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
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.