It?s never too late to change

Date: January 1, 1970
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If there is one thing that I?ve learnt in life thus far, it?s that it?s never too late to change. You don?t have to resort to alcohol or violence to deal with your problems.

If there is one thing that I’ve learnt in life thus far, it’s that it’s never too late to change. You don’t have to resort to alcohol or violence to deal with your problems.

My name is Harry and I am 16-years-old. I live in the Alexandra township outside Johannesburg and am in high school. I am a peer educator for the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA), and Maziza, a youth organisation that deals with alcohol abuse and teenage pregnancy. I became a peer educator after attending a course through my school. I was chosen to attend the course by a teacher at my school because I was an alcoholic.

I began drinking heavily after my mother got sick and lost her job. Life was hard because no one was able to pay my school fees and buy clothes for me. My mother went to stay in the rural areas of Limpopo Province and left me in Alexandra with my two uncles and aunts and their children.

As time went on, I became friends with boys from families that were more advantaged than mine. My friends told me that when I had problems I should drink alcohol and they would disappear. I drank a lot so that I could forget what was happening at home – I missed my mother and did not feel part of the family. But when I got sober, my problems were still there.

One day I took alcohol to school. It was sports day and some students were on the school grounds and others were cleaning the classrooms. One of those cleaning the classrooms was my girlfriend. I told myself that I loved her and because of this I could “rule her” and no one could tell me otherwise. I believed I was superior to her. I went to the classroom where she was because I had a lust for sex and thought that she would have sex with me.

I found her sitting in the class by herself. I went into the classroom and closed the door behind me. I was already drunk. I sat beside her and we talked. During the conversation I began touching her body, wanting her to have sex with me. She allowed me to touch her, but resisted when I started undressing her. I was trying to force her, but she continued resisting. As we were fighting my friend came in and I told him what was going on. He held her down on the teachers’ table while I carried on trying to undress her so that we could both have sex with her.

I thought that my friend would be impressed with me.

Fortunately her friends came to her rescue and we had to stop. They took her to the principals’ office and my friend ran away. I did not run because I told myself that I could explain what happened. We were called to the office but my friend did not come. They asked why I did this. I said that because she was my girlfriend I could do anything I wanted to her.

My friend came into the office then and we both got five lashes from the vice-principal. We thought it was over because we had been beaten. But the following day when we went to school my friend and I heard classmates calling us rapists. One day I went to her house and beat her because of what she had done. I started telling her friends that I would beat them as well.

My family knew what had happened and begun treating me even more like an outsider.

One of my teachers asked me why I did this when I was one of the best students at school. I told him it was the alcohol. We tried to find a solution but couldn’t. I carried on drinking and harassing the girl. As time went on we stopped speaking to each other because she was afraid that I would hurt her.

A few months after this, the same teacher gave me forms from SANCA, and I went on a three-day camp. The camp was like rehab. I started attending SANCA workshops and separated from my friends because I realised what I was doing was not right and I had to stop drinking alcohol.

I went on other workshops and began meeting new people, with positive attitudes. At one workshop a drama group performed. I joined the group in March this year because I think that drama can be used to inform people. I wish to use drama to inform my ex-friends about the wrong that they are doing.

When my mother heard about what had happened she became even more ill. I am her only child and I did not want to be an orphan. I thought that the things that I had been doing would kill my mother. I changed my behaviour because she means everything to me and I love her very much.

The workshops that I have attended have taught me many things. If my girlfriend and I do not agree on something, I can deal with disappointment in ways which do not include violence. I know that alcohol does not solve one’s problems and that women should be treated with respect, not violence.

*Not his real name.

This article is part of a special series of articles produced for the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign.

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events. for more information. 

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