LETTER TO THE EDITOR | UnrestSA: The kids are not alright

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The writer says that she is concerned about the mental health of her children following the unrest.
The writer says that she is concerned about the mental health of her children following the unrest.
RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP

Vanessa Barnes describes her experience over the last few days after violence broke out in the area where she lives following the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma last week. She writes that she is concerned what impact this is having on her children, who have already had to deal with trying to get an education while the country deals with a pandemic.


Living in the leafy green suburb of Kloof in the Upper Highway area in Durban is normally a quiet affair. As a teacher and mom of four children, life revolves around kids and school.

Over the last few nights our suburb has been rocked by explosions, gun shots, police helicopters, violent looting and vandalism.

Along with many others, our communities have been devastated by fellow South Africans who have decided to opt for instant gratification, looting and stealing. The acrid smell of fires permeates the air, and we live from one Whatsapp message to the next.

My husband and two teenage boys have spent the last three days on patrol. I never thought that I would ever see my sons preparing themselves to defend our home as there is zero police presence. I feel like I am a character in a Dystopian novel. Our lives are controlled by constant Whatsapp messages that are being circulated. These are often helpful, sharing vital information about where to find food and fuel. I queued for four hours and still could not get into the parking lot of the local Pick and Pay! Watching your local mall go up in flames, knowing that loved ones have lost businesses and that families have lost everything is almost incomprehensible.

I know that my family is one of many experiencing this and that other people are in far more dire situations. I am devastated for all South Africans.

The psychological trauma that these communities will feel is going to be extensive. Our kids are watching, and they are the ones that will bear the brunt of this lawlessness and the subsequent tragedy. I have a son in Grade 12 and one in Grade 11. They have already endured almost two years of disruptive schooling due to Covid. This in itself has had a direct impact on their mental health. At the moment, school and assessments are the furthest thing from their minds as they rush off to respond to a call for patrollers to help. Not much of a holiday!

How do our kids recover from this? They are witnessing their communities under siege, and somehow, they must still be optimistic about our country and its leadership. How do we encourage our young people to stay and develop our country when they are watching it burn?  The kids are not alright.

- Vanessa Barnes, Kloof

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