Although I may not have been able to solve all their problems, I provided a shoulder to cry on and in return have come to understand some of the challenges that face our youth.
Kedi’s experience is a case in point.
Her story vividly illustrates the dilemma of trying to protect vulnerable individuals through legal ‘systems,’ especially where offences of a sexual nature are concerned.
This is her story.
Kedi showed up one morning at the kgotla and demanded to see Kgosi urgently.
One glance at her was enough to persuade me to put all business on holdfor the sake of this frail and frightened, miniature of a woman, who seemed so lost in the court environment.
The young girl told me that she was brought to town at the age of 7 to babysit for some family in town.
She had lived with that family for 6 years and she was told that the money she was supposed to earn was being sent back to her parents.
As she was giving this background information, she reached a point where she seemed uncertain what to tell me next, pausing briefly to ask:“Ke go bolelelegotlhe?” – meaning should I tell you all?
I leaned forward and gave her a reassuring touch and encouraged her to pour her heart out.
I had not prepared myself in any way for what this innocent looking soul had gone through, let alone her solution to the problem.
Kedi told me that she had been a sex slave of the man who had picked her up from her parents.
Through a series of threats he had persuaded her to never tell anyone about their secret activity.
She said the lady of the house did a lot of travelling, buying and selling goods, and that had opened a door for the man she called “papa” to use her.
Kedi said after that some time she decided to expose her secret to her peers, who advised her to go and report at the kgotla.
They told her not to report to the police since they believed she would get no help from them.
Upon hearing this, impulsively I wanted to call the police and refer the case to them.
Kedi told me clearly that if I dared report the matter she would refuse to give evidence because she believed a court case would only add to her problems, not solve them.
Out of shock and frustration I asked Kedi what she expected of me and she said I should just call the man in question and make him aware that she had told me everything.
As this seemed like the only way I could help the child I agreed to her request.
When contacted the man was initially very enthusiastic about talking to me, but his response changed dramatically when I mentioned Kedi’s name.
“Kedi….Kedi what does she want at the Kgotla? He asked.
When I said to him Kedi was complaining about not having been paid for over 5 years, the man relaxed a little and said with a heavy sigh: “Oh I see….”
Then I mentioned that there was another sensitive issue thatKedihad reported, and asked if he was in a position to come to the kgotlafor reconciliation.
There was obvious irritation in his voice as he replied: “Tell Kedi to come here and I will discuss with her, not in the kgotla but at home.”
He added that he was prepared to send her back to her parents if that was what she wanted.
Kedi seemed to have scored many points from the one call I made to this man, and she stood up to thank me and bid me goodbye.
She asked me to promise not to report anything to the police because she desperately needed financial compensation as her peers at the township had advised her to demand money and then go home.
As she left I thought over what she had told me, and wondered what to do next.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE?
From my conversation with Kedi it was apparent that the counselling she had received was from her peers in a network of township youthwhere kids give each other support and coping skills.
Those who had advised her knew what they were talking about since many had suffered the same fate at the hands of selfish, elderly men.
Kedi was careful not to give me the name of this man, sayingonly that she would come back if he did not co-operate.
A few days later the young lady reappeared, her smile spreading from ear to ear as she told me that she had been paid and was going to look for her family.
This story and many others like it exposes not only child labourbut also the vulnerabilities of a girl child from disadvantaged families.
It further confirms the popular belief that money may indeed be the root of all evil.
There are many other Kedi’s out there who have chosen to cut their emotional and physical losses in exchange for suitable cash settlements.
Whilst shocked at her reluctance to report the matter to the police, I could see her point that jailing the old man would not compensate her financially for the pain and abuse she had suffered.
For Kedi the advice she had received from her peers was of more practical and obvious help than any institutionalised solutions the authorities could provide.
It is worth thinking about these realities as we pontificate on the vision of zero infection, zero discrimination and the march towards 2016.
If the vision is to be more than the pompous ramblings of an older generation who think they know what is best for our youth, then stories like these must act as a ‘reality checkpoint.’
Anything else is in danger of being dismissed as little more than a political gimmick