- Babies squattering in bushes dying of the cold and dehydration
- Children sexually abused and left to fend for themselves
“Last year, a six weeks old baby died of the cold in the bush and another young baby died in 2014 due to dehydration,” – Father William
“Poverty and homelessness take an enormous physical and emotional toll on these homeless kids. They often drop out of school because they cannot concentrate when they are in school because they are tired, hungry and anxious,” – Whoolery
KAGO KOMANE and QUEEN MOSARWE
Despite it being the richest diamond mine in the world, Jwaneng is arguably one the poorest towns in Botswana. Some of the impoverished people living in settlements around the mining town have resorted to living in bushes around town without any shelter and other necessities, where they survive by begging in the streets. Investigations by Botswana Gazette have uncovered information that some children have died, succumbing to their living conditions, while others are continuously sexually abused in the bushes they have come to call home. According to Father William of Roman Catholic Church who cares for some of the small children roaming the streets, while some of these squatters use plastics to make shelter in the bushes, some have resorted to just sleeping in the open. This, he said has already caused some children their lives. “You have to understand that these children are not orphans, their parents are around too just that they too do not have any place to call home here so they squatter in the bushes with their families,” he said.
According to Father William, just last year, a six weeks old baby died of the cold there and another young baby died in 2014 due to dehydration, “…It is a very sad situation; babies are born into these squatter camps.” He said a few months ago, the town council did an eviction exercise and chased all the squatters back to the settlements with a promise that they will be provided with food and shelter, a promise that was never kept. “Most of these children sleep in the open so they are prone to skin diseases which are also aggravated by not bathing regularly. Elders make the children more vulnerable to these dreadful conditions. Some drink alcohol and leave kids alone and come back even more drunk while kids are forced to look after themselves, ” he said, pointing out that children even end up copying the unsavory behavior as everything unfolds in their eyes.
Botho Compassionate Movement Founder, Magdalena Whoolery who has made several missions to Jwaneng says on some of those missions they discovered from Social Services that there were 200 homeless people in six different squatter camps. “None have been registered as destitute by Social Services. In fact, no social worker has ever visited them in or outside the camp, and no plans to visit them. Social Services have hidden behind a local “policy” of not assisting squatters, even though these are Batswana and the most destitute and marginalized of us all. The fact is the Children’s Act overrides any local ‘policy’.”
Throughout the settlements, a lot of children are visibly malnourished; with most of them very thin and spotting skin sores. One of the mothers confirms that children have actually died from the cold and starvation. According to Whoolery, a face to face meeting with two social workers during their missions in Jwaneng confirmed the depth of empathy fatigue, as not much was done on the face of malnourished babies dying, with some exposed to sexual abuse.
She said “as a nurse of over 15 years and having worked with homeless people specifically, I can honestly say I have not seen such severe cases of malnutrition.”
On one of their missions with Ministry of Health, Whoolery says they discovered that children were lost in the social system. “Many of the children did not have their health cards. Without a health card, no Tsabana or Malutu or beans for them,” an issue they managed to correct for some.
She said while they were able to cook and bring food for the homeless whenever they could, their efforts were later thwarted by the Social Services and the Town Council who worked quickly to evict the homeless. “…Sadly the Direct Feeding and the nutrition program has been jeopardized. We hear reports from the Catholic Church that mothers, carrying their babies, walk 20 kilometers to the church looking for food. The homeless are slowly returning, as they have done many times before when evicted, but now their nutritional status is dire.”
Father William says the dire living conditions have also made the children more vulnerable to sexual abuse in the bush as many spend most of the time in the bush, sometimes sleeping alone in the open without protection of their parents. He said he has since reported some cases of rape to the police though most perpetrators may be going unnoticed as they are not reported out of fear.
More children dropping out of school
One of the mothers we met at Sese, a settlement near Jwaneng said because they are poverty-stricken, their children are always struggling to concentrate at school because they can’t afford food and go to school hungry every day. “A rising number of children have quit school because they are going to school hungry and unable to concentrate because they are living in dire poverty,” she said, adding that education was being blighted by the increasing financial strain on struggling families because they were not receiving help even though the council had promised to provide them basic needs following the eviction from Jwaneng.
Whoolery also explained that, “…Poverty and homelessness take an enormous physical and emotional toll on these homeless kids. They often drop out of school because they cannot concentrate when they are in school…they are tired, hungry and anxious.” Efforts to contact the Jwaneng Council Social Services were futile as their phones rang unanswered.
Reached for comment, Jwaneng- Mabutsane Member of Parliament Shawn Ntlhaile said the situation at Jwaneng and surrounding areas was a painful one ; “ its sad because all government can say is that there is nothing much that they can do as the people stay in ungazetted areas,” he said, saying people who come to Jwaneng do so with the hope of a better life.
“ There is no accommodation for them nor the jobs that they come here looking for and they resort to staying in the bush or on the streets and government does not see the painful life that they live.”
He said , in trying to solve the situation, government takes the people back to their places of origin, back to the same situation they ran way from. After being taken back, he said the people return again to the mining town; “ Government needs to learn why these people come here and provide them the opportunities and basic needs that they come here looking for at their respective villages” he said, explaining that they should be rural economic development too.
“The biggest challenge is that distribution of wealth in Botswana is skewed against the majority of people who really need it. All people need to benefit equally from this wealth,” he said.
Living in poverty; stories behind statistics
She strikes a tall lonely figure, visible as she seats down is her wrinkled face of poverty which clearly also carries the weight of her damp, hopeless soul. On her lap, sits a baby twiddling her nipple. In front of her is a group of about ten children, probably between six and nine years. Four of the children share one plate of tsabana while the others shyly play by their side. A white dog gets between them as if it to put its mouth in the same plate. No body, not the children or the three adults there seemed concerned by what uppity people would think an affront to hygiene, a dog – sniffing a food plate!
We ask the lady her name and she tells us she is Ketshwaraemang, the lady of the shack, and that eight children in the litter of children before us were hers. With her is two ladies who have visited her. They both were evicted from Jwaneng; Kethwarwaemang moved to Sese, while the other ladies moved back to Seletse lands and Ditlharapeng respectively. The other lady who looked much younger than Ketshwarwaemang introduces herself as Gabanthuse Gabaobatle. She cannot recall when her young child sitting on her lap was born. “ Aa ga ke tshware sentle gore go lo fale ke leng,” she said, to which Ketshwarwaemang quipped “ Last year”. Both Gabaobatle and Ketshwarwaemang however do not know the exact birth date of the child. “How many children do you have?”, “ Six,” she answers.
A remarkable number considering her tender seeming age: Not that she knows it herself, “ Ga ke di itse,” she said, upon being asked her age. Her national identity card however shows that she is only just 26 years old.Gabaobatle says she is the only one raising her children and that their father abandoned her with them.“Bana ba tshela ka Tsabana nna ke kgona go nna fela ke sa je sepe fa boupi bo fedile jaaka gompieno,” she said,explaining that on days when there is no food, she only drinks water to fill up her stomach; “ I can go for two to three days without any food and live off water.”
Narrating the story of her life and how she ended up at Seletse lands, she said they were evicted by the Jwaneng Town Council as they had no residential plots and had squatted around the mining town where they were able to get small jobs to get by. “Seletse ke ko go tswang mme, le nna ke goletse teng.”
In December 2015, Gabaobatle together with many others were evicted from the mining town where they had squatted around the town in efforts to escape the poverty plight at the settlements. She, together with her children, one of them a Standard 1 pupil at the time went to Seletse. The child, she said, was forced to drop out of school as there is no school at Seletse and no one to leave it with if attended school in Jwaneng. The mother of six, an illiterate person herself, lives with all her children at home despite some being of school going age.
She said while in Jwaneng she worked “piece jobs” like the laundry, something she could not continue doing while in Seletse due to prohibitive transport fees between Jwaneng and Seletse. She now stays home with nothing to do. Asked if she had approached the Social workers about her situation, she said she was told that she was still young and able bodied to fend for herself and her children.