It is one of life’s cruel ironies that Jwaneng, a diamond-rich town producing considerable wealth for the country, also has one of the fastest growing populations of roving streetkids. Mmegi Correspondent, LEBOGANG BAINGAPI reports
JWANENG: Two years ago, Jwaneng Town Council found itself with an embarrassing problem. Multitudes of squatters were roaming the usually tidy town, setting up makeshift structures and scavenging for sustenance in malls, streets and homesteads.
Annually, hundreds of people make the pilgrimage to the mining town with hopes of securing employment at the mine or associated businesses but not everyone is lucky. Some opt not to return home, while others are unable to finance their return trips. Others still opt to stay and scrounge for piece jobs or the seasonal recruitment openings offered by the mine and its contractors.
Either way, the town found itself housing a rapidly growing community of squatters, with a preliminary survey by the town council’s Physical Planning Division indicating at least 200 squatters within the Jwaneng planning area.
The town council took decisive but unpopular action. It sent in the yellow monsters and squatters from the Naga-mphabatho and Tikamolamu squatter camps were repatriated to their homes of origin.
The council also initiated a voluntary repatriation exercise and by most accounts, this alleviated the squatting problem. A new shame has city fathers hot under the collar.
Streetkids are growing in number in Jwaneng and gangs of them can be seen roaming around the malls and sleeping in the streets.
At malls, the children wander about aimlessly and beg for coins and food from passers-by. Their “hub of operations” appears to be somewhere near the Shell filling station where they keep boxes which act as their homes, to sleep in.
Most of these children are school going but they appear to have long abandoned hopes of education, while others clearly never set foot in school.
The groups of streetkids appear to have come onto the scene after the voluntary repatriations in 2015. In nearby Sese village, the Lamodimo Children’s Centre helps accommodate schoolgoing children who have no parents or guardians. However, it appears some abandoned their studies at primary and secondary level and opted to hit the streets.
Jwaneng/Mabutsane chief education officer, Abram Molelowamodimo is at the forefront of tackling the situation. Unlike adults, some of the interventions necessary to control squatters and vagrants, cannot be applied to streetkids.
The yellow monster cannot be unleashed and neither can they easily be herded back to their villages of origin.
More sensitive and forward-looking solutions are necessary to guide the children back into education and formal society.
According to Molelowamodimo, the town has been struggling to manage the rising streetkid population in the past two years.
The most difficult area of concern is changing the mindset of streetkids. Recently, the town took a total of ten streetkids to Motlhabaneng in Bobirwa District for rehabilitation.
“They met with psychological experts to rehabilitate and show them the better side of life. They spent three weeks there and only two changed their minds and volunteered to go back home.
“All of them however will be enrolled for the Out Of School Programme,” Molelowamodimo explains.
Research in the area has shown that the reluctance to return home is because some of the children flee abuse and dysfunctional families. Life on the streets, for some of these children, is preferable to the torture and neglect waiting at home.
According to Molelowamodimo, the Ministry of Basic Education has secured funds to feed and train streetkids in Jwaneng. Facilitators are also on standby, ready to assist.
Parents have also been engaged and during this, it was discovered that many of these streetkids are from Sese, a mere 10 kilometres from Jwaneng.
“Our office engaged with the children and their parents in a closed session to see how we could assist each other in the rehabilitation process.
“The parents who are mostly from Sese have agreed to help in restructuring their families to accommodate the children back.
“We have social workers from Mabutsane sub-district also helping and the children will be enrolled in classes in Jwaneng. Tenders for feeding have already been advertised and our department will monitor the progress of the rehabilitation.
“We are confident of success,” he says.
In as much as government is facilitating the process, a lot is riding on the commitment of children and parents. Today’s streetkid will be tomorrow’s squatter and a potential criminal or burden on the country’s already over-stretched social safety nets.