LinkedIn

25 January, 2016

EMOTIONAL CHALLENGES OF YOUNG MEN AND BOYS IN AFRICA: MR. NKOMO LETHUKUTHULA--A VOICE FOR AFRICA'S COMMUNITY OF MEN


 
Thank you once again for this special opportunity given to me to make a contribution to the MEN AND BOYS OF COLOR GLOBAL COMMUNITY EMOTIONAL HEALTH TELEPHONE CONFERENCE -- on this special day -- where we effectively seek to emotionally liberate boys and young men, and men, in general. I will attempt to use a narrative on my situation by sharing my past and present experiences.   What I experienced is generally experienced by many boys and young men across Africa. 


I grew up on the commercial farms in Zimbabwe, Matabeleland, South Province, Figtree area. These colonial farms were originally the prime fertile land that had been allotted to the soldiers who had participated in the wars of invasion in the mid to end-1800s and that saw the subjugation and total destruction of the kingdoms around my region and  Africa in general. Those wars marked the end of our independence and freedom and the beginning of colonial rule.  These farms up until early 2000 were formally owned by the white farmers most of whom were the last generation of the original settlers. In 1981,one year after attaining independence my parents teamed up with other parents of the same interest, pooled funds together and bought a farm right in the middle of these white farmers, attempting to start up what they called a cooperative project ,a move that tasted so bitter in the farmers' mouths that they decided to send us to court so as to reverse our move.  Their argument being that we were not commercially skilled farmers.  We  were too many.  We would therefore cause so much trouble: deforestation, soil erosion,poaching,theft,cattle rustling,and all sorts of crimes. They won the case. We were given a few days to pack and leave!


The question was:  How could one evict  people who had purchased a property in a very legal and formal way? No one could understand how the farmers won the case which was so simple and obvious. Our parents refused to comply.  So having defied the court order  the law came down hard on us.  The police came with the machines of destruction.  I was very young – around mid-primary school age. Our parents had told us they had found a good prime place for us to freely and happily stay. They had assured us the place was ours, not a lease arrangement,  like we had done before. We had built a few African mud huts, so we were much excited to build a good four roomed "white man's house" in a few years to come." What surprised us is that the police were destroying our homes in the presence and with the help of the same white farmers.  As boys of school going age this really hurt us -- watching our homes destroyed, our powerless parents watching their homes  going up in flames! No action at all!? We became so confused and angry. We asked so many questions. Did our parents lie to us? Did they illegally  grab this land? Do the police hate Black people? What is it that we did to deserve this? The whites were shouting every time – everywhere shouting at our parents -- shouting at us to "Go back to the reserves!". "Reserves" are dry hot tsetse-fly infested places where the indigenous people were dumped during the partition period in my country. They were moved from their prime fertile lands to those so-called "reserves". The police packed our few things into their not so big trucks and dumped us by the main road, leaving behind most our valuable property in the mess of the rain. Mothers and young children were crying. As boys, men to be, we felt challenged.  We  felt defeated  It crushed our spirit.  We felt we were disappointing .  We felt so emotionally tormented.  It felt like we failed our families. We watched in the open – where it was heavily raining --standing by the roadside  as our homes went down in flame.  Our fathers silently  shaking their heads in despair. 


We camped for weeks on the side of road,naturally attracting the eyes of the media.  After a few days of living by the roadside, our story was in the papers and on televisions.  A few more days later, we were visited by the local council people, and then later by the members of Parliament. Our case was reviewed in a more lawful and fair manner.  In a few more weeks we won the case with the help of a former farm owner.  We went back and started rebuilding our homes -- unfortunately without any form of compensation on the  damaged property and torched homes.  So much of material, psychological and emotional damage, to some of us permanently remains. 


As boys we had learned that we were in the second line of defense, right behind our fathers, defending our homes and our families. When we witnessed our homes going down without a fight from our fathers it brought a mixture of anger and confusion.   Were our fathers weak? Scared? Do white people own us, are they above the law? We asked so many questions. In our African traditions in general, it is a taboo to ask our parents challenging, deep ,searching questions -- especially questioning their authority, their capacities, and their strengths and weaknesses.  We were sure our parents were powerless but we could not understand why,if indeed they bought the property – why were they evicted by the police? Though we finally got our land back,as we grew up around the commercial farms we became so angry.  We became more prejudiced, stigmatized and stigmatizing.  Hatred and anger built up as we experienced more farm cruelties in every corner. Farms are remote places, far away from the modern civilisation, some so far away from the main roads that the farmers  committed a lot of crime and  abuse which went unreported. We witnessed the farmers  shooting our dogs and goats and almost every week,our livestock were impounded if they encroached their farms, and caged inside the kraals(which were  called skeeds), and  starved until they succumbed to death. We witnessed the farm guards and their bosses beating up our mothers and sisters when they were found on their farms collecting firewood and water during the desperate dry seasons. We heard some unconfirmed reports of young men who died from beatings or work accidents,buried on the farms with no reports made to the relevant authorities or relatives informed because some were coming from far regions,some from neighbouring countries with no next of kins known. We grew up hurting and hating. By the way, a  few years before we had witnessed the same farmers fighting on the side of the oppressive minority government. 


Our parents had told us the war of independence was over. The  majority had won the elections, so we would  now live  as EQUALS with everyone -- even free to be white farmers' neighbours . We had been told any one could stay anywhere they chose in the country.  Everyone was free to equally participate in the politics and economics of the country. This, I am sure ,had given our parents that confidence to purchase the farm right in the middle of the white farmers.  


As we grew older the more discrimination we witnessed the more daring we became. We deliberately started poaching wild animals on their farms, stealing any thing portable. Our aim was to inflict pain, to avenge the cruelties we witnessed every day.  We wanted to offload this anger that had built up inside of us from early years.   As youths, we started to challenge the guards -- sometimes physically chasing them around their farms. We became more and more daring with impunity.  Some of us got  arrested and served jail terms. Because there were many families on our farm , it meant there would be a time soon when the farm would not support all these families. The natural resources would dwindle and then get depleted completely at some point.  People were forced to trespass for basic commodities such as water and firewood. It meant more police visits, more arrests almost every day, court summons being the order of the day. Now keep all that in mind as I briefly take you back some few years as we,the young boys, participated in the armed liberation struggles. 


During those war times our basic duties were to check and monitor the enemy movements.   If we saw them , we would  run around looking for the freedom fighters in Zulu called oBhuti(our brothers). Remember we didn't have mobile phones then, so we relied on directions given to us by those who happened to have seen them passing by. A very tough laborious task for school going boys! All this was done during the time after school, the time meant for resting and home work.  The enemies knew about these tactics so it was very dangerous for us. Basically our job was to tell the best most accurate truth or information to our Bhutis and give the best and most deceiving lies to the enemy forces! This is still happening to the boys and young men in the war torn regions around Africa. Many young boys were and are killed in this exerc          ise -- some being accused of lack of full commitment and others accused of selling out.  The question is:  How  do boys serve in a country torn apart by a civil war, where both warring parties want his service?  It is  a very painful experience that affects, in a very negative way, his character, growth,  and parenting as a father.  These fathers become heartless -- no love at all. They just become cold. They are hurting with all the memories of pain -- memories of their loved ones killed, tortured, raped, humiliated, and ridiculed. They therefore in many cases become abusive to their spouses and children. 


Soon after independence we were faced with the fiercest challenge we had never experienced in our entire life. One liberation armed movement, an armed wing of the liberation party PF ZAPU, refused to demobilize, accusing the ZANU PF party that had won the first majority  elections, of rigging the elections. They instead decided to take up their arms and went back to the forests and mountains to fight the black government. The government retaliated by targeting all the leaders and supporters of the ZAPU party  who happened to be many of our parents.  I witnessed,for the first time,my mother physically beaten with a big log on her back. She sustained some very serious internal injuries and she limps up until right now.  Approximately 40 000 innocent unarmed citizens were killed -- their bodies thrown in the unused mines, in mountain caves , and in shallow mass graves.  Up  until NOW their remains haven't been exhumed. The same ruling party that committed those heinous crimes, which is still ruling, now refuses to deal with this matter. So many children were left parentless. Many people were left maimed, raped, and tortured.  Many were thrown in prisons without any charges.  The most targeted ones were the boys and the young men, who were accused of working for and with what they called the "dissidents".  Many young men were killed, tortured, and arrested.  Many were never to be seen again.  A number of boys and young men  left  their homes, dropped out of schools, and crossed the borders to the neighbouring countries like Botswana and South Africa where they are EQUALLY exposed to the next challenge: XENOPHOBIA. These same young boys are still the same targets by the same white farmers here in South Africa who intercept these boys on their way to the cities such as Johannesburg, force them to work on the farms, and after weeks of forced labour,  these farmers call the police who arrest them and deport them back UNPAID.  Now this is the vicious life cycle of the boys and young men in my country and region! What I have witnessed in Johannesburg is that many of these boys are involved in armed robberies and other vicious crimes. They are involved in the illicit use and selling of drugs. We see many of our young men committing suicide here in Johannesburg.  They are very stressed, jobs are scarce, and some have children to support. They are under so much  immense pressure. There are so many suicide cases and deaths from violent fights. They are hurting, confused, and helpless.  They can be arrested at any time because most of them have no legal documents. 


It is my sincere wish and hope therefore that with this little information and much more at our disposal the time will come when we will be able to tackle these challenges as a global village and free the young men and boys from this mental torture which is basically due to a human error and therefore it is us humans who should find the long lasting solutions that provide our young men and boys with what they rightfully deserve: FREEDOM AND HAPPINESS!

 I THANK YOU!

 

 

 

 

LET'S TAKE A DEEP BREATH . . . . . .

In turbulent and uncertain times and even in a world that seems to be operating from an "upside down" position, there is always...