recalls that her uncle, who stayed with them at the time, sexually abused her. When she told her mother about the abuse, her mother said, “Forget it; that’s what men do”.

While living with them, her uncle regularly got drunk, used dagga (marijuana), as well as tik (crystal meth) –  all of this in front of her, and her brothers and sisters.

She says on one occasion, she remembers him saying he was going to buy baby formula, but instead he bought wine. After returning home and becoming irritated with the baby’s constant crying for food, he filled up the bottle with a mixture of wine, water, and sugar. This is one of the many memories she shared with me about her uncle before he was arrested. Thandeka and her family eventually become estranged from him.

At the age of 13, Thandeka became sexually active. She “went out” with a boy who was seventeen at the time. When questioned about why she started having sex with him, she stated that, “He wanted to, he said everyone did it”.

She said she knew about condoms and they used condoms a few times, but after a while, it became unnecessary. They broke up a few months later, and over the next few years, Thandeka said she could not remember how many boyfriends she had. All of the boyfriends she had, she was sexually active with –  sometimes they would use condoms and other times not. When she was 16 she fell pregnant and later had a little boy. She says she never regrets having him, but if she could choose, she would have finished school first.

While sitting in the class where she comes for extra classes, her little boy sits on the floor scribbling on some paper. She has to bring him to the classes because her grandmother only looks after him in the mornings. Despite having to carry her toddler a fair way, she is at every extra class that is given. She plans to complete her ‘matric’, high school completion level, and hopes to become a social worker.

I asked her why and she said, “I want to help girls, girls who grew up like me. I want them to know they can do something good [with their lives].”

Peer pressure

Babi is 16 years-old. Her mother died when she was 4, and she never knew her father. She lived with her grandmother until she was 10 years-old, and later, her grandmother passed away; since then, her oldest sister has looked after their five siblings.

Babi has been raped twice. Once when she was making her way home through a field, and the other time by her sister’s boyfriend. She tells stories of not having eaten for days because there was no more money left to buy food. Often, she said she would fall asleep holding her stomach to make it stop hurting from hunger.

Her greatest fear is that something will happen to her sister, who is HIV-positive, and that she will then be the one responsible for her younger brothers and sisters. This would mean leaving school to find a job in order to provide for her siblings. She says that the only way in which she keeps this fear at bay is by believing that “God is good”.  She says she “found God” when she was 14, and says that often at school, she is teased by other children for her faith.

Even her siblings tease her for being different.

Refusing to smoke dagga, drink alcohol, or do drugs since she “found God”, the older children laugh at her and call her a “Jesus freak”, and describes how much pressure there is being a young person living in Kayamandi. She says most of her classmates use drugs, some are in gangs, or have been sexually active since they were very young.

Girls, she says, feel special when a boy wants them, so they will do anything to stay in that relationship. The only thing that made her decide to stop trying to “be cool” by having a boyfriend, using drugs and alcohol - was her faith.

She says that often, her life is hard. People tease her because she has a “white person’s religion” and some say she is trying to “be white”. But she knows that one day, she will make something of her life.

Babi still doesn’t know what she wants to do after she completes ‘matric’, but says that she wants to make a difference in South Africa, somehow.


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Dominique-RobertsDominique Roberts is a Safeworld Student Writer. She is studying Psychology in South Africa.

"I was born and have lived in South Africa my entire life. Despite the many challenges we as a country face, my heart definitely lies in Africa...

I plan to do my Masters and then specialize in trauma psychology (specifically childhood trauma). My love for children has been intensified by volunteering at a pre-school situated in a disadvantaged farming community...

Another ambition in my life is to help women... The social injustices and abuse they suffer have become “real” to me through getting to know many incredible women who have had firsthand experience with this type of abuse. I have seen the impact it has had on their lives, and want to stop gender based injustice for good."