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12 tales of blindness and hope

  • Category: Reviews
  • Posted on December 5, 2011

Then Light Went Black: Six Southern African stories of people who became blind Then Light Went Black: Six Southern African stories of people who became blind

Saturday 6 December saw the launch of two new releases from the Human Rights Media Centre, Then Light Went Black and Lifelines. Both books contain southern African stories from blind people – the first book being about people who have gone blind, and the second about people who were born blind. Together the two books offer a fascinating insight into the lives of those who have not been blessed with sight, or of those who have lost it.

One of the recurring themes in Lifelines is that of a lack of education about blindness. Says Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu in her essay, “Reaching my dreams”, “My grandmother told me that people from our village used to say, ‘There’s a child with frog eyes born in that house.’ When I walked in the village, people would stop me and the first thing they would do is look into my eyes and say, ‘Oh she’s that blind one, Kebarang’s blind daughter.’ My mother still doesn’t know why I am blind. I know more about my condition than both of my parents.”

Lifelines: Six South African stories of people with congential blindness Lifelines: Six South African stories of people with congential blindness

Grace Chaponda tells of the uncertainty surrounding her eye condition in “I know how blue is”: “At the time I thought I was just sick. I thought my eyes would open and then I would see again. I thought maybe when the pain stopped, I would see again…the doctor said it was better to take out the left eye. That was when I realised my blindness was forever.”

Such ignorance is the source of a pervasive loneliness and isolation experienced by many of those suffering from congenital blindness. “Some games we played required eyesight,” explains Malathisi Majijia in his essay, “Look us in the eyes, hear our cries”. “Like when we chased one another and you had to duck so that you were not caught…playing these games made me realise I was blind and different. Sometimes young children would tease me and say, ‘Look at his eyes!’ because my eyes are completely white…The teasing hurt me and would make me realise how cruel the world is.”

One of the common themes in the stories from Then Light Went Black is the inadequacy of public health services in preventing blindness where possible, and in helping to support those living with it. In the introduction to Lifelines, Christopher Colvin, Shirley Gunn, Mayra Melo and Zukiswa Puwana note, “The health services let storytellers down in a number of ways. Few people in the communities described here had been taught about what causes blindness or how important it is to respond to warning signs with quick medical intervention.”

Storytellers who went blind later in life also tell of the crippling over-protectiveness of their families once their sight was gone: “After I became blind my family prevented me from playing outside. They would not let me out of their sight. They feared I might get injured and, as a result, the community could not interact much with me…they did not know how to interact with a blind child,” says Nzuzo Qaji in “Potholed journey to independence”. 

Many of the stories, while heart-wrenchingly sad, contain words of hope. Erica Phillips describes how she learned to use Microsoft Word with the help of the Western Cape Blind Association, and from there went on to take over training other blind people in the use of computers. Vincent Daniels (“The sky’s the limit”) runs a Skills Development and Awareness Programme with students of the University of Cape Town. Many other stories of success in spite of disability fill the pages of these books.

For further information and to order a copy of Lifelines or Then Light Went Black, contact the Human Rights Media Centre on 021 762 2092 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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