Today, I found out that one of the Aghmat brothers passed away last Sunday. Zakkie was 16, and had been a fixture on Long Street for as far as I can remember. I’m glad I heard the news from my sister – it was marginally easier hearing the news from someone who loved him.
I met Zakkie and his brother Mogamat about 7 years ago, through my sister. She was working on Long Street at the time, and had ‘adopted’ these brothers. She would take them home and feed them, take them to Long Street Baths for swimming and do what she could to help with their social workers and family. They bought her presents – a tortoise they had ‘found’, and later, a kitten they had rescued, which my parents still have.
Hard Knock Life
While Mogamat grew as the years went by, Zakkie still looked like the same 9 year old he was when I met him. Small, scruffy, and always hiding his hands in jerseys that were much too long – even in summer. I once asked him about that, and he blushed and told me that he was embarressed by his mangled hands. When he was wearing shoes, they were always falling apart. They got stolen so often it was easier for him to go barefoot.
Despite their challenges, and despite a lifetime on the streets, Zakkie and his big brother would always have a smile for those who knew them. If you were their friend, you would get security – whether you were walking to your car on Long, or walking home after dark from Kloof. They never asked for anything – only a bit of company and a chat. Even when it was clear that Zakkie was using crack, and even when he was clearly out of it, he was still the same smiling, cheeky-faced kid he was before.
The Face of Cape Town’s Street Children
Last I heard, Mogamat had a fairly secure job and was doing well. Zakkie on the other hand, was just never made for this life. I would see him more and more often – he was one of the little gang of kids who often slept at the end of my road in the Bo Kaap.
Those kids broke their former social worker’s heart, and anyone who knew them understood why. It was them who inspired me to find out more about the Homestead Projects, and them who inspired me to support the Western Cape Street Children’s Forum. I knew it was a long shot that both of them would make it out of the streets, but even so, it is gut-wrenching to hear that little Zakkie lost his battle against his hard life.
Zakkie has become the face of Cape Town’s street child epidemic. It may have been too late for him, but there are still so many other kids just like him out there. They may not have won over so many hearts as Zakkie did, but they still need our help.
How You Can Help Kids Like Zakkie
* Don’t give them money – this only makes the cycle worse
* Visit the Homestead and learn more about the amazing work they do with street kids
* Visit the Western Cape Street Children’s Forum and find out more about current projects
* Educate yourself on what to do and what not to do
* Don’t treat these kids like they don’t exist – they are OUR problem, not someone else’s problem
* Start talking to the kids you meet – get their names and let them know someone cares
While many people who knew Zakkie will be grieving for a long time, I hope that his story will have a happy ending. If even one person takes something from this tragedy, then Zakkie will not have died in vain.
Farewell Zakkie… I’m glad I had the chance to know you, and I hope you knew how many people cared about you.