'Journey to Jo'burg' made me see the world my parents grew up in

20th July 2001 at 01:00
Twenty-five years ago, Hector Peterson, aged 12, died fighting for freedom in South Africa. Last year, another 12-year-old, Mohammed el Durreh, died in the struggle for freedom in Palestine. Between these two deaths, many children have died in wars, famines and struggles for freedom in their homelands - freedom from hunger and poverty; freedom from tyranny and oppression; freedom to live and laugh, not to cry and die.

Many children escape from such situations to Britain and other countries. I am also 12-years-old. I play with refugee children. I go to school in London with some. I see them on the streets, at the swimming pool, in the library, in the shops. Once I went on a march to demand that the British government allow all asylum seekers to live safely here. It's the least I could have done. If it hadn't been for Hector and all the brave children of South Africa, I could be a refugee myself - or dead.

I started reading Beverley Naidoo's books from an early age. From them I've learned about children like Hector and Mohammed. 'Journey to Jo'burg' made me see the world my parents grew up in (they came here from South Africa in 1986). I understood why people in South Africa fought for change. It must have been so difficult for families to be forced to live apart like the family in this book. In 'No Turning Back', a boy runs away from his abusive stepfather and has to live on the streets.

I'd been to the new South Africa with my parents, but never seen the whole of it. I'd seen family, sunshine, beaches, fun. 'No Turning Back' showed me what I'd only seen in passing - street children begging, sleeping in doorways, hanging around in scary-looking gangs. I'd never understood what drove them on to the streets. 'The Other Side of Truth' shows the dangers faced by refugee children in their own countries and in the countries they flee to.

Beverley's latest book, 'Out of Bounds', is a collection of short stories about children from a range of backgrounds growing up in South Africa during and after apartheid. It deals with the suffering caused by legal racism, and how it still affects children's lives in South Africa today, when apartheid has gone. I can relate to the characters because some of what they face affects every child. Things like bullying, for example. In one story, "The Playground", Rosa is the first black child at an - until then - all-white school. Already burdened with the worries any child would have starting at a new school, she also has the worry of being black and therefore unwelcome.

Similarly, in "The Dare", Veronica, like many children, does something she doesn't want to, to please her friends. As often happens when one does something for a dare, Veronica gets more than she bargained for. Because this is South Africa during apartheid, she gets a first-hand experience of how cruel racism is, even for children.

Sometimes people think discrimination affects only the victims - Palestinians in Israel, black people in South Africa, or Jews in Nazi Germany. 'Out of Bounds' shows that discrimination affects everybody. It affects people who are not directly discriminated against. It even affects people from the group doing the discriminating. Growing up with Beverley's books, I've learned a lot about racism. Every child should read them, especially in countries such as Britain, where there are many people from different places, with many languages and cultures, colours and religions. In Britain there is a lot of racist bullying. People have died of it, like Stephen Lawrence. 'Out of Bounds' inspired me to write this poem: * If you think about it


Is just bullying on a large scale,

No one likes a bully,

So why do we still have racism?

* When a child bullies another child,

The teacher steps in and sorts it out

In five minutes.

When racists bully,

It takes a lot of people to sort it out

And it takes more than just five minutes.

I hope everyone who reads 'Out of Bounds' thinks about the children of South Africa, and remembers that our struggle for decent lives goes on. The day before my 12th birthday, 12-year-old Nkosi Johnson died from Aids.

Zora Laattoe has just finished Year 7 at Ashmole school in the London borough of Barnet

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