Apartheid was merely the logical outcome of centuries of
harsh colonialism installed by the Dutch, formalised by the
British and ratcheted up by various harsh Union governments.
What the National Party did in 1948 was to provide it with
a legislative framework and back its implementation with draconian
Rural Africans were dispossessed of their land and herded
into 17% of the land, and in the towns and cities people were
divided into races by colour. Whites retained and consolidating
their hold on prime areas, and people of 'colour' were wrenched
out of the cities and resettled in peripheral 'townships'
on, generally, bad land far from amenities.
Communities were destroyed, extended families were broken
up in the resettlement process and in the ghettoes children
found freedom only in the streets. It was fertile soil for
the establishment of gangs. As poverty increased so these
gangs spread and became more violent, turning poorer parts
of cities into no-go areas at night. The pervading gun culture
of the country, fuelled by racial divisions, ensured the widespread
illegal ownership of handguns by adolescents.
Given the massive disparity in incomes, widespread urban dislocation,
high birthrate and the dissolution of restraining community
structures, there was no way in which the advent of a democratic
government in 1994 could rectify these problems. If anything
they worsened as thousands of rural people, freed of laws
which bound them to 'homelands', flooded to urban areas, ringing
larger centres in massive squatter camps.
Under apartheid, the legal structure which developed to cope
with juvenile deviance was punitive and made no distinction
between youths and adults in procedures of arrest, incarceration
Shortly before the country's first democratic elections in
1994 members of the African National Congress's legal fraternity
established a think tank on juvenile justice. Specialists
from many sectors responded and these, after the elections,
became the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Young People at
Risk. Its task was to consult widely and draw up a White Paper
on Youth Justice. This eventually became the Child Justice
Bill which awaits passage through parliament. Its key tenets
are diversion out of the justice system, community courts
and community and victim involvement in legal decisions. When
passed it will be among the most enlightened youth justice
legislation in the world.
One of the White Paper's principal drafters, criminologist
Don Pinnock, concerned at the lack of diversion options once
the Bill became law, undertook extensive research into traditional
approached to adolescent containment and wrote a programme,
published as Gangs, Rituals and Rites of Passage. The study
stressed the importance of ancient rites and rituals in youth
development and the value of wilderness as a site of powerful
transformatory experience for inner-city adolescents.
These ideas within gave rise to a conference attended by representatives
from many state departments, NGO's and South Africa's most
respected Zulu shaman, Credo Mutwa. At this conference Usiko
was formed - named by Mutwa (the name means a number of things,
including 'first ritual') - and tasked with the community-based
development of the rites of passage technology.
The aim of Usiko was, therefore, to create programmes for
young people at risk that were restorative, in line with the
pending legislation, and combined rituals, both ancient and
modern, with the challenging and healing environment of the
earth's great wilderness areas. It aimed, in short, to unlock
the potential of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Andrew Muir of the Wilderness Leadership School and Pinnock
raised funds from the Open Society Foundation to undertake
further research into programme development and to begin operations.
They were joined by Marion Goodman of Educo and Philip van Zyl who
was retained to operationalise the process. These four are the
After just over a year of wide consultation and research,
a programme structure was developed. Following meetings in
several townships, where Usiko's programme was outlined, two
communities - Bonteheuwel in Cape Town and Jamestown in Stellenbosch
- indicated an interest. The first intake of adolescents took
place in 2000 and Usiko soon established itself as a valued
site of community healing. The two initial programmes demonstrated,
spectacularly, that the combination of metorship, wilderness
experience and ritual can heal and overcome the negative influences
of poverty, low self-esteem, poor education and gang violence.
It soon became clear that our youth are at risk because their
communities are at risk. As part of that society, Usiko now
strives to turn that risk to challenge, challenge to personal
growth and growth into a healthy society.
During funding cycle 1, the Bonteheuwel Project constituted
itself as an independent non-profit organisation called Hearts
of Men which was sub-contracted to apply the Usiko programme
in the designated geographical area and funded from the Cordaid
and Community Police Forum funds. In funding cycle 2, Hearts
of Men will be totally independent of Usiko and it will take
the funders with it.
Jamestown, however, continued as a project of Usiko, funded
exclusively by Comic Relief during funding cycle 1. During
funding cycle 2, Jamestown will constitute itself as an independent
non-profit organisation to ensure community ownership, involvement
and control. However, funds will continue to be administered
by Usiko Trust.
Over the past three years Jamestown Usiko has developed highly
successful programmes (as indicated below) in Jamestown, Cloetesville
Jamestown is a community about 60 kilometers east of Cape
Town and the district is renowned for its winelands and scenic
beauty - it's arguably one of the wealthiest agricultural
regions in South Africa. The legacy of apartheid, however,
lives on in the socio-economic disparity between rich and
poor, typically following racial lines as many of the disadvantaged
communities continue to be impoverished, marginalised, and
While this oppressive system is long abolished, the antecedents
of this system continue to manifest in the form of high alcoholism
and unemployment, low income, low educational levels, domestic
violence, child abuse. Many residents in these communities
are farm workers whose families have, for many generations,
been trapped in cycles of poverty and oppression.
Usiko Jamestown's programmes are rooted in three community
structures and have seeded three others based on Usiko principles,
including a girls' programme and rites of passage programmes
in Cloetesville and Lyndoche. It's work, and the respect it
has gained from the communities, has led to broader community
development initiatives consonant with the needs expressed
in these disadvantaged communities.
These initiatives include sustainable community development,
rites of passage process, wilderness therapy, work on youth-at-risk
behaviour and the gang phenomenon, poverty alleviation, teenage
sexuality and pregnancy, diversion programming, life skills
development, HIV/Aids awareness, mentoring, small farming
development, girl-to-woman and boy-to-man development, and
developmental issues specific to women and men.
As part of programme development, a continuous process of
evaluation has been developed, as well as a process of independent
evaluation. The first independent evaluation was undertaken
by Sheila Dutton in 2002. This recommended more transparent
and democratic administration in Jamestown and clearer division
of function between the Trust and its projects. These recommendations
have been positively acted upon.
A second evaluation by Eugene Oppelt in 2003 noted, among
other points, that the sustainability of the programme had
improved through community members taking ownership; roles
had been clarified; there was clear accountability; personal
development of mentors and youths and increasing positive
public perception of the programme. It urged increasing intake
of court-referred youths and of girls.
In conclusion it commented: "I experienced a deep personal
sense of the magnitude of the impact the Jamestown project
is having in the community of Jamestown and surrounding areas
Usiko Youth Project is a remarkably innovative lifeline to
an impoverished community where local resources, that are
essential for upliftment, development and empowerment, are
scant.. t is an irreplaceable asset to the Jamestown community."
Usiko is also taking part in state-funded research by the
Human Sciences Research Council into the accreditation of
diversion programmes following parliamentary approval of the
Child Justice Bill.
Because of parliamentary delay in passing this Bill, however,
it has become necessary to begin a lobbying process to ensure
both that the Bill is passed and not watered down by parliament,
and that the principles of Usiko become central to the accreditation
process for future diversion programmes. The Trust has established
a close relationship with several parliamentarians who have
undertaken to lobby on Usiko's behalf, and is also doing public
talks plus radio and television interviews.
Usiko is therefore working at an international, national,
local and micro-community level in its efforts to ensure that
young people at risk - so overlooked and impoverished in the
past - are give the best possible chance to became active
members of healthy, prosperous communities. We aim to challenge
both prejudice and unjust laws that lock young people into
self-perpetuating cycles of poverty and crime. We believe
that the principles and practices of Usiko will be central
to South Africa's youth justice system of the future. They
work and we have proved it.