The economic activity of children

African children living in Sophiatown were particularly vulnerable to the harshness of urban life. Schooling was not provided by the state. There were a few black schools run by missionaries and church groups, but many parents could not afford to send their children to these schools. Most families needed their children to find work from as early an age as possible in order to bring in much needed extra money into the family.

Other children were needed to carry out household tasks, like looking after the younger children while their parents were at work, or running errands for their parents. A common role for younger children was to act as izimbamgothi - guards - who stood outside to look out for the police while their mothers brewed beer. Township children found many ways to earn money directly themselves. They took part-time and temporary jobs (for very little money) whenever they had the chance. They found jobs:

  • in shops and offices as messengers
  • in sweeping and cleaning
  • making tea or delivering dairy milk
  • as domestic helpers in the kitchens and gardens in the white suburbs
  • as caddies on the golf courses
  • sold newspapers on the streets or delivered them to houses

Where they could not find work, many young children resorted to begging or petty crime, such as pick-pocketing and small-scale stealing. As they got older they would join gangs. Children in Sophiatown learnt from an early age that to survive in the city was indeed a struggle, and they were forced to find their own way in the world.

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