South African Poet Strives to Improve Child Education


OSAKA — Be it in Japan or his native South Africa, Thomas Kantha believes in furthering the cause of what he considers the world’s most valuable resource: children.

Kantha has done just that in his recently published bilingual book of poetry titled “Oppressed Child, Talk to Me,” a biting commentary on life under the apartheid system that he hopes people in Japan will take to heart.

“I saw the racialism in Japan and I somehow wanted to make a freer world for my children” through the book, said the father of two. “I also want to give something back to the country where I was born.”

All proceeds from his English-Japanese book will go to the Japan-based People’s Education Support Fund, which donates money to black South African youths who continue to be denied a proper education.

Kantha serves as one of the spokespeople for the fund, which was started a few years ago by Japanese teachers seeking to promote educational opportunities for struggling black youths.

“The children of South Africa need help,” said Kantha, who hails from Tongaat near the port city of Durban. “It is only our goodwill that will open the doors to make a brighter future for them.”

The cost per year of educating one South African child is about ¥20,000, according to Kantha. He hopes the total proceeds from his book will help educate at least 50 South African elementary school students next year.

An English instructor at local private schools, Kantha says he has often encountered racial discrimination in Japan as well — many times from youths who apparently do not know any better.

“Children mimic the adults’ cruelty,” he said. “If we showed kindness as adults, I think the children would change.

“This is part of what this book is about. It’s not just about South Africa. It’s about showing humanness to each other. It has no boundary of religion, race, color or politics.”

The 34 poems in his book include such titles as “World Peace Declaration,” “The Scars” and “Barren Freedom.”

The poem “Any Child is My Child,” on the ongoing suffering of youths under apartheid, reads: “They are homeless / They are familyless / They are stateless / Cry no more my child. I will comfort you / Any child is my child….”

Kantha hopes projects like his book and the education support fund can also serve to strengthen long-term ties between South Africa’s black community and Japanese, who, he feels, have traditionally sided with whites through the “honorary white” status provided by Pretoria and accepted by Tokyo.

In the true South African sense, he believes people must contribute to the community in which they live. Volunteering as a guide for local disabled people who need help getting around is just one of the ways he puts his personal convictions to work.

Kantha also gives public lectures in Japanese about life in South Africa and actively participates in regional anti-apartheid rallies.

While he and his wife, Tokiko, have chosen to raise their own children in Japan for the time being, the vision of a better life for other youths halfway around the world remains always in his thoughts.

He is now preparing his second book of poetry to be published in 1992, with proceeds going toward the inoculation of African children against disease.

“All societies have hope for the children,” Kantha said, “because they are our future torchbearers. You’ve got to brighten their present to make their future even brighter.”