Growing Up with Normalised Violence: Narratives of South African Youth

Shena Lamb-Du Plessis

Shena Lamb holds an MA in Conflict Transformation and Management (NMMU).  She worked as an editor for the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations in Rome for seven years before coordinating a community development project in Spain for 12 years.  She has co-authored a book (The Parrot’s Egg, 1985) which looked at migrant labour conditions in pre-1994 South Africa. 

Although South Africa’s violent history shows that neither exposure to violence nor youth criminal violence is new, especially for poor, marginalised youth in South Africa, of real concern is the continuing prevalence of the socio-economic factors which expose such youth to family violence, community violence and youth gangs.  These factors include unchanging apartheid-based structural inequality, poverty and unemployment as well as inadequate schooling. Longstanding economic, racial and gender inequality and dysfunctional family dynamics are particularly implicated.

Against this backdrop, a significant degree of normalisation of violence is inevitable.  While much normalisation of violence is often hidden by more direct violence, normalised violence also includes a range of anti-social behaviour, early and regular exposure to violence in the family and community as well as cultural beliefs that legitimise violence.

This study explores how the conflict stories of a particular group of young South African adults reflect this normalisation of violence and the resilience they negotiate.  In addition to questionnaires to obtain a conflict profile of the participants, the study used narrative analysis to probe the deeper meaning of their stories and explore the challenges that young people in South Africa are currently facing.

Key words:  youth violence; normalisation of violence; resilience