Originally published by Birgit Schwarz for Human Rights Watch on August 18, 2015—
“Ntsikelelo is small for his age, and quite a handful. One moment, the 8-year old rolls around on the floor, the next instant he paces the room, impatiently and with big strides. The colorful picture books his mother has spread out on a low table hardly capture his attention. With a shrug he turns his back on them and walks off, shaking his head and waving his hand irritably — a gesture that seems more befitting of a cantankerous old man than a wiry child.
His mother, a young woman with dreadlocks and a somewhat melancholic smile, watches attentively but lets him be. When offered a white sheet of paper, Ntsikelelo finally settles down, pen in hand and a sparkle in his big brown eyes. “I like writing my name,” he says and draws a row of uneven circles that float across the page like soap bubbles. “I like books,” he adds and points at the notebook in my hands. Under her dreadlock fringe Sisandua Hani’s face lights up with joy and pride.
She hasn’t always been proud of the boy, nor loved him. For years, the 29-year-old, who grew up in Orange Farm, an informal settlement just outside South Africa’s economic hub, Johannesburg, where unemployment and poverty are notoriously high, rejected her son. She berated herself for giving birth to a child who “was different from other children.” “He acted strangely,” she recalls, “tearing clothes, breaking things, threatening to burn the house down. ‘What is he doing?’ I asked myself time and again. ‘Why did God give me such a child?’””
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