Linda Zali is a qualified Psychologist who also studied Labour Relations and Human Resource Management. Linda now works as a skills facilitator at Masifunde Learner Development which is based in Walmer township in Port Elizabeth.
In this interview she speaks about why young people get involved in violence and how they can become change makers who contribute to a safer community.
Interview by Nyiko Hlungwani
Can you tell us more about the organisation you work for, Masifunde, and your role in it?
Masifunde Learner Development is an NGO that runs a number of educational programmes in Walmer Township. Our main aim is to alleviate poverty and we believe that this can be done through education. We know that these are very ambitious goals but this something that we always strive towards archiving.
For example, we have a life skills training programme called learn4life, where the youth come on a weekly basis to gain knowledge which is necessary in day-to-day life situations ranging from health, business or environmental topics to social skills and personal development. The learn4life also offers extra-curricular activities like acting, drama, choir and journalism. My role at Masifunde is that I am head of Extra Curricular Programmes which include our life skills and extra-curricular activities.
What inspired you to work for Masifunde?
When I first heard about Masifunde, I was looking for a job. I was fresh out of varsity, had no work experience and I was like let’s see what Masifunde has to offer. That’s why I went there and I fell in love with youth development.
I studied Bachelor of Art and majored in Psychology, I also did honours in Labour Relations and Human Resource Management. I now work as a life skills facilitator and that is somewhat different to what I studied. However I just love empowering young people and Masifunde has given me the opportunity and the platform. It has helped me to unleash that hidden talent that I have in youth development.
Masifunde is based in Walmer township in Port Elizabeth. Can you tell us a little about the area and how it is for youth growing up there?
Walmer is a typical township in South Africa. It is a very disadvantaged area, the infrastructure is not proper, kids struggle with a number of challenges, in terms of drugs, alcohol abuse, violence and teenage pregnancy like any other township in South Africa. However what I like about Walmer township is that it is a very small community and as much as people there do not have much to offer, they have a strong community bond. They look out for each other.
How do youth experience safety in their community?
This is new to many of them but they are slowly grasping to the concept of "I am an active citizen of this community and I need to do something in order to prevent crime and violence from happening". We are still getting to that point where they will take full responsibility of safety initiatives in Walmer Township. What is important is that we are trying to get away from the thinking that they are the perpetrators and victims of crime. We see in them change makers who will create a safer Walmer township.
Why do you think the youth get involved in violence?
It’s a number of reasons. Peer pressure is one of the factors that contribute to crime and violence because they see local gangsters who have money, flashy stuff, driving fancy cars and then their friends will encourage them to come and just do this as an easy way to get quick money.
Lack of education is another factor. Some kids drop out of high school and they do not see any value in education because with education you can only see the fruits of your success in the long term. If kids are exposed to people who have flashy things and do crime to get quick and easy money, they are tempted to just to do crime instead of staying in school.
Another contributing factor is lack leisure activities in most townships. There is not enough after school activities which young people can entertain themselves with. As a result they have a lot free time on their hands which contributes to them engaging in criminal or violent activities.
You coordinate the Youth for Safer Communities programme which aims to enable youth to contribute to community safety. Can you tell us more about the programme and how it supports youth?
Youth for Safer Communities is one of our favourite projects at Masifunde. As I said earlier, we don’t look at young people as perpetrators or victims of crime. Instead we are trying to introduce a new concept of them being active change makers who play a very important role in creating safer communities.
Youth for Safer Communities
For more information about the Youth for Safer Communities project, visit the project profile
In Community Safety Forums young people are not really represented to discuss issues of safety and how they could contribute towards creating a safer community. The Youth for Safer Communities project has now given them a voice. It also creates awareness that you as a youth can do something for your community; you don’t have to wait to be a victim; you don’t have to be subjected to peer pressure to do crime, but you could be a role model for other kids by doing positive things that could contribute to safety. That is what the project is all about.
Our facilitators and peer educators regularly go out in the township - not just Walmer but also other communities in the metro - and encourage young people to do something for their community, and also for their school.
Instead of just sitting and complaining about things that are not being done in your community, young people can come together to brainstorm ideas on how they can initiate safety within their schools or within their community. This is also about giving young people a platform to discuss how they could contribute to safety and actually motivate them to do something for safety.
Do you have examples of activities by youth from your programme that helped make their community safer?
Many young people have bottled up issues that they do not talk about, for example either they are bullied or they come from dysfunctional families - issues that contributes to their decision to engage in criminal or violence act. The Peer helpers are there to provide a platform for learners who face any kind of problems to just come and receive basic counseling.
For example, one of the peer helpers from Alexander Road High School noticed that one learner was being bullied at her school. She intervened and she advised the learner and then reported the matter to the school authorities.
There are many youth who would like to make a difference in their communities – but they don't have access to the kind of programmes you offer.
What would you tell these youth? What can they do to make their communities safer?
I know sometimes when you think of the issues of crime and violence you would think resources are everything, and of course that is also true. However, kids have capabilities to do positive things within their communities, just by engaging or by involving yourself in constructive things in your community - whether it’s just to clean up to ensure that your community is a better place. Do those things. Plus you don’t need money to join one of the Community Safety Forums that exist in the communities.
Young people always want to do things that are flashy or that young people can relate to. They can still do that with regards to safety issues. All they need to do is change people’s minds - for example, by introducing a flash mob to create awareness about unsafe areas or organise a meeting with fellow young people to discuss how they as young people of the particular community can contribute to a safer and better community
Most people, when they think about crime, they are pointing to young people. So young people now have a role and responsibility to change people’s mind sets by being involved in activities that happen in their communities, they need to take ownership of their communities, so that we hear the young people’s voice again.
What kind of support do youth need to become change makers?
They need support from teachers and they need support from the community. One of the challenges we face with the school projects is that teachers do not buy in to projects that are ran by young people. So they need support in terms of organising the structures for young people, in terms of the resources they would need, organising rallies or be it organising fun events to create awareness about crime and violence that is happening within the community.
The support is needed to help them realise that they can be change makers.