Covid and the death of childhood in Ocean View

Frank, a single dad in Ocean View, shares his experience of raising children in 2021.

Frank is a father from Ocean View. He was a foster child, and when his first child was conceived, he vowed to be there for his wife and child.

“I wanted my children to feel loved,” Frank says. “To have a family, to know they have a place where they were wanted, where they belonged.”

Frank’s wife, who battled substance abuse issues her whole life, died during labour; so he is now raising their children alone.

He has kept them in school, fed them and clothed them, even on a meagre, single-income salary. He has kept them safe.

And then Covid-19 hit, says Sue Berger, director of Open Door, a community development and social work project run by Valley Development Projects (VDP). Lockdown happened. Schools closed. Work dried up. And those children who were relatively safe were now excluded from playgrounds and beaches.

This, she says, has created an unseen fire in the lives of people not only in Ocean View, but in all communities which – before Covid – were already laden with needs that outstripped their resources.

With limited work opportunities, Frank is battling to put food on the table. And his children, who used to be kept busy with school, are now begging with other children at traffic lights, at malls and outside fast-food outlets. They are there because the R5 they get is R5 more than they had when they started, and the burger or fast food given could be their only meal that day. And, Ms Berger says, because it’s something to do.

Ms Berger says the average household in Ocean View that she deals with does not have a laptop. If there is one, it may be a parent’s work laptop, but it’s not something the youngsters readily have access to. If they have phones, they are not usually smart phones, and if they have smart phones, they don’t have data or airtime.

“These are not children who can settle down and focus on online tutoring. They don’t have the resources for that. So what are they doing all day?”

The answer is seen through the social work cases Open Door deals with, aside from the feeding programmes: teen pregnancies and gang influence, with school drop-outs falling into either of those categories. And while these problems always gone hand in glove with poverty stricken areas, Ms Berger says with children not in school, it’s even worse now.

Ms Berger has dealt with countless cases where the poverty in Ocean View has been the root cause of what she calls transactional sex. Sex for a cell phone. Sex for clothes. Sex for food.

“If our youth were severely at risk before, they are even more so now. Not even mothers are saying no, if their teenage daughter is having sex for food, which will feed the family. And I don’t mean in Ocean View only – I mean in any area where poverty has met gangsterism. The gangs have always focused on the younger kids. It is the young ones they get to do the shooting because they are too young for jail.“

Across social media sites, Ocean View residents are complaining about children running rampant on the streets, without masks. One resident says a group of youths hurled rocks at her ageing mother’s home scaring away her mom’s dog, her only company. Another complained about children smoking dagga openly on street corners.

The False Bay Echo spoke with three elderly residents who recounted in person their experiences with youths whom they had watched grow up, who were now “enslaved” to drugs. They mourn the loss of the current and future generations and say their faith says they must have hope, but that they have to dip deep to find any.