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Children of the night

Taelo is thirteen years old. He lived in Mofolo, Soweto with his mother and stepfather. Taelo’s stepfather used to beat him every day when he came back from work. He said Taelo ate all the food he bought for his children. In the end, Taelo ran away.

Taelo had nowhere to go. So Taelo joined the many children who live on the streets in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. There Taelo met Stanley Sibeko. Stanley is also thirteen. He comes from Pretoria.


“I ran away from home because my sister was angry with me,” said Stanley. “She used to beat me every day for no reason. My parents saw what she did. But they did not stop her. So at the beginning of this year, I decided to leave. I was doing Standard One at school.

“One day I just left home and caught a train to Johannesburg. When I got to Jo’burg, I did not know what to do. I begged for money. At night I was very frightened. I had nowhere to sleep. Then I met some children like myself who were living on the streets.”


“They asked me to join them,” said Stanley. “After that life was much better. I didn’t feel frightened anymore. Everything we did, we did together.

“Sometimes we went to Park Station to do ‘shoeshine’. And with the money we got from ‘shoeshine’ we bought food and played video games or ‘koppiedice’. Some of my new friends used the money to buy glue.”


“At night we slept in a ‘pozzie’. A ‘pozzie’ is any safe place to sleep. Sometimes we slept in the doors of shops, sometimes we slept at Park Station. When it was warm we slept in the parks.

“We had no blankets — we just used cardboard to cover ourselves. When it was cold, we made afire. No-one worried us, except the police. Sometimes the police arrested us. Then we would spend the night in jail.”


“We often woke up in the middle of the night to go to a shop called Fontana. Fontana stays open the whole night. Fontana throws their leftovers out in the middle of the night. We used to take their leftovers out of the rubbish bins and eat them.

” If there were no leftovers, we had to make money. Then we helped people to find places to park their cars. People gave us ten cents or twenty cents for doing this. Then we would go back to bed.”


“We did not stay in Hillbrow all the time. Sometimes, we went to Rosebank. Sometimes we went to the Rio Cinema to watch movies. Sometimes we caught a train to Jan Smuts Airport to ask for money there.

“But when times were bad, when there was no money — we jived in the streets so that people would give us money.”


Then one day my friends and I met a woman. She asked us if we wanted work. We all said ‘yes’. Then she said we must come with her. She never gave us a job but she took us to an old building in Hillbrow called ‘Halfway House’.

“At Halfway House they gave us a shower and clean clothes. We also got good food. But we did not like living there. They refused to give us money. They thought we would buy glue and sniff it. So we ran away. But in the end we came back.

“At least here we have our own beds, we don’t have to sleep inside cardboard. And we don’t have to worry about getting money for food. Now we are used to the Halfway House. It feels like home here.”


Two years ago a woman called Serna Kramer met five children near her home. They were living in an empty block of flats. Every day after that, Serna took food, clothes, and blankets to the children.

The children asked Serna to find a place for them to live. Serna tried everywhere but she could find nothing for them. So in the end, she took them to her father’s farm near Klerksdorp. Her father said they could stay there for a short time.


Serna was looking for a place where these children could live when she met Jill Swart. Jill and Serna spoke to other people who worried about the children on the streets. They started a committee and they called themselves PROSCESS — Project Street Children; Educational and Social Support.

The committee helped Serna to find a place for the children. They were given some land in Magaliesberg. But they knew that a home in Magaliesberg was not enough. There were hundreds of children on the streets in Johannesburg.


“We started the Halfway House in Hillbrow in November 1985,” Jill told Learn and Teach.”We wanted a place where the children could come and get used to living like children again.

“In the beginning very few children came to the Halfway House in Hillbrow. The children came one by one. They did not trust us. Then in February this year, the children started to come in big groups. They saw that the children who came here were well-treated.

“We try to help the children here. People come and give lessons in the morning. Then the children are free in the afternoon. We leave the doors open all the time. The children are free to come and go. But they must tell us when they are going out.”


“We always try to find the children’s families and we try to get the children back to their families. Sometimes it is very difficult.

“We had one child here whose mother worked on a farm near Krugersdorp. We asked her if she wanted to see her child. The mother said yes. So we went to the farmer and asked him if the child could spend the weekend on the farm.

“When we went to fetch the child on the Monday, we found him hiding in the bushes, together with his mother. The mother said that after we left, farmer came and said she must leave. The farmer did not want the child to there or even visit his mother.”


The biggest problem with the children is glue-sniffing,” Jill said. “Many of the children on the streets sniff glue. It makes them feel better. We try to help the children to stop sniffing glue. But it is very difficult. Their bodies are used to the glue and need the glue.

The children feel very sick when they first stop.

‘We also have money and space problems. We have very little money. So we must be very careful when we spend money. And we have no space for the children to play. When we take the children to the parks around us, people are sometimes very unkind to the children.”


“We have about fifty boys with us now. At the moment we are building houses for a hundred children in Magaliesberg. We want to give these children a second chance in life.

“People say that there are five thousand children living on the streets in South Africa — and we hope to help one hundred of these children. It seems like nothing but it is a beginning.”


“People ask us how we can stop children living on the streets. But we say there will be children on the streets until people can live a decent life. There will be children on the streets until parents can live together, until people earn enough money to look after themselves and until people have decent houses to live in.”

So next time you see young, dirty ‘vuilpops’ dancing in the streets, think again. These children are not gangsters. They are just children with no love and no home.


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