It is around noon and six young friends and three dogs cross Geluksdal Road to a field in Brakpan, Gauteng. They are headed for the woods about 5km away. The oldest is 12-year-old Mpendulo and the youngest is six-year-old Lwandle.
Mpendulo carries a slingshot, a box of matches and a pocket knife. They are out to catch rabbits and pigeons.
They last ate at breakfast. Their next meal will only be supper in the evening at home in Langaville Extension 8, Tsakane. They’re hungry.
“It’s usually hard for us to have a lunch meal at home. We eat soft porridge in the morning and during the day we stay on the streets counting the long hours until supper time. Best that we can do is fend for ourselves,” says Mpendulo. “Even if we wanted to wait until eating at night, maybe there will not be any meat in the supper.”
“It’s better when we go to school because we eat from the feeding scheme early in the morning and during break time. When we are home there is hardly enough to eat,” he says.
Children hunt to survive
But Mpendulo has not been to school since March. His family moved from Wattville just before lockdown and he says they are still waiting for the transfer letter from his old school.
To reduce numbers in classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the other boys are only going to school on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays and only every second week.
Some teenagers in the township taught them to hunt, and now they go alone to the woods.
“When we go with the older boys they made us do most of the work, like fetching firewood and lighting the fire, while they took bigger portions of meat for themselves,” says ten-year-old Asamkele.
He lives with his unemployed mother, aunt and two siblings. They survive on child grants.
The boys rely on their dogs to catch prey and their slingshots to get pigeons. Sometimes they hunt all day and catch nothing.
“It’s been a while since we caught any rabbits. Maybe it is because we always see other people hunting, but sometimes berries or any wild fruits do just fine,” says ten-year-old Katho.
Lockdown hardship leaves youth desperate
Sometimes they buy snacks with small change they put together, earned by washing cars or running errands to shops for elderly residents.
Another group of hungry children, who also only go to school for three days every second week, have started making shopping trolleys using crates and scrap. They station themselves at various taxi stops and help people carry their shopping home for R5. They make between R20 and R50 a day and competition is stiff.
Mostly they buy chips, bread, and cold drinks and sometimes even have money to take home.
Friends Sibusiso, Thando, Monde and Siyabonga wait along Malandela Street, and they each take a turn with the trolley as they find clients. They pool the money and buy food. They started two months ago after seeing other boys about their age doing it. They used to go hunting in the woods, but they say this is better.
“At home there’s usually nothing to eat during lunch time,” says 13-year-old Sibusiso. He has three siblings. His mother is unemployed.
“We are young men and we need to learn to be responsible,” says 12-year-old Monde. “Sometimes l buy bread to share with my brothers at home, but that is only if l can make some extra money.”
“Our aim is to start a car wash one day. That way we will be able to make better money,” says ten-year-old Siyabonga.
Read the original article on The South African