Shut up the little children…An ode to a useless monopoly


(For Allan Siebert)

Listen, Allan. I want to tell you a story, a true story…

In 2005 I had the opportunity to act in a play for the National Youth Theatre, performing  two pieces that centred around creating awareness and for the prevention of the sexual abuse and bullying of our children (very ambitious).  At the start of our run we took the play on the road and then ended it at the NYT. I got to work with children of very diverse demographics.

What I saw broke my heart, Allan. Turns out abuse knows no colour, no creed, no race.  No religion.  And oh, my friend – how rife child abuse is here in mzansi.

At a private school in Fourways, a beautiful little boy peed a puddle the size of our pool when we taught the kids the “NO!” song.  I know not what monster put that fear into him, we were not allowed as actors for the children to ‘disclose’ to us as the shrinks say, details of their abuse.

Then there was the time in Alex, where we performed at a fabulous library that a Danish charity erected for the kids.  The only way you knew you were in the loxion was that the busted lid on the portable CD player was weighted down with a brick…

At that library was this boy, Allan, he couldn’t have been more than eight – who told my character (Little Bear) that she liked big bear touching her on her privates.  “Mara, you want it, I can see, wena” he said…and I… lost it. I started yelling at him: “WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU?!!!” …when the matter with him was actually quite obvious. Not a proud moment.

At the theatre a Coloured lady brought this gorgeous little girl to our show.  I’m not sure if she was the mother, I remember she looked very melancholy.  The little girl was dressed like a princess in a taffeta dress, with bows in her hair.  “Little Bear, my dêddie plays a very special game with me!” she called out, smiling a little girl’s gapped-tooth smile. The lady lowered her head and did not lift it for the rest of the show. She must have known, or suspected what was going on.  By the time we were performing the finale the little girl was shaking and crying.  The lady bundled her in her arms and ran out of the theatre…

These experiences, those images haunt me still, Allan.

It was a couple of months after that gig that I holed myself up in my apartment in Northcliff and put a small country’s GDP up my nose. Whilst licking the wounds of my own sexual abuse as a teenager on my never-ender-fender-bender (the way it was swept under the carpet!) and pondering the fate of all those little children, I decided to conduct an experiment.

That complex has the best views of Jozi , in my opinion – and another rare commodity these days – a payphone.  I would traipse over and ring Childline’s toll free number.  Now it takes one hell of a lot of courage for a kid who is being perpetrated upon sexually to make that call.  It’s normally last chance saloon. The threats of the perpetrator and the shame of the abuse normally keep them quiet.  We taught the children:

TELL A GROWN-UP… AND IF THAT GROWN-UP WON’T LISTEN TELL ANOTHER!  KEEP TELLING UNTIL SOMEONE LISTENS AND HELPS…OR, IF NO GROWN-UPS HELP YOU- RING CHILDLINE.  THE CALL IS FREE AND THE GROWN-UPS WILL LISTEN AND HELP YOU.

For three long days and nights I called 08000 55 555 and called it and called it.  0.. eight .. 000…and five times five.  I couldn’t get through once. Somewhere in the back of my head Madiba was talking about a country’s success being based on the way their children are treated…

Then I phone the alternative number, the one you pay to make the call.  Ring,ring. A woman answers. I make an attempt at arranging my vocal cords, my tongue, my lips – around something that sounds vaguely like the English language and explain that I have phoned the toll-free number for days and couldn’t get through…

Do you know what she says Allan?

Eish…Telkom!”

Apparently the fault was reported a week before…

Millions of our disenfranchised children have holes ripped into their souls on a daily basis and Childline with their wonderful ad campaigns that win the ad- boys and girls big fat smarmy awards, Childline which is usually an abused kid’s last resort is rendered  mere  media froth…the toothless watchdog of our Innocents ….

…if their toll frigging free number is disabled! What the fuck Telkom?

How many more voices were silenced then? Perhaps forever…

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