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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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