Rough life for city’s homeless
But through the pain are stories of courage and hope
DURING the day he scavenges through East London’s garbage piles, eyes peeled for discarded electrical parts he can use to fix appliances.
At night he scrambles up a tree, hunkers down in a plastic-lined nest, straps himself in and goes to sleep.
This is the life of Adam Waweru, 52, a tall Kenyan who left his wife and children behind in his home country and headed to South Africa 13 years ago in search of a better future.
Instead he washed up in homeless shelters in Durban and Cape Town where he somehow managed to train as an electrician.
Waweru is one of countless homeless people who have landed up on the streets of East London. Only, when he tried to sleep on the street he was bludgeoned on the head with a stone for his shoes.
When the Saturday Dispatch spotted Waweru, he was walking slowly, head bowed, stooping every now and then to inspect small parts strewn in the refuse across the road from the belt of Patterson Street’s panel-beating workshops.
Indicating a handful of washers and spark plugs, Waweru said he had been tasked with fixing a tap in a city centre hairdressing shop.
“I can fix fridges, microwaves, TVs and washing machines in five minutes and so I go to shops and fix stuff for them,” said Waweru.
“But people don’t want to pay. If I ask for R300 they give me R100. Then I go and buy vetkoek and polony to eat and cooldrink I mix with water, but sometimes I don’t eat for three or four days because work is hard to find. I am not one to drink [alcohol] or follow women.”
Nor has he buckled and surrendered to a life of crime.
“I have been in South Africa for 13 years and have never been in trouble with the police or gone to jail.”
When he first moved to East London a year ago he slept on a grassy strip across the road from the Orient Pool Complex, but constructed a treehouse after he was attacked.
From the road it is impossible to spot his nest. He has tucked it up in a tangle of dense branches, and when he gets home at 6pm daily he climbs deftly up the tree and tucks himself into his lofty home.
Giving the Dispatch an impromptu demonstration, Waweru curled up in his dwelling, covered himself with a length of plastic and showed us pieces of plastic strapping he uses to secure himself in the branches for the night.
“My blanket was stolen so I don’t have one now. I wash in the sea and go to a restaurant for the toilet because I don’t like to mess here. I have to live like this because East London has no shelter. All I want is work.”
Slumped against a wall near the West Bank post office, feeding peanuts to wagtails, was Craig Lockem. Bearded, woolly-haired, long-nailed and wearing three jackets, Lockem, 47, was once a Quigney hairdresser.
Now he lives rough, sleeping in a small park near the church in the seaside suburb. “I can’t complain. It’s not like I’m going to die.”
Lockem, who said he grew up in the suburb, did his national service in Grahamstown.
“Then I heard [hairstylist] Nelson