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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
SA youths tell of street life
Skhumboso Dlamini and John Wilkinson
Street children face violence and uncertainty
Many of South Africa's street children have little choice but to commit crime just to survive.

They find little sympathy in a crime-ridden society.

Here, two youngsters, who were taken in by the YMCA's Sakhithemba shelter for young offenders near Durban, tell their stories:

Skhumboso Dlamini (15)

My mother, a domestic worker, died when I was just five years old. My father is also dead - I only ever saw him for a few weeks, when I was very young.

Sometimes, I had to steal just to survive.

Skhumboso Dlamini
For the first ten years of my life, my granny and auntie raised me in Mandeni, about 100km north of Durban.

I only did two years at school. After my grandmother died, my brothers and sister, who were unemployed, could no longer support me. I had to fend for myself in the city, and that's when the streets of Durban became my home.

I stayed in one particular corner for five years - quite different from most other street children, who tend to move around a lot more.

The streets are awash with alcohol and drugs - especially cannabis or 'dagga'. A lot of the street children are raped, nearly all of them by older boys or men who have drunk too much.

There are no rules - we did exactly as we pleased. There's also a lot of fighting - I still have the scars from when I was hit one time.

Sometimes I'd sell fruit and vegetables at a local market. The Indians who ran it would give me food or clothes, and sometimes a bit of money.

Thankfully, I never got into hard drugs or glue - I tended to stick to tobacco and cannabis.

  Click here to see South Africa's violent crime statistics since 1994

Sometimes, I had to steal just to survive. In November last year I was arrested and sent to a holding centre for children and young people awaiting trial.

After four months there, my case was dropped. The centre contacted the YMCA project at Sakhithemba, and asked them to take me in.

Durban's beachfront
Durban, holiday destination but also home to street children
I didn't arrive there in very good shape. My skin is still badly scarred from malnutrition, and I had lice.

After a couple of months here, I think I have settled down. I think the routine and discipline are good for me, and I want to learn.

What I would like most of all would be to see my brother and sister. Like many of the boys here, I long to have a family of my own.

John Wilkenson (21)

My mother is a prostitute, a drug addict and an alcoholic.

One of my earliest memories is of her hitting my head so hard against a wall that I now have a plate at the back of my head.

I have never known my father. My two brothers have different fathers.

The side of Durban favoured by tourists
John was constantly on the move in Durban
I was in two different children's homes until I was 12. After that, I lived almost everywhere you'd think of in Durban - with my granny, my aunties, the streets, shelters. I was constantly on the move.

At 18, I was crippled in my hands and feet, due to sniffing glue. The vast majority of us did it. I went to yet another home, where they sent me for hospital treatment. Although they managed to straighten my fingers, I still struggle to lift my feet.

When I was 20, I was looking in dustbins for food in a shopping centre. I was arrested for shoplifting, and spent eight months in prison before my case was thrown out.

I'm now working in a home for people with mental disabilities. My dream is to be a childcare worker.

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