Review of Our Broken Dreams - Child Migration in Southern Africa - Janet van Eeden

Our Broken Dreams – Child Migration in Southern Africa
edited by Irene Staunton, with Chris McIvor and Chris Björnestad

2008: (pp: 114) 210 x 222 mm
ISBN: 9781779220707

Sunday Independent

Reviewer: Janet van Eeden

There are approximately between 1.2 and 3.5 million Zimbabweans living illegally in South Africa, according to different sources, says Chris McIvor in his introduction to this moving book. More definite deportation figures show that approximately 80,000 Mozambicans are deported from this country each year. Children are included in these figures, although it is not possible to estimate exactly how many of them are in stasis in this country. The compilers of this book, however, were able to find more than enough unaccompanied Mozambican, Swazi and Zimbabwean children trying to make their way into, or living in dire circumstances in, South Africa.

This moving publication is a compilation of interviews and drawings made by children migrating through our continent. As Chris McIvor, Save the Children programme director in Mozambique, explains, 'These are the voices of real children, and they are saying clearly that we must do more to protect them. Unaccompanied child migrants are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, but this is an issue which has slipped through the cracks of public concern in southern Africa and around the world.'

The book’s editor, Irene Staunton, describes how the decision was made to employ young adults to interview the children 'on the assumption that they would be a less threatening presence than older people'. All interviewers spoke at least one indigenous language, and workshops were held in Harare to guide the interviewers in dealing with vulnerable children. Approximately fifty children were interviewed in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland. None of the children are named, and the manner of expression of their original responses has been maintained as closely as possible.

Linking commentaries fill in the details of the harsh realities so many children face on this continent, including how authorities treat deported children. Facts such as the state of the economy in Zimbabwe with 70–80 % unemployment, the high rate of HIV/AIDS, and family problems encourage children to leave home in search of the promised Rands.

The children’s stories are told honestly and with a simple acceptance of the difficulties they face. One Zimbabwean child talks about crossing the Limpopo River at Beit Bridge so that they don’t have to go through the border post. 'We just walk in the water, like a belt holding hands … If you are unlucky and someone lets the other person go, he will be swept away by the water.'

Another child recounts the bald facts of the difficulties of border hopping. 'We jumped over the first fence and the second one, which is electrified and has razor wire and cement posts … We met six soldiers and they shot more than six bullets into the sky. We all ran and others were injured on their legs while they were running.'

Sometimes the children are sent across the borders with the blessings of their parents. The parents pay a courier or malaicha R1000 to bring the children across, but things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes children are abandoned. Then there are the magumagumas, thugs who patrol the border areas. Theft, rape and abuse are standard practice for these men when they encounter children on their own.

When the children do make it to South Africa, they are confronted with the all too familiar xenophobia of this country’s citizens. 'They will be seeing you as an animal' is just one person’s take on the situation of an illegal immigrant.

In other neighbouring countries children leave their homes for reasons similar to the ones in Zimbabwe. Unemployment and deaths of family members due to HIV/AIDS are all cited as causes. One of the linking commentaries states that orphans are more likely to migrate within countries and cross borders than those who live with their parents. One of the children puts it more succinctly: 'Poverty pushes us to cross borders and try to make a living.'

In chapter six, one sixteen-year-old boy’s story is told in its entirety. The child of a Zimbabwean father and a Mozambican mother, he lived with his grandmother once both his parents died. When she died too he tried to get a job but had no identity card or birth certificate. Because of his mixed nationality he was unable to get an ID document from either country. He clings now to the hope that his brother, who left for South Africa four years ago, will search until he finds him. After all he says, 'I am just a human. Without an ID, I can see no way I can ever get a better life.'

The final chapter has a list of recommendations for governments and regional bodies, amongst others, to take action. One can only hope that this book will reach people at the appropriate levels. It is just too heartbreaking to think of the many children wandering across our continent without hope of a future of any sort.

© The author/publisher