A courageous and selfless boy with an inspiring story to tell was accessed in the article “A boy and his dogs” (The Star, 12/10/2010, p.13). He spoke about living in a rubbish dump as a young child where he endured traumatic experiences including witnessing a number of crimes. He also spoke of his love for animals and we’re told of how he managed to escape the dump and build a new life. This boy’s story of survival and strength of character deserves a GLAD.

The article gave the child a pseudonym (Sizwe) and his face was also blurred in the pictures that were published alongside it. According to the article the boy had asked not to be identified as he feared that his friends at school “might think he is rubbish too”. This report by Jennifer Bruce is a great example of how a journalist can tell a child’s story, and can give them a voice, without violating their rights to privacy and dignity.

Sizwe was empowered to tell his own story, detailing both the highs and the lows. He described how he came to live on the dump and described conditions there. “It’s not nice that place,” he was quoted as saying. “I was scared. They are not eating well, people are burning things and the smoke hurts. I lived with Oupa and Ouma until they died but then my aunt threw my mother away, we went to live on the dump.”

According to the article the child was not alone on the dump as he cared for a “pack of mangy dog”, that he called his “family”. “The dogs can’t talk, but they can save your life,” he was quoted as saying, painting a deep bond between him and his four-legged friends.  The selflessness of how the child cared for these dogs was also highlighted: “when he had very little to eat, he would still keep something for them.”

Most of the story was told in Sizwe’s own words. At the beginning of the report the journalist gave context to the story but the rest of the article was made up of the child’s quotes. The journalist respected the child’s right to be heard, and the result was a compelling and insightful piece of journalism.

The Star not only empowered this child to tell his own story, but it also provided him with a platform to campaign for better conditions for those still living at the dump. Furthermore, it did not simply publish one boy’s harrowing story, but instead carried a piece of journalism that held the authorities to account for the terrible circumstances in which some people must live.

In a letter addressed to President Zuma, Sizwe wrote, “there’s no water, no food and no electricity”…”Build them RDP houses. Take the children to school”…“Please President Zuma help these people on the dump or they will die.”

Sizwe’s story is also an example of what is possible. It is a story of hope. “I am lucky. My life did change” Sizwe wrote, “now I can be an engineer or an animal policeman.”

When asked whether the story was well-reported or not, pupils from Parkhurst Primary participating in Media Monitoring Africa’s monitoring project had the following to say:

Yonela Cele said she thought it was well-reported because “(The journalist) did not only mention the bad things that happened to him (Sizwe), he also had freedom of speech.”

Pearl Dube also thought the article was well-reported. “The boy asked the journalist to not reveal his identity and the journalist did not go against the boy’s wishes,” he explained.

We congratulate The Star for exemplary reporting and for inspiring children and its readers by sharing Sizwe’s story.