How easy it is to slip through those cracks:
I have a cousin that most people don’t know about because he belonged to The Hard Livings Gang. The Hard Livings Gang was run by Rashied and Rashaad Staggie, twin brothers who people feared and with good reason. They were the “super gang” with several other smaller gangs based on the Cape Flats. They were linked to murders, rapes and drug dealings among others and ruled through fear as most gangs worldwide. Without delving into the gang, itself I wanted to talk about a little boy I knew.
As children, we grew up knowing who our extended family members were. We may not have liked some of them, but this is “normal” with all families. Some cousins you naturally feel closer to than others. My aunt, his mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer and there was nothing much anyone could do other than to pump her full of morphine and make her as comfortable as possible. She was dying and my cousin was around 8 or 9 years old at the time. Maybe even younger, I can’t recall the exact time. This aunt and my dad were close siblings and he would often visit or sleepover at her place. Because my mom and dad were separated, I never got to see them much, but I visited when my mom would take us all there. My cousin let’s call him *Peter for this article was the second youngest of 5 children.
Don’t underestimate children’s ability to play around you and listen in on adult conversations. One day we had gone to visit my aunt and as we entered the door, Peter was sitting on her lap crying and muttering, `I don’t want you to die, please mommy, don’t die.’ My heart stopped for a moment and I felt so bad for him. I recall feeling a pain in my chest that wouldn’t go away. I wanted to cry. Being a year older than him, I asked if he wanted to play outside and he said no, he wanted to stay with his mom. My mom and aunt got to talking and I heard my uncle, Peter’s dad was hardly ever home. He had a girlfriend and was more often than not at her place. My aunt was dying! How could my uncle be so cruel? Why wasn’t he there comforting his wife and children, especially Peter because he was so close to his mom? All these thoughts and questions ran through my head.
As a child, I judged my uncle harshly and maybe that’s because my father neglected and often beat us.
Downhill from there:
My aunt died! My mom received the call in the early hours of the morning. All I recall is my uncle standing stoically, at the gravesite. My cousins were inconsolable. My dad was heartbroken. But I recall Peter crying the loudest. The gut-wrenching, `Mommy, please, mommy’ still rings in my head. It was a very sad funeral! Not that funerals are happy but maybe when the person that died is still young it seems sadder. That was the last time I saw Peter, a sad, lonely boy who refused to leave the cemetery.
Two years later my dad came to visit, and he had a habit of blurting things irrespective of who was around at the time. As children, we made no effort to try and hide that we were listening in to the conversation. I heard my uncle had married his girlfriend, she had five children not long after the funeral and that the woman was not treating my cousins well. Peter especially was “the problem” child. I believed she disliked him because he was always “acting out.” Apparently, he was disrespectful and often ran away from home. His siblings I heard didn’t get along with the new wife or their step siblings.
Peter ran away with the clothes on his back and slept in people’s gardens, at bus shelters and even in drains. He was only 12 years old. One evening lying in that very drain trying to protect himself after scrounging in dustbins for food, he was approached by gang members who offered him a plate of food and a bed to sleep in.
He ended up joining that gang and being arrested for murder among other charges.
I can’t help but remember that innocent boy who lived a traumatic life as a child and whilst I am not excusing his behaviour and the choices he made as an adult, I have no doubt in my mind that had he gone for therapy, grief counselling and been placed in a loving home, his life may have turned out differently.
Peter is only one of the little boys who fell through the cracks and who felt adults didn’t care besides his mother.
As a community, we need to look closely for the Peter’s of this world and intervene before they become the lost boys.