South African teenager tells Taoiseach of Drogheda racism

Unicef’s global #KidsTakeOver candidate shadows Varadkar for World Children’s Day

Drogheda teenager Joella Dhlamini tracked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for the day. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Drogheda teenager Joella Dhlamini tracked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for the day. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

A 16-year-old South African girl who is spending World Children’s Day with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said she has been subject to on-going racist abuse since moving to Drogheda, Co Louth, three years ago.

Joella Dhlamini, originally from Soweto, in Johannesburg, said she has frequently been called a “monkey” and a “gorilla” and has also been subject to the N-word on her way home from school, abuse she had never experienced before moving to Ireland.

“Since I came to Ireland I’ve dealt with loads of racism and the first time, as a 13-year-old I couldn’t understand it, because I didn’t experience this back home.”

She said her mother had advised her to ignore the abusers.

“When I told my mam, she said just keep walking because empty tins make a lot of noise and you don’t want to get involved in that type of situation.”

However, she said she has become increasingly concerned that racist abuse was becoming the “norm” in Ireland and that younger children would accept the abuse they were subject to.

“I feel like my little eight-year-old cousins will experience this and they don’t deserve this and they won’t understand what’s going, and as the older relative I will have to explain this to them,” she said.

“But I think it’s something we have accepted and I feel it’s something no one should accept. At this point I don’t accept it and I’m going to fight it as much as I can.”

Joella was participating in Unicef’s global #KidsTakeOver initiative as part of World Children’s Day and spent the day attending engagements with Mr Varadkar.

“It has given me an eye opener to politics, which has been amazing and really fulfilling. I’m thinking of going into politics, but I’m not too sure yet,” she said.

Mr Varadkar said he was taking part in the initiative to highlight the plight of children in some of the world’s poorest nations.

“I am also looking forward to hearing about Joella’s experience in Ireland since she moved here from South Africa. I’ll do my best to give her an insight into what an average day is like for the Taoiseach and I also want to hear directly from Joella about the issues which are of most concern to her and her peers.”

Joella is one of a number of children from around the world who are “taking over” key roles in media, politics, business, sport and entertainment to highlight the most pressing challenges faced by their generation.

She was chosen by Unicef to represent the views of the children of Ireland.