ISSUE 21 OCTOBER 2000 BACK

street kids

Those Homestead boys

Annette Cockburn shares more memories of the kids she works with in Cape Town ...

It was 5.30 p.m. and I was driving home along Buitengracht Street. I stopped at the traffic lights near the Homestead. There were three small boys sitting on chairs on the traffic island in the middle of the road “lounging in red plastic chairs from the Homestead “waiting for the lights to change. They looked comfortable and perfectly relaxed. I was incensed and screeched like a banshee out of the window “You! Anthony Julies and you Sponee, pick up those chairs and walk! What next?!" Bad enough that they should beg at the traffic lights but to do it while languishing in our chairs! I saw them in the rear view mirror, three small boys, three red chairs scurrying along the road back to the Homestead.

"On what grounds, the boys at Patrick's House wanted to know, "could we be put out “told to leave this place?"

"If," I replied, "you are drunk or stoned or disorderly, then a staff member can tell you to go into the outside yard, to sober up, cool off or calm down. And if you’re still performing, you can be put out in the street for a couple of hours."

It was Saturday night, a few days later. The older boys were restless and a bit bored. They staged a little scene, knocked over a couple of chairs ...

"Put us out," they pleaded, "for two or three hours. That’s the rule, we’re being disorderly, we have to be put out."

The housefather gazed unperturbed at them. "Nonsense," he said amiably, "you’re all behaving very well indeed."

We always tell children begging at traffic lights: "Go to the Homestead." Often the advice is unwelcome. Annie was told firmly: "No, man! You go stay there yourself!"

Another time I was with the Chairperson of our Management Committee, on the way to a lunch meeting in town. A child appeared at the window and without paying much attention I gave him the usual little promotional speech "Go to the Homestead, there are beds there and food, people to take care of you."

The child was apoplectic. "But Prinsipaal, it was you who sent me away from there!" he wailed.

My Chairperson looked at me sternly. I looked more closely at the child. Sure enough it was Dubs, the incorrigible Dubs, the despair of all staff, and yes, I had suspended him from coming to the Homestead for a time for impossible behaviour.

"So I must go back to the Homestead?" he says smugly. “You said I must, not so Pali”?"

"No," I said. Mercifully the lights changed.

Peacemaker, leading Jonathan and Aubrey by the nose, runs away from Patrick’s House. He’s our Rastafarian who tells me categorically that smoking grass is part of his religion, and must be condoned, since we are supposed to be a non-discriminatory organisation!

He is finally expelled from his long-suffering school in the Southern Suburbs, and with the threat of Industrial School hanging over his head, he decides to flee, taking his two disciples with him. He probably figures that Schools of Industry will have scant sympathy for his philosophy (he is probably right).

The next we hear is a phone call from a shelter in Bloemfontein. The boys, after having hitched a ride and spent the weekend in Johannesburg, arrived in the Free State.

Ilse comes into the office. "Jonathan and Aubrey want to come back, shall we send train tickets?"

The staff is unanimous. "Sure! They can come back “the same way as they went!"

A letter arrived on Annie’s desk: "Miss Annie, Don't give Steven any more travel money for school because he doesn't use it. He walks to school and then every Monday he has R12 which he saves and when he has a lot he buys jeans and things. I can prove it!" “Personally, I thought it was really quite enterprising of Steven!

One Friday morning one of the bigger boys (himself truanting from school) discovered four little ones, each hiding behind one of the doors of the outside toilets. Self righteously he marches them into the office. Nkozi, when pressed for a reason, said that Jonathan (obviously the ring leader) had decided that having been to school all week, they were too tired to go today. They were bundled into the bus and returned to class.

In the process the "detective" was overlooked, and he spent a leisurely day on the lawn.

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