Surviving on God's mercy on the cold streets of the City of Gold

2019-07-02 21:28
Banele Peter, 29, from Klerksdorp, living it rough on the streets of Johannesburg.

Banele Peter, 29, from Klerksdorp, living it rough on the streets of Johannesburg. (Ntwaagae Seleka)

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As temperatures plummeted in Gauteng on Monday night, many who live on the streets of Johannesburg experienced the worst of the cold, bitter winter. 

"No one wants to live on the streets wearing a single blanket in this cold weather. This winter is very cold, I am fortunate that a philanthropist gave me another blanket last night. At least for now I have two blankets to keep my body warm. I have not bathed in days and it is more cold to undress and bath this season unlike in other seasons."

These are the desperate words of 43-year-old Themba Vava, who has been homeless since 2016. 

"I have nowhere to go, the streets are my home."

Vava who was born in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, told News24 he will continue calling the streets of Johannesburg home until he finds an alternative warm place.

"I have been on the streets since 2016 after I lost my job here in Gauteng. I arrived in Gauteng in 2014 working at a construction site until I lost my job. Home is far. I thought that by sleeping on the streets I would find another job. Unfortunately, I haven't found one. If only I can find a proper job then I can find myself a warm place to call home."

He sleeps under a bridge in Braamfontein and scavenges in rubbish bins for recyclable materials to sell.

"Today, I haven't found anything big, except for a plastic container that I am going to sell to buy a packet of mealie meal. I cant buy a bigger packet of mealie meal because it will be stolen by people I am sharing a place with. Last night was the coldest day I have witnessed this year and I have to be home early to prepare a meal and warm myself," he said before disappearing. 

Nelson Ndlovu, 43, arrived in Milpark when he was 20 years old, to work as a labourer. 

He can't remember which year he lost his job, but he said it was a long time ago after fathering a son in 1994. His son is somewhere in KwaZulu-Natal with his former lover.

"I miss him, I last saw him when he was a few months old before his mother moved back home in KZN. I don't know what he looks like. I don't want him to see me like this. I am praying to God to bless me with a job and build him a home anywhere in Gauteng.

"I can't go back home in this state. I will be lost because I can't remember which year I was home. Both my parents are deceased and don't know where my siblings and relatives are," he said.

Ndlovu is squatting with other homeless people at a dilapidated building in town.

He also complained about the cold snap and having to share a tiny space with others.  

"I have two blankets and I need more especially tonight. This weather can kill a person. It is very cold out here and we survive on God's mercy," he said. 

Drown his sorrows

Ndlovu earns money by washing cars in Milpark.

Banele Peter, 19, arrived in Johanneburg last year from Klerksdorp in the North West in the hope of establishing his music career.

"This place is cold and it is difficult to sleep on an empty stomach. If I was home I would be having a warm meal in a warm place," he said. 

Unfortunately, things fell apart for the grade 10 dropout when he was arrested for house breaking in Newtown on December 4 2018.

"I was hungry and wanted to steal something to buy food. That day I was unlucky because I was arrested and sent to jail. I was released last month and I have returned to what I know best, the streets of Jozi.

"I miss my parents back home and I have dreams of going back to Klerksdorp. The problem is that I don't have money to get a taxi. Last night's weather made me think of waking up and walking back home although it is far," he told News24. 

Mthandazo Mtsheselo, 20, another school dropout, fled his home in Kroonstad in the Free State in 2016, citing abuse.

Mstheselo calls Milpark his home. He survives by selling recyclable material.

"My father chased me out of his house. I grew up without a mother, she died when I was a toddler and unlike many youths, I don't know a mother's love. My father never loved me, he was always beating, cursing and insulting me. He even told me to go away from his home and fend for myself.

Unlike others, he said he was staying in an old house in Milpark with fellow recyclers. 

"Our place is warm. It is far better than living on the streets. We don't want more people because they will steal from us. We live like a family although we are not related. We look after our place and ensure that it is clean and safe for all of us," said Mstheselo.

I don't want to turn to drugs

"Unlike, my friends here I don't want to turn to drugs. I don't want to be an addict and die on the streets. I am here temporarily to fend for myself while looking for employment. I don't have a home anymore and won't go back to my father's home. I am here to start a life. One day, I will be successful and find myself a home and start a family," he said.

It is expected to be another bitingly cold day in Gauteng on Wednesday, as a cold front makes landfall in the Western Cape on Tuesday and which is expected to move north.

Mathapelo Madida, from EMS shelter in Johannesburg, said they provide overnight shelter to homeless people for R15 a night.

"We then provide them with food, blankets and a place to lay their heads while in our shelter. We also serve soup on the streets for free. We appeal to those who can afford, to buy vouchers from us and donate them to homeless people they meet on the streets. We accommodate close to 200 people per night and call on more people to approach us for free soup," she said.

Cheryl Hlabane from Frida Hartley Shelter in Rosebank said their shelter provides long-term accommodation to homeless people. The shelter also donates blankets and food to homeless people in Yeoville and other parts of Johannesburg. Hlabane said although they could not accommodate many people, they often take in homeless women. 

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  winter  |  homeless
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