Tough street life of tough kids

2013-06-26 00:00

IT’S five o’clock on a Tuesday morning. It’s dark and cold. There’s a huddle of blankets lining the length of the wall of Bismillah’s Supermarket at the corner of Chota Motala and Naidoo roads in Raisethorpe.

All around there is the stench of urine and human faeces. The taxis whipping past do not disturb the huddle, nor do the loud hooters and the chatter of workers rushing by to get their transport to work.

As the light improves, a couple of heads covered in woollen caps become visible and the next minute a minibus taxi taking a short-cut past Bismillah’s almost ploughs through the pile. There would have been carnage — at least 20 to 25 children and young adults are asleep in that huddle. As they begin to waken, at least two young girls are spotted, barely 13 to 14 years old, and sleeping among them are a couple of older men.

These are the street children of the Raisethorpe CBD and some of the adults who are preying on them. There are others, like those in the cars that stop further up Naidoo Road, to pick up the underage girls in the group who have taken up prostitution. There are also unscrupulous shopkeepers who are selling them glue, sometimes at discount and even on credit.

Local residents say that the number of street children in the area has grown exponentially in the past year. Until a couple of months ago, there were only five or six young boys; now there are as many as 20 to 30 in the group.

Bolstered by numbers and high on glue, they are now conducting a reign of terror in the area. A business owner who reported their destruction of property to the police was warned that his shop would be burnt down.

Elderly women have had their shopping bags snatched from their hands. A young woman who worked in a nearby crèche was beaten up and had her necklace snatched from her neck.

The residents and business owners clutch onto the police case numbers they get each time they report an incident. They show copies of letters of complaints they have written to the ward councillor, the police and the municipality, with nothing being done so far.

Now they want the issue of the street children to be taken up by a social ills campaign in the northern suburbs, which is led by KZN Finance MEC Ina Cronjé.

Pradeep Maharaj, who is going to be at the launch of the campaign in Truro Hall today, is determined to raise the matter. He said the social ills campaign is about substance abuse, domestic violence and teenage pregnancy. All these social ills are found within the microcosm of the street children’s community and have to be tackled if the campaign was to mean anything.

He said the residents are kept awake at night. First there is partying that often goes on until after midnight. These end up in fights. Knives come out and bottles are broken to be used as weapons. The police are often called to break up the fights, Maharaj said.

He added that the glue high makes the kids arrogant and daring. Street children openly have sex in the streets, in view of families living in the surrounding flats.

According to residents, at least two of the young girls, who appeared to be between the ages of 13 and 15, fell pregnant. Fatima Moosa said that, about six months ago, one of the girls was giving birth on the street and an ambulance had to be called.

Shop owner Loopy Maharaj said: “Sex, drugs, violence and teenage pregnancy. It is all here and it is time the authorities stopped turning a blind eye.”


Misguided do-gooders blamed for making life too easy on the streets

RESIDENTS and shop owners blame local do-gooders for inadvertently helping to perpetuate the problem of street children. They say many religious organisations give out food to the children.

“Families with excess biryani after prayers and functions come and dump their leftovers here. There is sometimes such a lot of food, the kids just throw it around,” said one of the shop owners.

They know of people who have dropped off pieces of foam to be used as mattresses, and blankets.

“These people are easing their own consciences by dishing out handouts, but they are creating more problems,” said Loopy Maharaj.

Sifiso Mdluli, outreach co-ordinator for the Khaylethu street children’s project, agrees.

He said there are a number of reasons why children choose to live on the streets. Life could be hard at home or there could be behavioural problems.

“In our interaction, we want the children to return home or to become part of communities. They will do this if they consider life on the street much harsher than at home. We don’t want the street to become a comfortable place for the children.”

Mdluli said they discouraged handouts because often the children want money to buy glue. He also had a strong message to businesspeople, especially those selling glue, to act ethically and to think of the children.

Mdluli said they worked with the street children from the Raisethorpe area. They offered them music lessons and had games days. However, all their intervention work would be in vain if children were given money and food, and were being made comfortable on the streets.

“Once exposed to the culture of the street, it is hard to take it out of the children. We require the public to act responsibly and not inadvertently encourage this lifestyle,” he said

According to Mdluli, Khayalethu has a register of street children. They know of 20 in the Raisethorpe area. He said the number of street children in the city fluctuated and they were concerned that the number was growing. Popular hang-outs for the street children include the Raisethorpe CBD, outside Upper Crust in Hesom Street, Victoria Road, Burger Street, around Woodburn in Scottsville and the New England Road area in Hayfields.

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THE city is working on a plan to deal with the issue of growing numbers of street children.

Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma confirmed newspaper reports that the initiative was under way. He said he could not give timeframes at this stage as the first step was to set up a task team. He expected this to be done by the next meeting on

July 10.

Mountain Rise station commander Brigadier Francis Bantham also welcomed a more inclusive initiative. She said that the community looked to the police to sort out problems with the street children.

Bantham said they tried their best, but there was a lot of legislation dealing with children and they could not just lock the children up. The situation needed to be dealt with sensitively and other agencies like the Department of Social Development needed to be involved.

• The launch of a social ills campaign takes place at noon today at the Truro Hall. Interested individuals and community organisations are invited to attend.

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