Sunday Times



I am not a hobo, I am homeless

One day a lady asked me: “What kind of hobo are you? You look clean.”

There are two kinds of hobos: dirty and clean. Wash and go. It’s essential if you don’t want anyone to know you live on the street. It’s a giveaway when you smell like a billy goat.

I sleep on the street but during the day I go to the office — McDonald’s in town, where I work on my website. Everyone at McDonald’s knows me. I used to wash my clothes at Park Station for R10. I keep my clothes at a friend’s place. I keep my blanket in plastic under a drain for safety.

I am the CEO of Nsizwana Media Group. I run a soccer website called 90mins. You can find me on social media, where I am big. I am not a victim and I don’t pity myself. I stay in town so I can have easy internet access to run my website. But I am not a beggar. I am just a homeless man.

Things didn’t work out

I was born in KwaMashu. My father was killed when I was a baby and when I was six years old my mom sent me to live with my grandmothe­r in Giyani. I battled to stay in school because my grandmothe­r forced me to spend long hours herding cattle. When I was 20 I ran away.

I took the bus to Johannesbu­rg and tried to find work in television and to run my own business with friends, but things didn’t work out.

I also tried a career in soccer. In 2010 I started my own company called Blackdogg Media, now Nsizwana Media Group. Little did I know it was also the beginning of my life on the street. In 2015 I had a life-time opportunit­y to study a one-year journalism course at the University of the Witwatersr­and. I am the first person in my family to have been to university and passed.

It’s a big struggle coming to the city. You are on your own. The city is not what we see on TV. Life is tough here. Especially if you are homeless and sleep on the street.

At home in the food court

For many people, Park Station is home. Some came in 2010. They came to watch the World Cup on African soil — and to make their fortune here. The Park Station food court was fixed and new chairs were put in.

But the World Cup came and went and few poor people really benefited from it. Many foreigners who came from neighbouri­ng countries never returned to their homes. And many ended up at Park Station trying to survive.

The food court is open 24 hours. You find men and women sleeping on the chairs, like the old granny who is alone — talking to herself like a mad person. At night I often go there to buy my dinner. I buy steak and pap from No 14, which costs R35, but the lady gives me a special price of R20.

One night I was sitting at a table enjoying my food when two guys came running in. One guy was screaming for the R1 he had lent the other guy who had promised to give it back by lunchtime. Across from me, not far, there was a woman breastfeed­ing her baby. We all sat and watched the show as the boys chased each other around the food court. They jumped over a table and a guy’s plate of food flew up and spilt on the child. The guys stopped running to see what they had done, then they ran on.

It was dramatic — a flying plate, a mother screaming for help, and people watching it all like a movie.

“Don’t interfere. They know each other,” someone said.

They were trying to kill each other over R1?

When the World Cup was on, the food court had security. Now I don’t see them any more. But each day I see new faces. A new guy or lady sitting at a table. They have arrived to join us. The people struggling to survive on the streets.

Friends on the night shift

A few years ago I was looking for a better place to sleep. Park Station was not an option any more. I got robbed too often and the taxis hooting at 4am woke me every day. So I made friends with security guards on the night shift. Back in 2012 I saw a wooden guardhouse on a street. I greeted the security guard, a guy called Jolas, and he welcomed me.

He just answered: “Ufuna ukulala my boy, ungalala apha ntwana [You can sleep here, my boy].”

He shared his blankets with me. The next morning Jolas said I should wait while he spoke to Alex, the security guard who came in at 6.30am. Alex arrived and Jolas told him I was the son of his younger brother. I was looking for a job. Jolas asked if I could stay there.

There was an Ethiopian guy who drove a white van. He used to come at 5am every day and park his delivery van near where I slept. He saw me sleeping there but never gave me problems.

He respected me. He would sometimes wait for me to wake up and pack my things. But then Alex started asking me for money for cigarettes or beer. I reminded him I was the one sleeping on the streets! I left to find another place.

My friend the carwasher

All the guys on the Homeless Writers Project were given laptops to do our work. It was great. I could write and work on my website any time.

But it’s a huge challenge when you are on the street to find a place to keep a laptop. I tried sleeping with it held closely to me so if anyone tried to snatch it in the night I would know. Homeless people need safe places to store their things.

There was the time when I slept in a car. It was a blue Golf that belonged to Gatsheni — another security man. He is my homeboy. He also kept my laptop and stuff at his workstatio­n. I was very sad when he broke the bad news to me that he was leaving at the end of the month. A new security company was taking over. I didn’t know what to say.

There was also Thulani. He made money washing cars in the morning and working as a security guard at night. One night he brought me a small blanket when he saw that mine had been stolen.

One weekend I went home to KwaMashu. When I came back on Monday, Thulani was worried about me. Where had I been? I was glad he was worried. That meant we were friends.

Cele was another security guard who was my friend. At 11 one night he invited me into the building. “Ngena mfethu, ngeke

ulale ngaphandle izulu linje,” he said. Come in, you can’t sleep outside in this kind of weather.

We walked into a huge boardroom with double doors. It was warm inside. We agreed that I’d wake at 4am and go before the morning cleaners arrived. Those nights I slept freely without fear.

A street routine

Over the past five years, I have found different places to sleep. But my routine hasn’t changed much.

Wake at 5am. Collect my things from the security guard and go to McDonald’s. I spend most of the day there, writing soccer articles for my website — updates on matches, latest scores and news about players. I try to publish something new at least three times a day. The people at McDonald’s are my friends. They don’t mind if I work there.

Walk down to Park Station at 1pm and either buy food from No 14 or go to Bright, my Nigerian friend who cooks on the street. This is my one full meal for the day.

I go to many sporting and entertainm­ent events as a journalist, so some days I go to a media event or a match.

At the end of the day I go back to McDonald’s and stay there till around 9pm. Then I leave and go to where I sleep every night.

When you are an entreprene­ur, you are required to dress in a certain way. They call it “looking the part”. You need a suit. Be on point. Sharp shoes, smell nice with a big watch. On social media you can always look the part and I do. I’m really active on social media. I am a Facebook celebrity.

My homelessne­ss has kept me from the real world but I often indulge myself on Facebook. I can be anything. I’m a hot shot. As a journalist I get invited to fancy events where there are real celebritie­s and I can be one of them. We all want to meet people who we see doing better than us. We are all chasing our dreams.

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 ?? Pictures: Mark Lewis ?? Gladys Qhoba, left, lost her home during forced removals in 1977. Madoda Ntuli, right, one of the writers of the film ‘Vaya‘, sleeps rough at night and works on his websites during the day. NO FIXED ABODE
Pictures: Mark Lewis Gladys Qhoba, left, lost her home during forced removals in 1977. Madoda Ntuli, right, one of the writers of the film ‘Vaya‘, sleeps rough at night and works on his websites during the day. NO FIXED ABODE

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