Street is boys' ugly world
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA Milbert O. Brown, Jr. (1994)
As they sleep, the frailty of their unwashed bodies is challenged nightly, as rats climb on the cracks of their diseased skin. Their tightly matted hair serves as a protective pillow from the cold concrete of the alley. The sun awakens their weaken eyes with a hope of finding some discarded food. For a wolf, this existence would be considered normal, but for an 11-year-old boy, it is a life of wandering and searching for an identity in South Africa’s new nation.
One of President Nelson Mandela’s greatest hurdles will be to provide homes for over 5,000 kids who live on South Africa streets. “Many of the kids that live on the streets have fled violence and or poverty from their townships or rural communities,” said Muhammad Dangor, a newly elected member of parliament and an African National Congress official. Dangor said the issue will be addressed through the new government’s reconstruction and development program. “We must design programs that not only get kids off the street but develop them into viable citizens in our society.”
Near the African National Congress, headquarters is a small community of makeshift tents that line the entrance into Doggy Park. Many homeless boys have chosen Doggy Park, a grassy island that is surrounded by downtown office buildings-- as their home. Roger Matshane proudly grins as he pulls back a large piece of plastic covering what serves as his doorway. Inside the tent is a fashionable, but the dirty mattress that sleeps five to six boys. “Sometimes it’s just surviving, not living,” said Matshane as he brushes off his worn shoes. At age 25, Matshane acts as leader and father to most of the boys as young as 11.
David Monese, 17, one of Matshane’s tent mates, is a newcomer. He has been living on the Johannesburg streets for a year after leaving Lesoto, a small country surrounded by South Africa. “My family is very poor. I came to the city in hopes of finding a job, but now I just beg for food and money on the streets. In the Hillbrow area, another crowd of boys walks around high on glue, their cheap form of dope. Their clothes appear and smell to have been worn for months. The boys are preoccupied with another turn to inhale from the small plastic bottle filled with glue.
The glue, used to repair shoes by local shoemakers, can be purchased for as little as two American dollars. A bottle of glue can supply a group of boys with one or two days of highs. Inhaling the glue has been so toxic that some suffer from serious respiratory problems. So with few hopes and unclear dreams, thousands of boys walk the streets, begging, searching and sometimes stealing just to survive another day on the streets.
Milbert O. Brown, Jr., was one of only three journalists from the Chicago Tribune that covered South Africa’s first all-race elections in 1994. While reporting in South Africa, Brown was an international press member of the Foreign Correspondents Association.
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