Radio gives Cape kids a voice

2012-06-09 18:16

The addict stands before a knot of children on a Manenberg street, a smile on his scarred face. “You just think I’m full of trouble and it’s not like that,” he says into a microphone held by a boy named Brandon*.

“All I can say is, use me as a mirror man. Maybe I am your mirror.”

The children he’s speaking to so seriously are also from Manenberg, a Cape Town suburb associated with grinding poverty and gang activity.

Just last month, tensions spiralled between rival groups. Nights were studded by gunfire; a toddler
was wounded by a stray bullet; a 20-year-old died.
But Brandon (14) and other local children – the youngest seven; the eldest 16 – have found a way of making some sense of their community. Armed with a recorder, a microphone, and their own quick wits, they interview the people around them. As youth radio reporters, the stories they uncover have changed the way they see the world.

Brandon had long been wary but curious about his scarred neighbour. The microphone gave him courage to approach the man. Expecting to find a hardened gangster who would chase them away, the children were taken aback when he agreed to an interview.

“He’s using drugs,” says Brandon. “But he loves his child very much. He said we mustn’t go to drugs or gangs. Afterwards he said well done for the interview, and that I can go far with this radio thing.”

Every week, the young reporters gather at the Druiwevlei Community Centre for a workshop held by facilitators from the Children’s Radio Foundation.

The radio group has welcomed some new recruits, and they’re briefing them on the house rules.

They also explain the ethos printed on the kids’ media badges: “I promise to report accurately, ethically and honestly.”

“Accurately means I can’t interview you, and you say you like ice-cream and then I say you don’t,” a facilitator explains. They also chew on the idea of confidentiality, and promise that workshop discussions won’t be gossiped about elsewhere.

This is important, because many live with a host of issues. Anna Versfeld, a social sciences master’s student working with the group, cites everything from alcoholism and unemployment to overcrowding and substance abuse in the yards they live in, if not their immediate families, as problems.

Many residents have affiliations to gangs, shooting is rife and domestic and other violence common. A reporter’s father was stabbed to death less than a month ago, and at least three of the children saw the body in the street. Versfeld suspects at least one case of post-traumatic stress disorder among the children.

But it’s not all about the heavy stuff. The first story Brandon ever recorded was about his brother’s dog Bruno.

“It’s important to tell our own stories because people outside Manenberg doesn’t know how it is really here,” says Bronwyn (15). “They think if you come here they will shoot you and it’s all gangsters. But it isn’t like that.”

So the children make inserts on positive things too – they’ve interviewed martial artists and B-boys.

But tackling the tough stuff has been transformative. The young reporters visited child welfare offices and the local police station. They quizzed an inspector on what the cops were doing about crime in Manenberg, and why people joined gangs.

“The radio has become a tool of enquiry for the children,” says Clémence Petit-Perrot, Children’s Radio Foundation curriculum director. “They have found that they can go out and ask why things are happening. They get to hold adults accountable.”

“It feels great to ask questions because you can get answers to everything you want to know,” Danielle (9), says with satisfaction.

Rufka (12) glows when asked about playing her insert to her family. “They said I was great and wonderful,” she says. “Story-telling is important to know about one another and life. I’m different since the radio. I feel great when I’m interviewing – special, like everyone is listening to me.”

* Children’s surnames are kept confidential to protect their privacy

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