From cop to keep­ing the streets clean

He used to put crim­i­nals be­hind bars but now this former cop is keep­ing the streets clean in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent way

DRUM - - Contents - BY PALESA MATJEBELE PIC­TURES: ONKGOPOTSE KOLOTI

THE streets are dark and quiet when Ntate Moremi Mo­suwe gets out his wheel­bar­row and makes his way through the sub­urb, pick­ing up bottles and trash dis­carded on the road­side. The ex-cop and his wheel­bar­row are a fa­mil­iar and wel­come sight in The Heights, the Ga-Rankuwa neigh­bour­hood he calls home and spends his days keep­ing clean.

“Ev­ery­body loves me. There’s no party, wedding or fu­neral I don’t get in­vited to. They call me the Wheel­bar­row Man,” Ntate (68) says, chuck­ling.

He keeps the streets clean be­cause he wants to, he says. No one asked him to do it and the only money he makes from it – about R600 on a good week – is what he gets at the re­cy­cling de­pot.

Most im­por­tantly he en­joys his daily task, even if it’s some­thing he never imagined do­ing be­fore he started 17 years ago. For most of his adult life Ntate was a cop – then injury forced him to take early re­tire­ment at 50.

“I was one of the most feared po­lice of­fi­cers around Ga- Rankuwa in my time. There was no room I didn’t en­ter, no mat­ter how dan­ger­ous it was, and I was also quick to make ar­rests so I had en­e­mies ev­ery­where,” the kasi hero re­calls, adding it’s the other way around now as he has friends ev­ery­where.

We’re chat­ting to Ntate at his work sta­tion – a neigh­bour’s back­yard – where he’s breaking the bottles he’s col­lected be­fore drop­ping them off at the re­cy­cling cen­tre. He gets to work here in exchange for keep­ing the owner’s yard tidy.

Ntate is wear­ing over­alls and ap­pears to be strug­gling with his task but as­sures us he’s got it in hand. Smash­ing bottles is the hardest part of the job, he says, wip­ing his brow.

He took on this un­of­fi­cial po­si­tion to stay fit and keep him­self busy. He’s also the only one in his area who vol­un­tar­ily keeps the streets clean. The day after wed­dings and fu­ner­als he gets up ex­tra early to start his rounds. “There’s al­ways plenty of clean­ing up to be done,” he says.

AS A young man he pounded the streets as a cop in Brits in North West. He joined the po­lice force in 1975, when he was 25, after be­ing mugged.

“I fought the rob­ber and I ran home. The next morn­ing I went to the po­lice sta­tion. A white man asked what I wanted and I looked him in the eye and said, ‘I want a job, I want to be a po­lice of­fi­cer’.

“He laughed but he told me to come back the next day and when train­ing would be­gin.”

After train­ing he was sta­tioned in Brits where he worked from 1975 to 1990 when he was trans­ferred to Ga-Rankuwa, north of Pre­to­ria.

He re­calls two in­ci­dents where his job al­most cost him his life.

“I was shot one week­end in 1992 when we were raid­ing a she­been in Ga-Rankuwa,” he says, point­ing to a hole at the back of his head.

“Luck­ily I was with my col­leagues, so the gun­man was ar­rested and I re­ceived im­me­di­ate med­i­cal at­ten­tion.”

He spent six months re­cov­er­ing in hos­pi­tal and was happy to go back to work, he says.

A year after that near-death ex­pe­ri­ence, he met his wife, Josephina (54), and raised her two chil­dren, Lesego (now 33) and Obak­eng, who passed away four years ago, as his own.

Shortly after his wedding he was bru­tally at­tacked. He’d just left the home of a col­league who had passed away.

“It was a Friday evening, the day be­fore his burial.

“After pay­ing my re­spects I was walk­ing home and a group of boys ap­peared and forced me into their car. They started beat­ing me with a sharp ob­ject –

ev­ery part of my body got a beat­ing.

“They dumped me in the veld. I couldn’t move or talk but I was con­scious. I spent the whole night there and was only taken to hos­pi­tal the next morn­ing.”

His wife was preg­nant with their son, Tshe­go­fatso (now 24), and the doc­tors at Dr Ge­orge Mukhari Aca­demic Hos­pi­tal in Ga-Rankuwa feared he had suf­fered brain dam­age.

“But they did tests and found the prob­lem wasn’t my head but my legs.”

Since the at­tack his mus­cles stiffen very quickly if he’s still for too long and he strug­gles to walk if he’s been seated for more than a few min­utes, Ntate ex­plains.

He was even­tu­ally dis­charged from hos­pi­tal and returned to work where he was later pro­moted to sergeant.

Ntate con­tin­ued going for check-ups but in 2001, about seven years after the at­tack, his bosses fi­nally told him that be­cause his con­di­tion was get­ting worse he couldn’t con­tinue work­ing for the po­lice ser­vice.

NTATE was sad to leave the po­lice ser­vice but he be­gan to en­joy his re­tire­ment and spend­ing time at home with his wife and kids. He be­gan his one-man clean-up ini­tia­tive about a year after he stopped work­ing, much to his fam­ily’s be­muse­ment.

“My wife and kids don’t ap­prove of what I do, but I’m do­ing it for my health. I can’t sit around and do noth­ing – be­sides, if I do, my legs get stiff and I strug­gle to walk.”

He’s quick to point out he doesn’t col­lect trash for re­cy­cling be­cause he needs the money – that cash “is my pocket money”.

“I still get a monthly pay-out from my pen­sion. My fam­ily says I don’t need to go around push­ing a wheel­bar­row be­cause Lesego and Josephina are work­ing too, but the pen­sion money is for Tshe­go­fatso’s ed­u­ca­tion. I don’t touch it.”

Tshe­go­fatso is do­ing an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing course at Tsh­wane South TVET Col­lege.

Ntate says his health has never been bet­ter and his com­mu­nity loves what he’s do­ing for them and the en­vi­ron­ment. And ev­ery morn­ing when they step out onto clean streets they know one thing for sure: the Wheel­bar­row Man has been here.

RIGHT and FAR RIGHT: Ntate ti­dies the streets of his com­mu­nity to keep busy after tak­ing early re­tire­ment. BE­LOW: Two bru­tal at­tacks af­fected his health, which is why he left the po­lice ser­vice. LEFT: Ntate joined the po­lice ser­vice in 1975 and worked in Brits through the ’80s un­til he was trans­ferred to Ga-Rankuwa in 1990.

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