Death of a street child 16 Days of Activism no help to kids
ZAIRE Aghmat would introduce himself and his pet: “I’m Zakkie and this is my dog Lucky.”
Zakkie, 16, became the unofficial face of city street children living in Long Street. He had lived on the street for most of his life, and he and his older brother Mogamat were wellknown. The two were inseparable, “a unit”, says Linzi Thomas of the NGO Mylife. But Zakkie died on Sunday. Gerald Jacobs, a social worker with the NGO Mamelani, says Zakkie was so well known that while on a recent holiday to Mozambique, he had been chatting to someone about his work and the person said: “Do you know Zakkie?”
In video footage shot by film maker John Bowey a few years ago, Zakkie demonstrated, using Lucky, how security guards and the police would pat him down. Zakkie had a crack cocaine habit and was often in trouble with the law. He was a frequent customer at the drug dens of Senator Park.
“Sometimes he would spend up to R1 400 a day on crack,” Thomas said.
In other footage by Bowey, Zakkie is smiling, holding Lucky, who is wearing a pair of sunglasses. He says he wants to be a jockey. Later, he’s crying. Mogamat is being sent to rehab in Tulbagh but Zakkie is too young to go.
Fast forward a few years and Mogamat and Zakkie are back on the street. Their mother, known as Mumps, died in 2008. Their father is still alive and living in Delft. In recent times, Zakkie went there a lot too. Jacobs said this week he thought Mogamat was also there.
“Those boys loved their mother,” says Susan Rabinowitz, who often works with street children.
Mark Williams of the Central City Improvement District (CCID) field work team, who often worked with Zakkie and drove him to the clinic for his medication, says Zakkie was like a yacht with no sail.
“That main sail that gave him direction in his life was gone.”
On Thursday, Zakkie, who had been ill for some time, was taken to Tygerberg hospital. He died on Sunday.
In 2008 American activist Ryan Dalton spent the 16 Days of Activism living on the city streets and Zakkie and Mogamat took him under their wing.
He wrote on his blog this week: “Anybody who knew Zakkie will remember him for being a little ball of energy and life… because Zakkie and his brother Mogamat are as popular in Cape Town, on Long Street, as Table Mountain. There is not a tourist alive that hasn’t run into them at some point, and they are both loved dearly by their street family.”
Dalton later wrote a song, inspired by Zakkie, called So Young.
“I’ll remember Zakkie for his great sense of humour, his funny little laugh, and his enormous personality tightly packed in his tiny little body,” Dalton wrote.
Bowey arranged to have Zakkie buried according to Muslim rites. But the vehicle to transport his body to the burial ground never arrived. Bowey fetched the body and the imam and ensured that he was buried before the sun went down.
Another of Bowey’s documentaries shows Zakkie walking past school children in Long Street. The black and white footage is slowed down, and it highlights Zakkie’s uncertainty, the sag in his shoulders as the other children laugh and smile.
And yet, despite his small size, Williams says he thought of Zakkie as a “big man”, who was “always fighting for himself ”.
“This past month though, I got to know him as a little boy. I took him to the clinic recently and afterwards I took him shopping. He wanted a packet of chips – that’s the little boy in him. But he also wanted something he could take back and share with the others.”
Those who knew Zakkie describe him as “charming”, “smiley” and “generous”.
And it’s precisely because of this that they don’t want his death to be in vain. Thomas says she knows of three children who died on the streets this week.
“We’re in the middle of the 16 Days of Activism. Why are children still slipping through the net? I was on the street yesterday and I met two boys who had just arrived from Lavender Hill. They told me they would rather sleep on the street, because they don’t want to die in the violence in their community,” said Thomas.
“Zakkie was spending up to R1 400 a night on crack cocaine. Where was he getting that money? He was getting it from people who just gave him money out of pity and a lot of these kids get it from paedophiles,” she said.
Jacobs said: “The NGOS need to work more closely with each other. And now in December, Cape Town is booming with tourists who are going to give these kids money. They must not do it.”
MR SUNSHINE: Those who knew him said Zakkie was a smiling, happy child.
BROTHERS IN ARMS: Zakkie and his brother Mogamat, who were inseparable.
ON THE STREETS: NGO workers say they want to use Zakkie’s death to raise awareness of other street children, like Shane Smith, who also lives on Long Street.