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Literacy is a luxury that many of us take for granted. That is why SADAG created SPEAKING BOOKS and revolutionized the way healthcare information is delivered to low literacy communities.

The customizable 16-page book, read by local celebrity audio recordings, ensures that vital health and social messages can be seen, heard, read and understood by everyone across the world.

We started with books on Teen Suicide prevention , HIV, AIDS and Depression, Understanding Mental Health and have developed over 100+ titles, such as TB, Malaria, Polio, Vaccines for over 45 countries.

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Fikile Magubane lost her son and husband in four months. (Oupa Nkosi)

Fikile Magubane was tired. It was 5am on a cold July morning and she had been up all night helping a woman in the community get help for her suicidal son.

She was relieved when the boy was finally admitted to hospital and she could go home to rest. Magubane phoned her son-in-law to fetch her. But as the car pulled into her driveway she was surprised to see a crowd of people outside her house.

"What do they want here?" Magubane asked herself. She recognised a number of relatives. She thought: "Maybe they have come to show support because it is my wedding anniversary."

Her husband had died four months earlier after a long illness.

But she felt uneasy. Something was wrong.

"Where's Nkanyezi?" she asked.

"Come in and sit down, Mama," said a relative.

"No. I don't want to sit down. I want my son," she said.

Then she noticed the A4 pages stuck to the wall. She looked closer. There were hand-drawn arrows pointing in one direction. She followed the arrows through the house to the outbuilding at the back.

There was a small note stuck on the door of the outbuilding with one word written on it: "Goodbye."

With an overwhelming sensation of fear and dread she opened the door and saw her 15-year-old son hanging from the ceiling, an extension cord around his neck.

12 years later

The image still haunts Magubane, nearly 12 years later.

"I never thought of committing suicide myself but I envied my husband because he didn't have to go through what I was going through," she tells me, sitting across the table at a coffee shop in Pretoria. "I thought he was better off where he was."

If Nkanyezi was alive today he would be 27 years old.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), teenage suicide is on the rise.

"One in four South African youths have sad and hopeless feelings," according to the group's founder, Zane Wilson, "and one in five consider suicide. I've seen too many unnecessary deaths and it's because the government is not taking depression in youth seriously."

According to Sadag, 60% of youth with a mental health disorder do not get the treatment they need and only 1% of mental hospital beds are assigned to children. The group receives no funding from the health department for its programmes aimed at combating teenage suicide.

The health department's head of communication, Popo Maja, said it is easy to criticise and apportion blame to the government.

Maja said that at a summit held in April last year, which was attended by a number of stakeholders including Sadag, it was understood that "the responsibility [of suicide prevention was not] solely that of the government".

But, said Wilson, because of a lack of government funding into research, there is little clarity on the exact reasons for the rise in teenage suicide.

"There are numerous triggers and we're not 100% certain why suicide is on the increase but certainly unemployment, economic instability, violence, a lack of social cohesion, the breakdown of traditional family structures as well as school-related pressures and bullying can be cause for concern," she said.

Traumatic events

"When people ask me why Nkanyezi chose suicide I tell them he is the only one who knows," Magubane tells me. "I have learnt to live without these questions being answered. I can only make assumptions."

However, there were a number of traumatic events in Nkanyezi's childhood that Magubane thinks may have led to his depression.

"When Nkanyezi was four we were attacked by a group of men with AK47s," she says. "I remember him taking his belt and trying to help me fight these people."At the time Magubane was lecturing nursing at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Pietermaritzburg campus.

"After the attack the university organised that we move from Mbali to a white suburb," she says. "This was before the Group Areas Act was repealed and people didn't want us there."

She believes Nkanyezi was "isolated" because "those people" didn't want their children "to play with a black child".

After the Magubane family moved, part of their house was gutted.

"We were told it was an electrical fault but we weren't sure if it might have been those people who attacked us in Mbali or the people who were against us living in that white neighbourhood," she said.

She believes that these and other events added up and Nkanyezi's father's death was the "trigger" for his suicide.

According to Sadag's Zane Wilson, "only through educating people across the country about the triggers, signs and symptoms and treatments for depression and suicide can we hope to get people talking and coming forward for help".

Education is important not only to give parents the tools to recognise suicidal behaviour in their children, but also to deal with a tragedy once it has happened.


"There's a stigma against suicide," says Magubane. "After Nkanyezi passed someone came up to me and said: 'I pity your son.' I said: 'Which son are you talking about because my son has died?' "

"He said, 'I'm talking about that one. I pity him. He is rotting in hell because he killed himself'."

"I want to say to parents in this situation: don't be affected by those things. It shows people are ignorant about mental disease," she says. "After I found the body I called the police, but they took more than six hours to arrive."

She looks at me intently through her black-rimmed glasses from across the table. "When they finally came there were so many police vans it felt like they had come to fetch a criminal."

She frowns at the memory.

"I was in shock; it was like I was dreaming," she pinches her arm as if to test reality.

"I can't describe the pain," she says. "I wouldn't like anyone to experience the pain of losing a child."

A tear rolls down her left cheek. She takes off her glasses and reaches into the bosom of her bright pink top for a tissue. She has come here to tell me her story. She hopes it will save the life of someone else's son or daughter.

"I was angry," she says, her kind face racked with pain. "I'm such an open person. I would sit with my children and talk to them. Why couldn't he tell me?

"I was angry with God that I went to help somebody else because he says we must love one another, and when I come back my own son is hanging."

The steady eye contact she has maintained is broken as she looks down at her hand and gently strokes the gold wedding band on her ring finger. "I felt embarrassed and very ashamed that I hadn't played a role as a parent. It was like I had failed."

She quickly wipes away a second tear and looks up. "But then I said, 'No, no, no, Fikile, you did your best. You cannot punish yourself like this.'

"It was a tough journey," she says. "I was very depressed. I wanted my curtains drawn. I was comfortable with darkness more than light. I was comfortable with silence more than noise."

A look of stubborn conviction appears on her face. "I said to myself, even if I save one life I'm prepared to share my story. I'm prepared to shed those tears again and again as long as I know I'm going to save somebody."


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