Street kids, a looming humanitarian disaster

street_children2HARARE Wearing a plain-yellow T-shirt, a small boy hesitantly gets off a Tenda Bus at the Zimbabwean capitals noisy bus station. He expects no one to meet him, and is not looking for an address. (Pictured: Children made homeless through various circumstances have no cho

Alfred Mandimutsira looks around him, before heading for the garbage mounds scattered on the eastern periphery of the Mbare terminus. On a pile to his right a girl in a grubby dress sees him. He ignores her timid smile, chooses unattended rubbish and goes to work. The Harare garbage seems to yield more food crumbs and toys than the ones in Rusape, he realises before the girl and three boys come up and successfully persuade him to join their group. He didnt last long in their gang before leaving. I left them because they were stealing, Alfred admits. I then went to Fourth Street and joined two boys, but the police chased us. I came here (corner Third Street and Five Avenue).

Later, he met a boy of his own age, Givemore Banda, who sells firewood to people waiting for transport at night and others who roast fresh maize in the city. He says he likes Givy because he is not a thief. Alfred and Givemore are reminders of a problem that threatens to turn into a humanitarian crisis as child after child joins the streets after being rendered homeless for various social reasons. On the streets, they have to fend for themselves. One may be correct in predicting that 10 years from now, if the situation is not addressed effectively and soon, streets in Zimbabwes major cities, particularly the capital Harare, will be crime infested.

Escaping abuse


(Pictured: Children flee abuse to live in alleys and dried up drains. (Credit Robin Hammond)

Born in Rusape districts Tandi village in the eastern highlands, Alfred attended St Columbus primary school up to grade three before his mother died. His father went away on the day mother was buried and never came back. He was left in the care of his grandmother, an uncle and his wife. But his grandmother also died, and his Aunty became very abusive after Alfred dropped out of school, forcing him to leave home. Givy was also born in the eastern Manicaland Province, in the regional capital Mutare. My mother died when I was a small child in 2004. My father married another wife and he also died.

The late Banda left his son, the second wife and her two kids. Givy went to Bosha primary school up to grade three, before his step mother became difficult. She would take her sons away, leaving me alone for days without any food, until I went to Rusape, then to Harare and I met Alfred. Research shows that boys who live on the streets are usually are in pairs, threes or fours and are most active during the day. Girls graduating from the streets join professional prostitutes in the city flats while boys are sucked into vicious criminal circles involving muggings, drug dealings and car jacking. Crispen Silingwani, 28, says he was born in the Harare high-density suburbs of Glen View. He grew up under his late mothers care but never knew his father.

He claims his mother worked for the city works department before she died in 2008. Her brothers allegedly took away everything from the house she rented and left him stranded. Now he is a gangster. I have my own territory in the Avenues, covering Montague the command base, Greenwood Park, up to Bon Mache Eastlea, he explained. He says another prominent base commander is Arthur Makoni who leads the Gwangwata base at Lobels. They control Mukuvisi River, Tsanga Lodge along Seke Road. These groups sometimes kill people. It doesnt matter whether it is day or night. Silingwani says his groups do not steal because of the heavy presence of the police and soldiers at (President Robert) Mugabes residency up-street. They collect empty plastic bottles which they sell for one (US) cent each – one dollar for every 100.

We get food from bins and stay in alleys behind homes, whose owners are not happy with our presence. But we dont have anywhere else to go… There are bases of street kids all over. Others are at Central Police Station, Charingira Flats along Chitepo Avenue, Bronte Hotel, Borrowdale Race Course, TM Avondale, VID, Magaba and Mbare. Silingwani mentions 13 bases off hand. But there are more, some with as many as 25 to 30 members on site and more than double the number coming from home. Therefore Harare may roughly have more than one-thousand citizens on the streets.

Dangerous underworld


(Pictured: The police blame local councils and the department of social welfare)

It is dangerous to walk the city streets at night, especially in secluded areas linking suburbs to suburbs or suburbs to the city. Underhand communities that have sprung up seem to have a free hand. Elton Chikowore, a security guard at Lion King, an uptown restaurant and bar serving the Avenues, says: Although some of them are destitute orphans, many are thieves. They take drugs, practice homosexuality, and are exposed to child prostitution and trafficking. Where do you think those we no longer see have gone? They have no registration records and are not missed by anyone; just think of it.

He said a concealed hive of activities goes on in Harare, a complete social order independent from normal life. They live in alleys, electricity sub-station housings and dried-up drains. They dont bath… Girls fall pregnant, multiplying their numbers on the streets. The security guard says street kids are also used in a variety of acts: They queue for passports and train tickets. The rich also use them as undertakers and grave minders. Understaffed wholesalers hire street kids and pay them with bread… Those who dislike work mug people or rape unaccompanied women. They have established no go areas in the city.

Authorities at a loss

Zimbabwe Republic Police National spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, blames councils and the department of social welfare. Local authorities and the social welfare department are not doing their part. We as a force do not want to see people being homeless because nobody should stay on the streets. Its not normal, he said in an interview at his offices in Harare. He disagreed that his agency had failed to clean the cities, emphasising past efforts were botched due to lack of support from other arms of the state. Bvudzijena confirmed that street kids were used by thieves, especially in car jacking and muggings. But the police have no figures exclusively of arrested, convicted or wanted street kids. He said street communities are all over Harare, and it is the same in smaller cities and towns. But the police remain at a loss as long as other departments do not play their part.

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *