Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Suffer the children

And while the adults hack away at each other, the kids are caught in the middle.

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Uncertain future for 200 displaced kids housed at police station.

Amid the gloom that engulfs Cleveland police station in Johannesburg, there is a room somewhere inside the building filled with the chatter and laughter of children.

In this room fear is tempered with hope. A small section of the wall is plastered with colourful drawings made by the children who litter the floor, armed with wax crayons and pieces of paper. Officials say at least 200 children were registered last week.

Nina Askeland pastes each drawing that the children proudly present to her on the wall.

Askeland has come to the police station three times since last week to give the children paper and crayons.

The room houses children who were displaced by the violence against immigrants that erupted in Gauteng two weeks ago.

Nine-year-old Humphrey Elongo, from the DRC, proudly points to a picture that he drew.

“Stop crime. Stop the killing. We don’t want to die,” Elongo has written on the drawing.

These words are accompanied by disturbing scenes in green wax crayon of gunmen pointing firearms at people.

“He wanted to show how the violence has affected us,” says 11-year-old Gael Kabondo, also from the DRC.Gael’s drawing is vastly different from Humphrey’s, illustrating a different world from the one he currently lives in.

“Keep the world clean,” Kabondo has written on his drawing, which is dominated by a big tree with birds and flowers in pink and purple colours.

“South Africans are destroying the ozone layer and they throw rubbish everywhere instead of in the rubbish bins,” says Kabondo, who has lived in South Africa since he was two years old.

A Grade 6 pupil at Hillcrest Primary School, he has missed a week’s schooling and is not sure when he will be going back to school.

He says little of his parents, except that they “ran away” from their semidetached house when the violence broke out in Malvern.

“Everybody ran away when the people came to chase us out,” Kabondo says.

His mother’s friend, Mavoka Nzemba, now looks after him, his two brothers and sister.

Though she does not have children of her own, Nzemba, 28, has her hands full looking after her friends’ displaced children.

“I don’t know where their parents are,” Nzemba says. “They got lost and I can’t find them. At least we get clothes and food from the people here.”

Nadine Kenge, 16, a Grade 10 pupil, fears her dreams of being a doctor are slipping away from her the longer she stays at the police station.

“I want to be a doctor and work for the people of South Africa one day because I live here now,” she says.

“I lost my school books when we fled Yeoville last week. I can’t afford to miss school because it will be exam time soon.

“They are fighting with me now but one day they will love me. I pray that God forgives them because they don’t know what they are doing.”

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