Durban street children who were rounded up and sent to Westville Prison for three days say they like prison life and want to go back.
However, no one wants to own up to clearing the streets of street children before the Fifa World Cup draw last weekend, with Metro police, SAPS, the KZN Social Welfare Department and eThekwini city management all criticising the arrests.
“We are distancing ourselves from removing the children off the streets illegally,” said Metro Police spokesman Thozamile Tyala.
Similarly, SAPS spokeswoman Phindile Radebe yesterday told Weekend Witness that street children are not their responsibility “unless they’ve committed a crime”.
A group of street children, who look younger that 15 years old, often gather aroung the Mahatma Gandhi (Point) Road Spar supermarket. One of them, who only identified himself as Sandile, said with a shy smile that he was “happy” he was back on the streets, but “it was very nice there at Westville”.
His friends soon gathered when he asked them if they too didn’t enjoy their stay.
“When police threw us into the van, I didn’t think we would come back this soon because when we get arrested for loitering we return after about 20 days, but I’m glad they did,” said one child, while sniffing glue.
Although some managed to run away from police on the Thursday and Friday before the preliminary draw, others were detained and released, while others still haven’t returned. “My friend Pilatu hasn’t returned and we don’t know where police took him to because we were in different cars. Maybe he is still coming back,” Sandile said.
When asked who was responsible for arresting street children before the draw, city manager Michael Sutcliffe said there were “your normal street children on corners they are known to hang around”.
“I keep contesting this and someone keeps spreading this rumour,” he said. Sutcliffe said he knew “for a fact” that Metro Police were not responsible.
Social Welfare spokesman Mandla Ngema said their department would be the last to arrest children, whose wellbeing is their responsibility. The department treated them to a Christmas party in Pietermaritzburg yesterday where they “ate, drank juice and danced like ordinary children after receiving gifts”, Ngema said.
People who drove around the city over the weekend, don’t recall spotting street children on their usual corners. However, their disappearance on the day remains a mystery.