14 year-old Wanda Msani

14 year-old Wanda Msani

Just like any other national captain, Wanda Msani is dreaming of glory at the World Cup in South Africa.

But Wanda’s tournament kicked off on 15 March, three months earlier than the Fifa event and for the 14-year-old boy who lives on the streets, there was far more than just a game at stake. “When people walk past us, they look at us like we are dogs. They look down on us like we are not even people, just because we eat from bins,” he says, his eyes burning with anger. “They will see that we can be something.”

More than anything else, Wanda wants to make his father proud, hoping to be allowed to return home to the Umlazi township outside Durban, which he left five years ago, aged just nine. Since then, he has been on the streets – sleeping on pavements, under trees, park benches and alleys with only a cardboard box to offer warmth.   “After my parents separated, my father started drinking all the time,” he says.   “When he got drunk, he would beat me up so badly he wouldn’t stop. I knew I had to run away.”  For Wanda and his team-mates, playing football offers an escape from their hellish lives of constant hunger, an absence of love, the threat of sexual abuse and in which sniffing glue is often the only comfort. But while they hope that football can change people’s perceptions about street kids, it has also brought a new danger to contend with.

The street kids say Durban’s municipal police are forcibly removing children at night and dumping them miles away from town.  Some police reportedly use teargas to disorient the children and make them more submissive. City officials have always denied that this campaign is linked to its World Cup preparations or commented on the alleged abuses. They say the round-ups are driven by the need to curb crime in the city centre.

Workers at Umthombo, a charity which co-organised the Street Child World Cup, say they hope the tournament will remind law enforcement officers that the youngsters are not criminals but traumatised children who need greater care and empathy than many hard-handed officers show.

read more at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8567522.stm