They are wandering in a wasteland, begging crowds for a coin. Outcast and left alone. Our world has up to an estimated 100 million children living on its streets today. Liveni’ uVuyo Fatsha shares why he ended up living on the street, and the roles and hierarchies of an anonymous street kid in post-apartheid South Africa.
I was born and raised in a township in the eastern part of South Africa. The broken tin sheds standing anonymous, like endless mass graves, remind us of the segregation. The townships are like a collection of apartheid survivors in piles. I don’t know why, but my parents left me when I was just a baby, so young that I don’t have any memory of them. All I’ve heard about my parents is that my father was a respected man in the community. I don’t even know what type of shit he was congratulated for. So my grandma, uncle, and aunt raised me. But they never hummed me calming lullabies. No tenderness. No love. Only guilt. My grandma told me that I wasn’t her son, and that I should appreciate that I was taken care of—otherwise I would be a street kid.
My aunt got pregnant two times. She dropped the baby boys at home and I was forced to take care of them. I was also forced to take care of the place where we lived. I washed the dishes, cleaned the house, fixed up the garden, and all that. How old was I? Not even six. So there was no time for school or friends. I was not allowed to meet other kids. Them damn sadists, how they punished me, who already lay down. Only guilt.
Where I lived, people seemed to love fighting. Our house lay right at the main road, where people sold drugs and hung out. People got drunk and beat each other bloody in front of me. Sometimes to death. One day, a guy that I had known for a long time asked me if I could go and get my friend. I didn’t even reflect on his intentions, so I brought my friend there. The guy stabbed my friend to death in front of me. I just stood there completely helpless. How old were we? Not even six.
Grandma also loved fighting. She took drugs most of the time. She sent me to get these drugs for her. And when grandma went out drinking, she came back with her boyfriend. But no love. They punished each other in loud fights, just like that.
One afternoon, in the year of 2002, it all changed. I was six years old. I had been playing with some other kids, but as I was not allowed to do that, I was too frightened to go home. I walked around and found this doghouse where I slept, among the dog’s rabid spittle. I woke up early in the morning before the township madness started. Now that I’d been gone for the night, I couldn’t go home. So I started to walk. I walked away from the prison at home. But my tiny legs moved towards an even harder battle in misery. I jumped in a taxi, but when the driver realized that I didn’t have money to pay, he almost beat me up. A women felt bad for me and paid. They dropped me off in a town, and I walked until I got tired. I thought of going back home, but I was too scared. They would probably have killed me if I came back. So I stayed. And there, my life on the streets started.
Life on the streets was so much harder than at home. I lived there for many years, and I have experienced things that no creature of this earth should be exposed for. Everyone struggles to survive, and there are only three choices: begging, selling drugs, or robbery. I’ve done all of these. As I was and am a very shy person, begging was the worst for me. It is shameful to be covered in filthiness. It is shameful to be dependent on the whims of others, like a dog. Sometimes people spit on me or put used paper in my can instead of coins. But there were of course some nice people as well. One of the best days in my life was when a woman gave me a bag with coins, kissed me, and said beautiful words to me.
Some of the kids had lived on the street for a long time, and they were called Legends. You see, in the outskirts of society, there are many games involving power and respect. When you are excluded from the world, you try to regain dignity. The hierarchy is unchangeable. We, the young kids, were slaves under the Legends. They forced us to get money for them so that they could do drugs. And if we didn’t, they beat us up. Sometimes they beat us up to prove their power in front of others. And I was a victim of that many times. Some of the other kids got raped and killed by the Legends. I almost did once. I slept in this abandoned house one night, where I found shelter. When I was resting in my dreams, they set the house on fire. I woke up from the smoke and ran out just before it burnt up behind me. I was close to death that night. Sometimes I longed for death.
Such as when my skin was burnt, and it got freezing cold during night time. My body roaring for food. The garbage people dropped on the ground became my survival. I ate dinner in the clouds with the rats. And I thought about my mom, who put me in this world and left me in the dirtiest loneliest dust of humanity. Wishing for love in a world that neglected me. Even my family neglecting me. And so hungry. In all those moments, I longed for death.
A lady named Gaye eventually picked me up and let me live in her home for orphanage children. I started school, and made friends. In 2009, my home closed down. I had to move in with my friend’s family. They treated me really well, and I continued my school work. In 2012, I got in contact with one of my people from the township, who told me that my mom had died four years ago. I started to think about my background all the time, and lost the flames inside of me. So I failed my graduation. And just like that, the ground that I had started to build up cracked. Everything felt hopeless again.
The following year I went to a Christian church and attended their school. I learned about Christian wisdom. It felt meaningful. Religion and hope are the strongest forces in my life. But after a year, when I had finished the program, I had once again no idea what to do. My friend Jay Jay told me that I should go to Cape Town, because there I could find a place to live. I left what had been my only home, the streets of my city, and took myself to the West Coast. I slept outside for a week before I got picked up.
I now live in a shelter in Cape Town lead by Pastor John who took me under his invisible wings. I have so many dreams about the future, but it all seems impossible for me. It seems impossible in this life. It was just by chance that I got this life. Where you are born determines your whole destiny and that is unfair. We street kids are just products of poverty, social misery, and scarcity of possibilities. It is not our fault. And the world should not accept this inhumane phenomenon. No one should have to sleep on the streets. You should never judge any beggar or homeless person. Talk with them. They may be ashamed of themselves. Show them that they don’t have to be. You, as an individual, have power over their life. A smile, a coin, or a kind word—that can you at least give them.
I have this life now. It’s not going to be forever. In my next life I’ll be a Salvator. I’ll be a soldier and a savior of the lost kids on the streets.