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Young people living on Harare’s streets provide glimpses into life under Covid-19 lockdown

Their lives, even in ‘normal’ times, are marked by ongoing hardship and tenacity.
A group in the secret alleyway after a distribution of reusable masks, hand sanitiser and mealie meal. Image: Ralph/Growing up on the Streets

The lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, has had drastic effects on children and young people who live on the streets of many African cities. Their lives, even in “normal” times, are marked by ongoing hardship and tenacity.

We work on a project called “Growing up on the Streets” in three African cities: Accra, Ghana; Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Harare, Zimbabwe. The aim is to provide insights into their daily lives – and their struggles and coping strategies – so that policies can be better informed and, ultimately, transform their lives.

Read: ‘Fear runs down the spine of many of our people’

In Harare, these young people are spread across the city, sharing space in alleyways, market places, low-income settlements, or on wasteland. Precise numbers are difficult to determine, but in Harare alone across three years of Growing up on the Streets, 246 street children and youth have been involved.

We wanted to see how they’re coping under Harare’s Covid-19 lockdown.

On March 30, 2020, the Zimbabwean government announced a lockdown for 21 days to curb the spread of the virus. Most shops were closed and informal trading was banned, roadblocks were placed outside central Harare. This lockdown was extended indefinitely in May and a national curfew is still in place.

The lockdown measures were inevitably going to impact on these young people, and so in June we asked them to participate in creating a “story map” titled “In the Shadow of a Pandemic: Harare’s Street Youth Experience Covid-19”.

Story maps are maps with text, images, and multimedia content. They’re a powerful story-telling tool.

Through their story map, we saw how the lockdown appears to have been imposed with little thought of how the poor majority would survive – 63% of Zimbabweans live below the poverty line. Street children and youth are among the most deprived; their lack of identity documents and an address excludes them from access to what safety nets exist, for example in the form of welfare or social protection programmes, which almost always target households.

Measures moving forward must take their struggle to survive into account.

Eyes on the ground

We worked with local NGO Street Empowerment Trust who facilitated all the work on the ground. The project involved 24 young people, six of whom captured their stories through photographs, short films or sound recordings using borrowed phones.

The young people highlighted how they avoided arrest, found food and supported themselves when the informal economy was shut down.

Prior to lockdown in late March, street children between the ages of 10 and 16 were rounded up and placed in children’s homes. The aim was to remove young people from the city centre, designated a high-risk area for Covid-19 transmission.

Roundups have been used by the authorities in the past. While intended as a protection measure, many ran away due to previous experiences of confinement – residential care facilities often lack the bare minimum of basic services.

Aside from the fear of roundups, is the fear of arrest – for loitering, moving without a pass letter from an employer, or a mask. Both involuntary confinement in care centres or police detention deprives young people of their liberty, earnings, friends and networks of support. If arrested in their shelters or on the move, young people report that their only means of escape is to pay a bribe.


Carrying out their work is one reason they might be arrested. Work in the informal sector – for example picking plastics for recycling – is a main source of income for young street people. One kilo earns them about US$0.0035 (ZWD$1.30 in Zimbabwean bond notes). But restrictions of movement meant they couldn’t search for plastics and food, often found in bins.

The loss of income has had many impacts, for instance on relationships. Mai Future (20) was on the street where she met her boyfriend and fell pregnant with their first child. They moved in together in a low-income settlement on the outskirts of Harare. But, with the Covid-19 lockdown, her boyfriend found it difficult to earn money to pay the rent and look after the family, so he abandoned her and their child.

Exposed to virus

Drastically reduced incomes also increase their risk of contracting the virus. Street children and youth cannot afford to buy single-use masks for daily use, sold in pharmacies for about US$2 each – far more than most Zimbabweans would earn in a day.

It is a criminal offence to move outside the home without wearing a mask, punishable by a US$20 fine, or imprisonment, or both. So street youth use discarded masks, exposing themselves to the virus.

Street children youth sometimes pick up and use discarded masks due to cost.
Mathew/Growing up on the Streets

They also have difficulty keeping warm when sleeping at a social distance – lockdown occurred during the Zimbabwean winter. Denford explains how young men still share an alley way – but sleep at a social distance, unable to huddle together for warmth.

The story map reveals that like any part of society, street youth are both subject to and willing to conform to rules and conventions, in this case for their own and others’ safety.

Live documentation

The story map will remain a tangible record of how young people living on the streets are surviving during the pandemic. It captures a moment in time, specific to a certain place, and yet tells a universal story of how this pandemic is hitting the poorest.

One example of this may be Blessing. When making the story map, young people were struggling to survive due to reasons of deprivation rather than Covid-19 infection. Blessing, one of our Growing up on the Streets participants, whom we have known since 2012, died unexpectedly at the end of March. His death is symbolic of the paucity of healthcare available to young homeless in Harare, and how this was exacerbated by lockdown.

The story map is dedicated to him.

Shaibu Chitsiku of Street Empowerment Trust, Harare, project managed the story map in Harare and was key to the writing of this articleThe Conversation

Lorraine van Blerk, professor, University of Dundee; Janine Hunter, researcher, University of Dundee, and Wayne Shand, Honorary research fellow, University of Manchester.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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First Question: Ask them who they voted for? (Not once but repeatedly…)

When their parents and grandparents had more than enough to eat, in a stable country, they still took up arms against the government. Clearly current day Zimbabweans are happy with their lot in life, seeing that they fail to rise up against their oppressors.

This is the results when “accountability lies with the collective” and when “the land belongs to those who work it” and when people demand their “rights” while they ignore their responsibilities.

Not to worry.

The SA government sent a jet full of corrupt despicable thieves to fix the problem.

Not correct : The ANC sent s bunch of thugs ,using Govt equipment at taxpayer expense:
But I guess ANC and Govt is a somewhat blurred distinction.

Not sure if it was to a delegation that was sent to fix a problem – those that went are incompetent at fixing anything.
I think the reason for going to zim was to see whether our government was on the correct glide path as zim has followed

These poor kids have had the treble whammy of:
– Zanu PF and neighbouringANC and their corruption;
– Destruction of agricultural, business and govt sectors;
– Covid-19

Leaving little hope.

Sadly no really cares. This is Africa!

As someone said above, ask them who they voted for. They got exactly what they voted for (repeat, repeat, …)?

Sadly, people have to live in such squalor when their motherland is endowed with some of the best mineral and agricultural wealth on the continent. This degrading situation is the symptom or manifestation of a very serious deficit in the cognitive ability of the average voter. This destructive myopia and substandard logic are also prevalent among many academics.

When benevolent people, who act in good faith, display their naivety and ignorance of economic realities by proposing and supporting strategies of “social justice, equality, redress, empowerment and identity politics”, they are directly responsible for the degradation and implosion of society.

South Africa and Zimbabwe have an unemployment problem. Many commentators identify population growth and unemployment as the cause of poverty, social unrest and economic instability. This is a fallacy. Unemployment and overpopulation are symptoms of the problem and not the cause of the problem.

Unemployment rises when anti-capitalist strategies shrink the economy. A growing economy can sustain population growth. Overpopulation and unemployment only become an issue when the economy cannot support the size of the population. Therefore, overpopulation and unemployment results from the manmade “Malthusian Trap”, or socialism.

When a country moves away from a market economy towards socialism, it causes a decline in economic activity, followed by a decline in the average living standard. More and more people become unemployed and food insecurity rises. When the size of the population becomes out of balance with the size of the economy, it manifests as overpopulation and unemployment.

Democracy is a very sophisticated and dangerous concept. It brings freedom to capitalists societies but at the same time, it brings ruin and famine to collectivist societies. The Trojan Horse of democracy is skilfully and convincingly camouflaged with “social justice, equality, redress, empowerment and identity politics”, only to deliver the opposite results in the shape of squalor, famine and disease.

In a collectivist society, the right to vote is like a loaded shotgun in the hands of a 6-year old.

South Africa, have a good look at your future. It is as inevitable as the sun coming up tomorrow morning. Blacks only want Black Lives to Matter when they live in non-African countries.

Well our genius delegation basically agreed that there’s no crisis in Zim and what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Zim has collapsed with the total connivance and facilitation of the SA government.

And our latest policy…more soft diplomacy.

Just in case we need a reminder: the ANC and Zanu PF are brothers in arms and a vote for the ANC is just like a vote for Zanu

As per the famous Afrikaans proverb: “boontjie kry sy loontjie”…

If BLM then where is the help for these people or do only Balm?

End of comments.





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