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South African Voices
by Petter Mårtenson
Violence and discrimination have been a part of life on the southernmost tip of the African continent for over a hundred years. The ICRC's . People on War' project chose South Africa because of the struggle to overcome apartheid.
"To be forced to flee from your burning home is the worst thing you can imagine. Women, children and elderly people who had nothing to do with the fighting were often beaten to death," recalls a participant in the South African leg of the People on War project. Interviews were conducted in early March with people at all levels of society affected by armed conflict and violence. They were asked to speak freely about their experiences, thoughts and feelings on their country's violent past as well as their hopes and expectations for the future.

Six women from the Kwa Zulu Natal region were one of the groups interviewed. All of them lost their husbands in armed clashes between African National Congress (ANC) supporters and members of the Inkhata Freedom Party about two years ago, leaving them with the burden of caring for their children alone.

"We were not able to keep the peace when the fighting hit us," they responded in unison to a moderator's question. They would welcome some kind of international intervention should armed violence resume. "People from overseas are neutral and can therefore help our leaders solve their differences, but we have to contribute ourselves to such an effort, too."
Tools of war
The widows would like to abolish or at least outlaw all weapons, whether modern or traditional. "It's because of the very existence of weapons that we lost our husbands," they cry out. Some of the other focus groups tend to be more permissive, at least when it comes to the use of traditional weapons like sticks or spears.

The women express a cautious optimism when they consider life in post-apartheid South Africa. "We hear over the radio that things are better in our country and today we can sleep in peace, even if we keep hearing of killings elsewhere in the province." Despite the relatively relaxed atmosphere today, the constantly increasing crime rate is a cause for growing concern.

by Petter Mårtenson
Petter Mårtenson is a press officer with the Swedish Red Cross.
Voices from all sides
In addition to six widows, there were originally seven more focus groups to be consulted during the South African stage of the People on War project. They consisted of representatives from medical personnel, combatants in a township, people forcibly expelled from their residential area by the apartheid regime, former members of the armed wing of the ANC, members of a special police force of the apartheid regime and a group of young gang members' mothers. Another group comprised of teachers was scheduled to be interviewed but had to be cancelled due to unrest in the town where the interview was supposed to take place.

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