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Grom Abuse

Grom Abuse

by Andy Davis / 04.06.2010

After six weeks of relative calm, the police in Durban have started rounding up street kids, piling them in the back of vans with vagrants, gangsters and other nefarious adults and dumping them a few hours out of town. A massive human rights violation which is tantamount to child abuse. Mahala recently ran a story on the street kid round ups, and soon after it seemed as if the Durban city council had called a truce with the city’s poor and destitute children. But this was short lived.

We stumbled on the story because The Mahala Surf Co. recently cruised up the coast from Cape Town to Durban to deliver all the boards and equipment we’ve collected over the last few months. First stop we handed over a bunch of boards and wetsuits to Palama Metsi and the Surf Outreach program in Muizenberg. Next stop was the Iliza Surf Academy in Port St Johns, and finally we ended up at Umthombo, a project that rehabilitates street kids in Durban. But on arrival in Durban, bearing gifts like the surfing Santa Claus, we found the scene at Umthombo somewhat disquieting. Even though there was a group of kids stoked and happy to receive our donation of wetsuits and surfboards. There weren’t nearly as many of them as I had become accustomed to seeing at Umthombo. To add insult to injury, the building’s power had been cut off.

Stoked in his new wetsuit

“It was basically a trial run for FIFA.” Reckons Umthombo’s Tom Hewitt. “Six weeks of no round ups and then they tried it on again. They knew they were going to be doing this. You can write about the coincidence that Umthombo’s electricity gets cut off even though we’re not owing any money. We’re fully paid up. Twice they’ve apologised to us and said they’d switch it back on and it hasn’t been switched back on. And this is day two.” Tom is pretty livid at the treatment the Umthombo Non Profit Organisation has been receiving from the city. Umtombo basically works to rehabilitate Durban’s street kids and reintegrate them back into fully functional, responsible and positive members of the society. But the city of Durban and the Metro cops seem to be hampering, rather than supporting, their work. Especially when you consider that every other building around Umthombo has electricity.

“Everyone.” He says shaking his head. “Our nutrition program can’t work. So we’re having to spend extra money running out and buying food because we can’t cook. Secondly, the kids can’t wash. Thirdly, we’re open at night to help the city. But because we’re in pitch black darkness, we’ve got staff and it’s safe inside, but there’s no TV, no entertainment, nothing.”

Stoked in his new Billabong Wetsuit

So it’s unlikely that many of the kids will want to spend time at Umthombo. Which opens them up to a host of bad influences and further abuse on the street.

“They arrested a whole bunch of street children last night.” Says Tom. An E-News Channel captured footage of the round-up and ran a story. “The police were running past Umthombo and were really aggressive. Kids were running in here just to get away from them. They came with scores of police officers… Adults, children, they were just hurling them into trucks. It was really outrageous. And it’s a massive human rights violation.”

Tom looks up at the kids who are stretching on the brand new, second hand Billabong wetsuits we had just delivered – courtesy of the guys at Billabong.
“Are you guys going surfing now?” He asks, and decides that he’s going to go and join them for a few crackers before the sun sets.

“It’s really hampered what was starting to be a good relationship between the city and Umthombo.” Tom continues while collecting his stuff for the surf. “I don’t think for a second that the city has a new policy to round up street kids… but Metro is rounding up street kids again.” He says paradoxically. But that’s how things are. Despite all the assurances from the city that there is no policy to round up street kids, the round ups keep happening.

All stickered up and ready to go

“I think they’re probably doing an anti-crime sweep.” Tom continues. “But if they’re not sweeping up street kids, who are they sweeping up? So there’s a risk that these big visual anti-crime operations yield nothing. So they just sweep up the street kids because they’re an easy target. The irony is that they sweep straight passed all the drug dealers and go straight for the street kids. So if they’re not allowed to pick up street kids then they don’t really have anything to show for their activity, so the kids are scapegoats.”

If you want to donate directly to Umthombo follow this link.

If you have any old surf equipment please contact the Mahala Surf Co. here.

Umthombo Surf Project rocking the new gear

Jason Ribbink with Thulani and Khetho

Mahala delivery for the Iliza Surf Academy in Port St Johns

All images © Mahala.

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  1. the smell says:

    Thanks for an important heads-up on what is happening here. This country is becoming more like Brazil at an alarming rate, where the poor and the criminals get treated as one and the same.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    i’m confused, “…brand new, second hand Billabong wetsuits…”

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  3. Fruitzilla says:

    Durban city council are a bunch of corrupt, lazy, arrogant lying sonsabitches. For the past fifteen years they’ve been quite happy to let the citizens of Stone Town wallow in infrastructure that could charitably be described as disintregrating. The suddenly, as though some demented and twisted Fairy Godmother waved her wand – SHAZAM! – new roads, new pavements, sparkly new facilities and amenities. Of course, these have been erected, installed and built in areas where FIFA and the footie tourist hourdes will mill about with their cameras and moola. All in the name of glamour and vanity on the part of a clique of powermongering sychophants with all the right connections. What does this say about the council? That they couldn’t give a toss about their ratepayers. As for the streetlighties, hell, they’re just an undesirable speck on the glittering new face of Durban Sport Central, aren’t they? Can’t have the raw reality shown to all those sensitive tourists, that just wouldn’t do.

    The worrying thing is that an electrical cutoff and the roundup by the Metro muppets would point to an orchestrated effort on the parts of the oppressors, I’m sorry, that should read ‘authorities’.

    My condolences to Umthombo and the groms – I suggest they speak to the local press, or, if those are titles too shit-scared to cover it on account of The MaFIFA, then the M&G, who have no qualms about exposing Sutcliffe, Mlaba, ANC & Co’s deplorable track record in city management.

    Respect to Mahala for their continued efforts!

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  4. F*cken Inbred F*cken Assh0les says:

    @ the smell – I don’t doubt your comment re SA’s slide in Brazildom, but one major driving factor in this disgusting stink is the bunch of corrupt c*nts known as FIFA. It seems there is no end to their appetite for power. The special courts set up for 2010, the alternative prison facilities (because “we can’t have Europeans in our jails – they might be raped!” – quote by government spokesperson), their taking over of the health services, their restrictions of local advertising and media, etc etc. And after all this we get left with the party bill to cover, what a great deal for FIFA. It’s quite insane really.

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  5. Andy says:

    Anonymous… the mahala surf co. collects and mainly distributes second hand surf gear to underprivileged kids. Sometimes we get our hands on new stuff and we distribute that too.

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  6. a sniff says:

    Heed the warning, Brazilification is not far off. All we need is a critical mass of gentrification for economically empowered black people and the dividing lines will shift from race to class, and quickly too. It’ll be Us & Them all over again, the entitled and tax-paying controllers of the economy vs the masses on the periphery. The gentry will control the media so police forays into the townships where stray kids and the homeless are wiped out will not be covered and officially treated as rumour. It’s coming, anyone with a half-decent job in this country will do anything to protect it and to isolate themseleves from the impoverished and their susceptibility to the criminal underground. Jozi will become like Sao Paulo, where the wealthy travel by helicopter to avoid being hijacked on the streets. It’s coming.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    I was at the Durban beach front this weekend. It was awesome. No glue sniffers. No fear of being pick pocketed or robbed. The place was packed with those who contribute to society and helped upgrade the place with their tax rands. Visible policing, clean and functioning facilities…wow…I was impressed (even though I knew what dirt lurked behind the tall sentinals that are the hotels)

    Please note that I am not commenting on any of the reasons why there are homeless street kids (people) or why they are like they are, nor am I condoning the ill treatment of fellow men who through no fault of their own have been thrust into this natural order world…but…am merely stating what an improvement has been made to this potentially highly profitable tourism destination…and yes…it would be great if these lost kids could enjoy the new beachfront with there fellow citizens without having to prey on them for food etc.

    I expect the bleeding heart Mahala retort to run along the lines…”but how can we enjoy these “luxuries” (walking without fear along the beachfront?) when there are those who cannot…”

    I do have sympathy for these kids and will donate to the poor and needy when I have the means…after all…charity starts at home…but I do also feel they need to be kept under control. It is the responsiility of the state to protect them and also those more fortunate. The current “solution” is nothing but a horrendous quick-fix. I would like to see kibbutzim-type centres set up out of the dodgy cities where these kids can be taught life skills and educated. But. I don’t see much hope of these type of upliftment programmes with the current quality of the country’s “leadership”

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  8. Anon says:

    “Fear of being pick pocketed or robbed”

    How often have you actually been pick pocketed or mugged on Durban beach front? Is your fear not just a perception that you’ve learned over the years?

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Well Anon…never….and why? ummm…maybe because I have lived long enough in South Africa (read all my life) to know that one must always be vigilant and stay away from potentially dodgy areas – I have also learnt to just run my ass off when confronted by dangerous looking folks. There have indeed been attempts but fortunately I have steered clear of any major trouble. Touch wood. There are also some great people on the streets and I have been warned on more than one occassion by vendors etc that I was being marked by local thugs and should kick down.


    Are you trying to say that the muggings, pick pocketing & car breaking incidents that seem to afflict the Golden Mile are just figments of the imagination or some false perceptions?

    I do get your point and I’m sure 7 out of 10 times I would survive an incident free lone trip on foot into the city and the unprotected beachfront (I do think that a majority of the tourist victims of the hotels are soft targets or that they are frequenting some seedy entertainment areas) and whilst I did indeed spend my youth at the very same beaches, and wandering the CBD on business post 2000, and had very few issues – I must maintain that the reason I have never been a victim is probably because I have steered clear of the possible danger zones.

    Better safe than sorry.

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  10. Musgrave says:

    Anon, unfortunately the crime on the beachfront by street kids is a reality,

    Anonymous, the idea of a kibbutz is good though, market gardening, learning, schooling etc

    Will keep an eye out for the ferral vans picking up kids, love to vid it and put on the tube.

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  11. Moose says:

    So while you acknowledge the problem, you like the end result and thus tacitly support the illegal round up of children and dumping them with adult criminals.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    @ Moose

    Let me guess. You probably didn’t to well with comprehension at school? You get turned on by Trotsky?

    To reiterate…

    I expect the bleeding heart Mahala retort to run along the lines…”but how can we enjoy these “luxuries” (walking without fear along the beachfront?) when there are those who cannot…”

    Something needs to be done to achieve a similar result…but NOT…the obvious abuse as described in the article. The walking without fear bit was a bit strong but If you do not agree that the beachfront is better for having no glue-sniffers, beggers and potential thieves, again – not tackling the issue of why they were there in the first place and where they went, may I assume that you also think the Brazillian street kid gangs are cool and the favela are the way forward?


    Clean & safe public amenities – Good.
    Abuse as tool used in obtaining the aforementioned – Bad


    Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. In fact, a moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.

    -Bryson, Bill

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  13. Andy says:

    sounds like you guys are arguing from the same side… And the street children problem is far from unmanageable. Umthombo reckons there are only 400 Street Kids in the city. And last year they rehabilitated 75 off the streets and back into society; living at home, with relatives or places of safety, attending school, etc. Imagine what could be achieved if they had the backing and support of the city and its inhabitants. There would be no street children in a few short years.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    Agreed Andy. A fish rots from the head down. The government needs to effectively use our tax rands (Because not everyone has the time or money to follow philanthropic ways) and stop pissing on fires (which seem only to be attempts at winning votes and an easy way to remain firmly in control of the gravy train ) and tackle the what is now one of this country’s major woes. Namely – the under (un-) educated poverty factories…but…as we all know…this is a catch 22 situation for the ruling class…by making any real efforts to effectively educate the masses (in-lieu of indoctination) they will definitley feel the reins of leadership slipping from their painfully obvious ill-qualified hands.

    I really do wish that my comment above was a gross generalisation…but I think those that dare deny this reality are living in some dreamland.

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  15. Sheldon Cramer says:

    What Suttcliffe and his Metro thugs are doing is a gross violation of human and childrens rights, supported by FIFA ho turn a blind eye. Fuck them all! The reason why shit like this happens, is because we as South Africans allow it to happen! When are South Africans gonna learn that Unity IS strength? The WC united a nation across cultural and ethnic devides, all celebrating one cause, one goal. Nobody gave a shit whether the bloke next to you as a different race, when Bafana scored, you hugged a total stranger, because he was South African, not black, white, Muslim, christian etc.
    On every street corner, see policeman and no crime takes place. Its called visible policing, it works. Why cant it be like that all the time? When the tourists go home, its back to the normal bullshit, because we will all sit by and let it happen.
    I say, fuck them all, I might be one man, but I will not stand by and watch this wonderful country get fucked up by the likes of Suttcliffe and his Metro Cop arseholes. Its time for South Africans to stand together for one common goal, ridding our land of the thugs that are content with the anarchy.

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  16. The HAm says:

    ”Fuk the PO LICE ! “

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