Poverty and Crime-What happened to Susan?
What happened to Susan?
We sat in my car and the tears ran down our cheeks. Susan had just told me where she had been for the last three months and why no one could find her. She had come to East London to see that her children got a better education than she had in the tribal area of Peddie some 100km to the N/E. She and her family live in a one room shack, a part of the informal settlement in Gompo. I first met Susan when she began to attend adult literacy classes that I taught in this area. She was not illiterate but wanted to improve her English so that she could help her children with their homework. She soon began to help me with the other women who could not write or read. We cheered together when Eunice wrote her name for the first time, and I managed to find work for her as a domestic servant with a family that I knew. This was a great help as she could now pay the school fees for her children and put reasonable food on the table in their simple but comfortable shack.
Then suddenly Susan disappeared. The family where she worked did not know where she was and contacted me as they were concerned about her. The women in the literacy classes said they did not know where she was, as did the families in the area where she lived, and so the mystery continued. At that stage I began to think that something terrible had happened to her. It was nowever the end of the year long school holidays and I decided that when school resumes I would find out if anyone at school knew where Susan had gone. What about her children? A trip to Peddie seemed to be on the cards but with the holiday keeping us busy I decided to follow up in the New Year. Then one of the women at the soup kitchen we run in the Parkside area brought me with a message that Susan was back and wanted to see me. So here we sit in my car down the road from her home after she told me what had happened.
Her story is one that is so sad and yet very common in a world where so many poor people battle to survive from day to day. The problem was that Susan had been in jail, something no one in her family had ever experienced. She and some of the other women in the area had been caught in an illegal scheme. They had been told that work would soon be available and that if they gave the organizers their I.D. documents and signed a consent form, they would already be paid a few hundred rand a month as the new business was being put into place.
The details of the scheme are still somewhat of a mystery to Susan and to me, but the organizers began to draw state funds for the participants. They pocketed most of it, paying a small amount to their victims for a few months, until they were caught. Fortunately the organizers were sent to prison for several years, but Susan and the others who got drawn into the scheme were sentenced to 6 months each, but served three before they were released. Because she was so ashamed of what had happened she organized that a friend take care of the children and she swore everyone else who knew about what had happened to silence. She specially did not want her aging Dad to hear about it as she thought the news might kill him. Now she realized she needed to tell someone and chose me. What should she do now? She found it hard to go back to her life as if nothing had happened. We spoke about it, prayed about it, cried about it and eventually we even managed to laugh about it.
Susan is back to normal, if life in the informal settlement can be considered normal. The children are doing well at school and she is back at work. Not many know were Susan was for those three months and those who know have been warned not to tell her father. It is a hard world when people live in such difficult conditions, but when I see Susan and her children they are always smiling. I hope that her children will be able to break out of the circle of poverty that they find themselves in!