Boozing teens with no care in world
It is only 9.10am on Friday and a kaleidoscope of school uniforms gather outside Club Union, a tavern dubbed the "The Conference" by its child patrons on Plein Street, downtown Johannesburg.
The CBD teems with them, some as young as 12, as they huddle in groups on street corners, smoking cigarettes and openly rolling dagga joints. The school gates were locked an hour ago.
Many more hang out in casual gear, hoping that they will not be identified as minors and questioned by concerned adults or tavern bouncers.
"Me, I am the boss, the big dog. They will let me into The Conference despite my grey school pants," brags a puny juvenile as he blows smoke from a dagga zol.
Like many others roaming the streets, the schoolboy is walking around in his vest. He has taken off his shirt, perhaps to conceal the identity of his school or the fact that he is playing truant.
"I came to The Conference because I have a bad hangover and all these 'pokemons' (young girls) come here," says a matric pupil who identifies himself only as Mdu, from Jeppe College.
"I drank a lot last night. I could not concentrate in class and my teacher was boring. I could not stand watching him making noise in front of me while I was sick from a hangover."
He says his peers are scattered around the CBD's drinking spots. Another boy, wearing a school blazer, says: "I always have money for liquor, so I can afford any form of alcohol.
"When I don't have enough I tell my mother some money is outstanding at school."
These youths are all over, at various entertainment centres, cinemas, video games and pool shops. Their numbers seem to swell on Fridays. If they are not feeding coins into a jukebox, they pool their money, buy drinks in bulk and dance to the latest house music.
Groups of pupils walk randomly, with some couples hand-in-hand, kissing and hugging, to be swallowed by the taverns instead of the classrooms.
Club Union has since been closed down by the police for violating its liquor licence and trading regulations. This resulted from an inquiry by Sowetan.
At the corner of Bree and Claim streets pupils flock to the Osimaco entertainment centre in great numbers.
They dance to the latest hits, play snooker and arcade games from as early as 10am.
Girls in uniform and customised miniskirts sit in a corner and share cigarettes while chatting about the boys in the room.
Osimaco does not serve liquor.
Many of the schoolchildren carry alcoholic beverages in their bags. The shop attendant seemed unconcerned about children drinking on the premises despite having a huge disclaimer on the wall prohibiting liquor in the gaming room.
Sir John Adamson High School, Winchester Hills, principal M Meyers, says: "I am aware of truant pupils in my school and disciplinary measures have been implemented to deal with such children.
"But as a parent myself, the onus is on us to ensure that our children attend school on a regular basis by randomly checking their books for work done on the day, attending school meetings and adopting a relationship with the school and its teachers.
"As principal I ensure that frequent absenteeism offenders are monitored and it is school policy to request written notification, from the guardian or the doctor, on the return of the pupil to the school. And if it is not available, an interview will be set up between me, the pupil, parents and the residing registration teacher in order to decide a way forward."
Gauteng police spokesman Superintendent Eugene Opperman says: "Several dealers have been closed down and, or prosecuted in the past about contraventions of the liquor law, for allowing under-age children onto their premises for the purpose of buying and for consuming liquor there.
"However, we have found during raids on such places that some parents really do not care about what their children are doing. In such cases we involve social workers to take over the problem and deal with it."
After frequent monitoring of these venues many have been closed down, but the trend among school children of playing truant continues weekly.