South Africa: Part Three: JRS Makhado, Assisting Unaccompanied Minors
30 July 2015

(Left) Housefather, William and Housemother Brenda, provide the necessary care for the 23 unaccompanied minors currently living at Tshithandane Child Care Foundation (TCCF). (Right) 20 year old Simon Muvunza, who is studying toward a Bachelor degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Venda, in front of the (TCCF) shelter. (Gushwell F. Brooks/Jesuit Refugee Service)
Simon sniggers as he recounts his tale: “I don’t know how I made it. I had no money and had to hitchhike to South Africa.”

Makhado,  30 July 2015 - Amongst the most vulnerable cross border migrants, are unaccompanied minors. These are young people that can potentially find themselves in the unfortunate situation of being physically, sexually and financially exploited. Without responsible adult care and supervision, many of these youngsters find themselves living on the streets, having to engage in exploitative work, without sufficient food, without shelter, very likely to turn to substance abuse and with a high exposure to crime.

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) firmly believes that no child should be left to their own devices, forced into losing out on their childhood, forced to make difficult, adult decisions for the sake of basic survival. That is why JRS in Makhado assists Tshithandane Child Care Foundation (TCCF) with providing unaccompanied refugee and asylum seeking youth with a place to stay, food to eat, school fees and necessary materials for education such as uniforms and stationery.

All too often these youths leave their homes - at times characterised by poverty, abuse or a combination of these factors - in search of a better life in South Africa. Tragically they find greater strife and in certain instances are willing to return home. This is where JRS plays the essential role of facilitating the reunification of these youths with their families through a family tracking programme. 

JRS has also supported the renovation of buildings on the TCCF premises that is aimed at accommodating minor females who have crossed the border by themselves. It takes a dedicated person to take charge of and care for young people – mostly adolescents – that have been toughened by the trauma they experienced as a result of their solo journey into South Africa and, in most instances, having to live under conditions that exposes them to vulnerabilities. TCCF however, is in the very fortunate position to have three dedicated people to address the needs of these young people. The Housemother, Brenda and two Housefathers, William and Masilela, see to it that the youngsters in their care eat, have a place to stay, go to school and have structured discipline. 

It is not always easy for the three of them, but the reward their work yields is no better personified than through the story of 20 year old Simon Muvunza. He left his hometown, Mazvingo, in Zimbabwe in 2009, being no older than 15 years of age. He is an orphan, having lost both his parents as an infant. “My aunt raised me until she too passed away in 2008.” Simon explains. 

“At the funeral, family members promised to look after me. This never happened, instead they treated me poorly, so I decided to leave.” He recounts. As expected, his arrival in South Africa was not pleasant. When he reached South Africa, Simon was forced to stay on the streets for five days until he found refuge at TCCF 5 days later.

“I never stole, or used drugs, but we used to sleep in someone’s garage. He had the habit of leaving the garage door open and we would go there at night and sleep in there. By approximately 5 o’clock in the morning his little dog would come barking, at which point we would wake up and leave before he discovered us there.” Simon recounts of his life on the streets. 

As to his encounters with the authorities, Simon paints an unflattering picture: “We had to hide from the police. The police did not want us on the streets, so if they caught us they would beat us.” Simon sniggers as he recounts his tale: “I don’t know how I made it. I had no money and had to hitchhike to South Africa.”

Simon’s vulnerable and most certainly daunting past now seems to be no more than a distant memory. After obtaining a secondary school pass, with university exemption and a distinction in Life Orientation and almost securing one for the Home Language examination at the end of 2014, Simon is now studying toward a Bachelor degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Venda. The inconvenience of his hour to an hour and a half long journey, by bus, to and from university each day is mild in comparison to what he had to experience as a child. 

Simon’s inspirational story of overcoming odds stacked against him is under threat however. “At the moment life is not going the way I want, but I have learnt to be patient. My first semester results have not been released since I cannot afford to pay my fees at university in full for this year. It is very difficult to obtain a bursary or scholarship as a foreigner.” he explains. 

JRS and TCCF, through their joint efforts are assisting 23 minors at the shelter. These are boys that, without their intervention, would end up on the streets without education, a home and could easily fall into the cycle of substance abuse and crime. It is clear however that more needs to be done and that the partnership needs to extend to society. In the name of true social cohesion and integration as well as being able to truly maximise Simon and so many other young people’s potential, society needs to invest in these youths that have overcome so much in seeking out a better life. 

Press Contact Information
Gushwell F. Brooks
+27 11 618 3404