'Ordinary South Africans have big hearts': How a stranded kids' soccer team was rescued in Joburg

About 40 children from Bloemfontein were left stranded when they were scammed by a man who promised them accommodation and a football tournament in Johannesburg.
About 40 children from Bloemfontein were left stranded when they were scammed by a man who promised them accommodation and a football tournament in Johannesburg.
Image: 123RF/ MTSARIDE

When a team of young soccer players arrived in Johannesburg to play in a tournament, their hearts were broken when the trip was exposed as a scam. 

A fraudster organised the "tournament", taking R500 from each of the 40 boys' parents in Bloemfontein, then disappeared with the money before the four-hour trip to Johannesburg on Wednesday. 

The "booked" accommodation turned out to be a sham and "the drivers hadn't been paid", said Darryl Currie, from the Randburg Community Policing Forum. 

The drivers, whose consciences would not allow them to leave, took the children to a local police station.

The children were transported in two minubus taxis.
The children were transported in two minubus taxis.
Image: supplied

Officers from Randburg police station swung into action, sending out an urgent request to residents on community WhatsApp groups, asking for help. And the community responded in force.

"I saw a message popping up saying that the police were seeking urgent help with a group of children," said John Endres, chair of the residents' association in Bryanfern.

"In half an hour, residents had donated R1,600 to get the kids fed and sheltered," he said.

"While that was happening, the local supermarket donated meals for them, the Engen donated fuel for them to get back to Bloemfontein, the church offered support."

Donations continued to pour in, with many residents pooling together and contributing between R50 and R100. 

The children took up an offer to spend the night at the police station.

Currie said the boys, aged 12 to 17, were initially stressed, but by 9.30pm on Wednesday were laughing and relaxed, with full stomachs. 

"Members of the church were making sure they were happy and comfortable, and everyone just wanted to make sure they got fed and were sheltered," he said.

Food donated for the children.
Food donated for the children.
Image: Supplied

Acting police station commander Solomon Mudau said the children were relaxed and well taken care of. "We gave them blankets and food and they slept in the hall," he said. "We gave them breakfast and then they went back to Bloemfontein."

He had no information about a case being opened against the "fraudster" at his precinct. 

"In a time of need we have shown how strong we are as a community. We need to join hands and show a greater strength in the fight against crime," said Currie. "We are strong on our own but stronger together."

Endres said the incident had poured cold water on some of the negativity engulfing SA.

"It was amazing to see everybody come together and help out," he said. 

"Next time you worry about SA, remember this story. Ordinary South Africans have big hearts," he wrote on Twitter.

"We are empathetic and we help each other. At the community level, we make things work. And cynical politicians and race-baiters can go get screwed."

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