After Christmas lunch with my family in Pietermaritzburg I decided to take a detour out of the busy city life and visited Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. I only spent about four hours next to one of the small town’s popular tourist attractions but realised that the quiet country life that was once there no longer exists.
During the festivities I met many friends I had last seen in high school. I went to a high school with the vast majority of pupils being from successful middle class families and therefore it was not a surprise to realise that most of my high school mates have good jobs in Johannesburg and Pretoria. Others opted for Pietermaritzburg and Durban.
What disturbed me there was the majority of the black population there. Most Howick residents are from working class homes and therefore their lives are different from those of people who can afford to send their children to the middle class school I went to. My assumption though would be that their kids have more to lose and have to work harder than those whose parents can afford to send to university, but that is not what I saw in Howick.
I was greeted by a culture of teenage drinking and realised that some parents allow children as young as six years old to consume alcohol. Midmar Dam was a scene of a big party on Christmas Day with under-age sex being the other favourite activity there. What was mind-boggling is that most of this was happening with the children’s parents around and they were aware of the activities taking place and some were encouraging them.
Proof of how irresponsible much of the behaviour that takes place in some of these Howick parties was evident with a second cousin who introduced me to her father’s baby for the first time. The child is over a year old and my aunt and I were the first family members to meet the father on Christmas Day. It was then revealed that the two high schoolers had met at an event similar to that of Christmas Day, had unprotected sex and never met again after that. They were meeting for the second time since the pregnancy on the day and the boy acknowledged that he is the baby’s father and was shocked of the baby’s resemblance to him. He said that he works part time, doesn’t earn much and is from an informal settlement in Howick. In his drunken state the boy mentioned that he has a second child with another girl and his prospects in life did not even look good before the revelation of the two babies he has fathered.
Howick is a town known for green hills, natural beauty and a quiet country life, but on Christmas Day I realised that this town harbours behaviour that only the poor experience with the rich judging from the sides in their upmarket country houses offering splendid views of the Midmar Dam or the Howick Falls. As much as teenage drinking and under-age sex are the norm in the lives of the poor it is also evident that there isn’t much information provided to these people about consequences.
Most poor South Africans are also not aware that their children can acquire university education and pay for it through the National Student Financial Education Scheme (NSFAS). Those who cannot afford university education can repay their loans once they start working.
When I spoke to the young man about his options he was unresponsive and his blank look was telling me that I was spoiling his fun. My cousin on the other hand has better prospects with a good support system of successful and educated women around her who are currently taking assisting in taking care of the baby while she gets a chance to continue with her education.
Small town life showed that people who live there are often neglected with much of the focus on young people being on the empowerment of urban youth.