Durban Dignity Day – Christmas Party

On the cloudy day of 7 December 2014 in town the winds of change where blowing in the streets around Dr Goonam Street, unsettling the rubbish left over from the night before’s party.
The volunteers from Nkosinati Project, We Are Durban and the GTI group were arriving!

There was a flurry of activity from the start. This will be the best Christmas party these guys have seen yet! (was the mindset for most), mixed with a hint of nerves for the outcome. Cool heads prevailed and everyone pulled together in the most glorious fashion. What a day, what an event, what a great bunch of human beings, to God be the glory!

The main objective of the day was have it titled as a Dignity Day for the homeless and destitute of the surrounding area in town. We hoped to achieve this by the most simple method of loving and serving the people as they came in.

A slow and steady stream trickled in and were soon served with a warm drink or juice and a biscuit. Next the men were treated to a shave and a wash and were offered the use of deodorant and body lotion to freshen up. This exercise brought about great relief and many smiles.

Once the ablutions were done, the people moved upstairs where the men & women were sent to separate rooms to pick out three items of clothing each.
This seemed like a simple idea at the time and due to the excellent prepping by the upstairs volunteers it went along smoothly.

For the grand finale, the good people were sent up to the next floor where they entered into a giant hall fitted with Christmas decorations and dozens of tables all done up as if a passing dignitary was due for lunch.
The 2 to 300 strong army of people were led to their seats where they were greeted by a table set with rolls and fruit for starters, before being served the main course by one of  many volunteer waiters running around ensuring that all had received their fair share of food and drink. All this while Christmas carols were playing in the background.

After much merriment at the tables with a few contented belches, the desserts were then served. Once everyone had received dessert they were lined up at the front of the hall to receive their gift hampers consisting of soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, vaseline and a face cloth. The bunch then sauntered off with full bellies, new outfits and refreshed appearances.

But the dignity in the day was not just found in the shaving, food and clothes. It was found in the serving and love of each volunteer who lent a hand in making the day such a success. The way that everything was prepared and the way that everything was served brought about the feeling that these people who came off the streets weren’t just a number in a line, but someone valued and special and that they had potential.

Well done to all involved.

Another Day Walking Durban

So another day to use my ten toes to walk the streets and pavements of Durban. It still has the effect of feeling as if I am more in contact with the city when I walk rather than driving. So with no specific destination in mind, but wanting to either move towards the city or beach area, I went down Argyle Road toward the beach. It being a sunny, blazing hot day, it was a slow walk.

On Argyle Road, by the bridge, I saw a security officer from the company which I believed to be in charge of chasing the beggars away from the robots. I also saw a guy (who I’ve seen at church and begging at the robots) go to a bin, lift it up and grab his hidden “I’m hungry, No Job, No shelter, Please give me some money” sign. He took his sign and headed towards Stamford Hill Road. I asked the security guard if he was going to go chase him away, but the guard said that’s not in their jurisdiction.

So where this security company patrols there will be no beggars, and where they do not patrol there will be beggars. They basically just chase the beggars from one area into another.

So I continued my walk towards the beach along Argyle Road, and just at the next robot I saw a guy named B. He looked like he was in discomfort and when I greeted him he just grunted and replied with a disinterested “hi”. He seemed sick and tired and weak. He said he begs so he can get shelter fee. He told me he does not do drugs, although I could see his lips where dark and cracked as drug smokers lips generally look. He was absent-mindedly nibbling on a sandwich (he didn’t look like he was enjoying it). I shared a bit of my story in the hope that it would make him feel a little at ease, but he replied with “so what do you actually want?” I said I just want to talk. He said he does not want to talk and added “in fact I was doing pretty well without you here… I don’t need to talk”. I got the message and slowly walked off after he got up and headed towards a pole where he had more food.

I’ve noticed a lot of the guys begging near the street robots always have a bag nearby, either by a pole or by a bin. There is generally food inside that they keep for later, and they still hold a board which says “Please help, no food, I’m hungry”. I’ve also noticed that they have a feel sorry for me facial expression when begging, but when you talk to them their face is generally fine or even better; they are actually slightly happy. Knowing that their need (Whoonga) has been met keeps them on the happy side, mostly due to the fact that food is not the problem. The main reason they are begging is because they need a daily fix and they want to sleep at the shelter. If they don’t make enough for shelter they just need enough for drugs. One guy told me “the more I make, the more I smoke”

So as I continued towards the beach in search of a more willing and open, homeless person, just by the robots near Sun Coast Casino and George Campbell, I met D. He was down in mood, spoke with a soft voice and lowly natured. He was basically crying without the tears. He told me how he doesn’t know how he landed up there, how he used to be a taxi driver and had a license. He also told me he just recently was able to get a temporary license but then he just lost it and how hard for him that was. He is from Port Shepstone, is an only child and his family home is non-existent, although he still has relatives that side. He would love to go back to Port Shepstone because he believes there at least he will not suffer like he does here in Durban. He said back home people always use to ask him to drive for them, and that what would probably happen again. He sleeps by the grassy open space near George Campbell and he pointed to the garden area in front of us and said “I sometimes sleep there”, and every now and then would exclaim “ey this is hard”. This guy needed help.

As we were talking a taxi driver drove past and made a comment to him, and he replied “hey you, you don’t even talk to me anymore but back then….” They knew each other and it confirmed for me that he really was a taxi driver. He said he was hungry, so I offered to go to Pick ‘n Pay and buy him something to eat. I got him a pie, chips and juice. When I came back he was stoked and said “wow you kept your word, thanks”. So while he was eating I started to share about myself being an ex-drug addict and having been homeless for 2 months. I told him this because it always seems that people open up more when you have been open. All this time he had not told me he smokes Whoonga, but I could see it. After I shared my story he was touched and said “to be honest I also smoke”. He told me that he eventually had no money to renew his professional driving permit (PDP) and the police kept arresting him and he would pay them off. Then his boss would ask for money and he would not tell him he paid the officer for not having PDP, as well as smoked portions of the day’s takings. So he ended up with no job and on the streets. He mentioned that he had a place to stay and when he lost his job as a taxi driver the guy he stayed with basically said they can’t stay together any more.

He told me a story of how he got arrested for a crime he had not committed. After 9 months in Westville Prison, one day he attended a court case where the judge was a white lady. The officers were speaking in Zulu about the judge, thinking she couldn’t hear them. To their surprise the white lady judge replied in Zulu “I can hear you, and you think I can’t release the prisoner?” The next day he was back in court and he was released.

He also told me how he sometimes wishes he can get arrested again just for two weeks so he can get past this painful withdrawal (Arrosta) process of not smoking. He mentioned how he has tried but if he goes two days without smoking Whoonga the pain is hectic. He told me once he got this medicine from the chemist which was supposed to help but it didn’t. He took this medicine for four days and on the fourth day was sweating and drank the whole bottle and the pain was too much to bear, so he came to the same robot at midnight and a lady gave him R20. He went straight to the dealer, smoked and the pain was gone. So he has tried and really wishes he can just be locked up somewhere until he is fine.

He also occasionally helps out at the booth market, and he mentioned that when he does he feels like a “real person” because when he goes there he has a bath and tries to make sure his clothes are on the clean-ish side. It makes him feel like a productive member of society. I encouraged him to continue working there on Sundays.

He was very grateful for our conversation and took in a lot I said, because when I had left he said he hopes to see me again and he prays he can also be helped like I was. I told him about the Methodist feeding scheme and Salvation Army and how he must try getting his temporary drivers again. He said he will and he will try find out more about this Methadone, which is apparently helping some get off Whoonga. We spoke about a few other things but his energy when I left him was up and he definitely had hope, which is something I like seeing.

With a sense of D’s story being very informative, and the sun’s scorching heat getting to me, I headed back to the office. On my way back I saw B sitting down by another set of robots and not in a good state; my heart cried out for him. He is probably going through withdrawal pains (Arosta).

On my way I bumped into a guy who I’ve briefly spoken to before. He begs at the robots and I had previously told him he must go to Salvation Army if he needs food, but I was in my car that day so I didn’t get to have a thorough conversation with him. I greeted him and asked him if he remembered me. He said “yes, you are the guy who drove past in your car and said I should go to Salvation Army”. So I asked “so did you?” He replied, “well, I’ve actually just come from there and they gave me a loaf of bread, and have told me to come back at specific times when they have the feeding scheme”

I was so glad that he had gone, and we spoke about a lot of stuff related to NGOs and ensuring people on the streets get help. He didn’t have the limp which he normally acts out when begging. He told me that he is not standing at his spot today because there is a “this fat policeman” who is on duty and if he finds him (a white young man) at the robots, he takes him and drops him off at Umlazi or Kwamashu and doesn’t care if they don’t have bus fare. He said this with a “sick and tired of it” attitude. He showed me some onions, tomatoes and potatoes he had just bought, and said that he is taking them back to his girlfriend/wife so she can cook them and feed their child. When he had previously told me about his wife and kid I did not believe him, although now I do. I could feel that he is worried about them, especially if he gets dropped off in Umlazi or Kwamashu.

Then he told me how he will come back and hustle for shelter fee later. He told me he smokes Whoonga, but his priority is his wife and kid, although he does smoke every day. Just like the other, he smokes to get rid of the pain. He really seemed as though he would like to stop Whoonga, but I didn’t get to ask him. I just saw a young father addicted to Whoonga wanting to provide for his family. I went from thinking of him as a big con-artist, because he acts like he is disabled so he can get food and shelter for his family and Whoonga for himself, but now I see him as someone who wants help but only knows this lifestyle as a means to survive. It was a brief interaction with him, and I would love to see him again and actually get more of his story.

That is something important: that is they (homeless people) all have stories and histories worth being heard or told, and I kind of wish I could start a reality show where they could come and share their stories and let us into their world. Hopefully with the intention of assisting them through a rehabilitation process; at least those who are earnestly wanting help.

It’s weird but there is something remarkable about the daily activities of homeless people. To a certain extent they are less worried then most “normal people”; they live off nothing basically while “normal people” live off abundance. With each of those who have been willing to share about themselves, as much as they are broken in certain areas they are also at peace with certain issues or circumstances.  Being homeless in Durban is not that bad. Stand by the robots and you’ll surely get fed. Otherwise there are lots of feeding schemes all around the city on different days. The real downfall is shelter fee and clean shelters. Those that I have spoken to complain that the shelters so are filthy that they would rather sleep on the streets (e.g. a park or outside some business steps or front door or some corner somewhere). Nonetheless, if you have no big dreams for yourself, being homeless in Durban is not that bad; it’s not the end of the world. Although if you do have dreams then it will be hard and a painful experience. Just my thoughts, who am I? After all I’m not homeless. Even though I was on the streets for 2 months, I was never really and truly homeless; my mom would have taken me back without even thinking about it. I chose to run away because of my own shame and guilt; I chose to use drugs over being obedient to my parents. Drugs never chose me, I chose them. So I landed up where I did, because of the choices I made. We are all faced with daily choices, and the choices we make daily shape our days and futures. Until next time, stay blessed.

Homeless People

I really wonder if this term “homeless” is fair to the “homeless”.

The reason I say that is because most of them seem to actually have homes but have left them for some justifiable reason according to the individual. So I sometimes harshly feel like calling them Street People rather, because they love the streets.  When walking around Durban I’ve realised that driving in a car is like living in a different city, there is this “them” and “us” feeling from both sides of the spectrum; walkers and drivers. Walking gives a more real impression of the happenings of the city and feels more in tune with what’s actually happening on the ground. Being in a car feels pretty superior and is a self and ego booster, like I’m a better person then he/she that walks. I have friends who have unintentionally given off this impression when I never had a license.

Well this is not an article about drivers and walkers, but about the Street People. On the streets it’s a daily hustle, “kuyaphantwa”. This basically means to find, make and plan how you can get food, something to drink (alcohol preferably) and of course something to smoke, whether its cigarettes, marijuana , glue, Sugars (whoonga) or even pure heroin to spike (inject). Daily and sufficient use of these above mentioned things will ensure an individual has a better sleep, whether it’s on the side of the pavement, unattended building, shelter, park, or home.

Walking the streets I got to meet some individuals. W, a 32 year old white male who begs at the robots, says he has been doing heroin since the age of 14. He stays in Malvern/ Queensburgh side of Durban, with his mom and dad. His dad apparently earns a salary of over R20 000, but just gambles it all. His mom drinks because he mentioned that when he got given a R200 note he bought a few beers for his mom and R150 worth of heroin. W has experience in ship repairs and welding. He has a girlfriend and daughter, who both stay a few houses away from him. His wife also has a son from her ex-husband, and when he turns 26 he will get an inheritance because her ex-husband has passed away.

W says he just wants to get off drugs and get a job to take care of his daughter. He seems like such a decent guy, who is just stuck in a drug addiction problem. His brother is also on heroin but chooses to sleep at the shelters. But he says the shelters are terrible because they are filled with flees and are dirty. The more money he makes the more he smokes, and he seemed on the happy side of life and didn’t smell; he looked like he had a bath very recently. He has had many jobs but they never last long. His wife unfortunately has breast cancer, so he keeps speaking about the chance of his wife passing away and he would have to take full responsibility of his daughter. He took down my email address and said he will attempt to ask his dad to email me his CV. He knows he has the ability to take care of his kid and family, he just currently is stuck in addiction, and he knows that methadone can get him through the tough heroin withdrawals but he says as soon as he makes money he goes and buys heroin to use. He spikes heroin and mentioned that the previous night he had missed the vein.

W commented that whites are stingy, and Muslims and Indians are much more generous, although he said that when whites give they give R50/R100 etc., unlike the R1, R2 from the norm. He also stated that when he looks dirty people give him more than when he is clean. He notices that a lot of his colleagues who do the same (beg on the streets and robots) even pull a sad face or kneel down on the floor or limp and act disabled because then people feel sorry for them more than when they don’t do those expressions. He confidently stated that they all do it for drugs “we all do it for drugs, all of us”. There was so much I could learn from W; he was so willing to share about his life and experiences.

On the walk I came across another guy begging by the robots. He had a rubbish packet around his neck, he was very joyous and had lots of energy, and was enthusiastically asking people for money and motioning his hand as if asking for food as well. His approach had me stand there and just watch him for a few minutes, but while doing this a security van stopped and a security officer got out running towards the boy and said “heyi Woza la” and the boy just bolted! I was shocked and curious as to where this man came from; the security van that dropped him off soon drove off and the man went and stood nearby where the boy was. So I went to the man, introduced myself and asked him “is this your job?” He said “yes” and started explaining how they go around picking these boys up and they ask them various questions to find out if they have families and would like to go back. He mentioned that these boys are the cause of most of the accidents which happen at intersections, as well as snatch and grab theft.

Some of these boys are actually peddling the drug Whoonga, and they have caught many of them with handfuls of packets of Whoonga. Some have informed him they make lots of money begging, from R300 to R800 a day. So imagine how much more if they sell drugs at the same time. They pick these boys up and drop them off in far areas like Pietermaritzburg but the kids still come back, so I told him that’s useless then if they come back and surely there must be a better way. He said they do this in hope that the boy would maybe get sick and tired of this life and maybe go home. He mentioned that most of the black boys have homes; they just came to town one day and through peer pressure push each other to be naughty, and end up smoking Whoonga and glue until they are just too embarrassed to go back home. Since the security company works with and through municipality, they did have 3 tents (1 at “Whoonga Park”, 1 by the Station, and 1 by Point Road) to which they used to take the boys to get their details and work out ways they could help get them back home. But then they realized that certain ones didn’t want to be helped; they would throw fits and tantrums just saying they want to be left alone, and would not give away any information. This is why they started dropping them off in far areas.  He said his security company also works hand in hand with metro police. They started off as just a separate entity as their company was on probation, and now are closely linked to metro police.

The man said from their findings, in terms of race, all the white beggars normally hang out together. One night they got called out to the station because there was a racket and noise of two people fighting and they got there and found 24 white beggars in one place. Two were arguing, and when they were asked how they landed up on the streets the general and common problems where because they had lost their jobs or got divorced or separated from their partners (family related differences), unlike the young black boys who just tend to run away from their families.

This man seemed to know a lot about the beggars on the streets, as that is his job. He deals with these individuals every day. He agreed with me that the public need to stop giving them money because this does not help the situation and that it’s the main reason why they are there – because the public give them money and basically enable them to be beggars, or should we say give them the job of being a Successful Beggar.

After having a great conversation with the man he took my details and gave me a lot more information on what they do, stating that we (his security company and the NGO I work for) should work together and put a stop to this problem. So I said my goodbyes and started heading back to the office, and to my surprise the boy who got chased away was at a robot two streets up. So I asked him about what those security companies do to them and as I was asking a driver stuck out his hand and gave him some coins and the passenger stuck her hand out and gave the boy some left over KFC. The boy, while nibbling on his KFC, said “Arggh! They just normally pick us up and drop us far away; otherwise they can’t do anything to me, I’m not scared of them!” The boy was very relaxed, not stressed at all, kind of like he didn’t have any cares in the world. He was nibbling on KFC, had money in his pocket and said to me “sho uncle, Ngisayo phuzamanzi”, which basically means “cool uncle, I’m going to go drink some water around the corner”. He took the rubbish packet from around his neck, put it in the bin and went off. I thought to myself that he seems to be on top of his game.

Still on my journey back the office, I walked passed a lady sitting on the pavement looking as if she was fatigued, sitting under the blazing sun. She looked like an aborigine/cape coloured. She had birds around her eating crumbs of bread which looked like she had sprinkled on the pavement for them, since she had the same type of brown bread in a white ice cream container beside her. There was just less than a quarter loaf in the container and it had like some sort of curry on the side. I greeted her and asked “are you tired?” She replied “and sick!”, so I laughingly said “sick and tired!” and she replied “sick and tired of Durban!” Then curiously I asked her where she was from; she said Australia.

She told me she’s sick and tired of the rogues here in Durban; that if you leave anything anywhere someone will come and take it. She told me how she’d had a packet next to a nearby street pole, and now it’s gone but she had left it there just that morning.  She mentioned something about getting taken in a truck to the airport and then on a plane to Johannesburg, then she went to Cape Town and now she is in Durban. She carried on talking and I couldn’t ask her how she ended up in the truck. She said she doesn’t get what the big deal about Durban is when everyone here is a rogue, “a bunch of dogs”. I told her I love Durban, and she replied that the weather is not bad but otherwise the people are rubbish.

She was an elderly lady, probably on her late 60s, and she has 3 kids (2 daughters, 1 son). One daughter lives in Hillcrest, one in Seaview, and her son is in Newlands. She was staying with her son but her grandkids drive her crazy; she drinks and doesn’t want to be bothered. She said her husband was a cheat of a man who had tons of girlfriends, and that he is no longer alive. She seemed like a wise old lady in the way she spoke, and she mentioned that she doesn’t know how some people live without God. She said she sleeps outside a house nearby, and the owner allows her to sleep there. While we were sitting there a few people walked past and greeted her by name, so people around there know her. She told me that some people drop food of for her and some bring her clothes, “so life is not that bad, it could be a lot worse so I thank God”. She seemed to have more peace then a lot of people who are more financially/materially rich then she was. She asked me about myself; was interested in my life. I kind of got the feeling she was wondering why I would sit there with her and talk to her. But I honestly think she was a cool old lady, very chilled and worry-free, but at the same time she had concerns or needs such as a blanket and a pair of shoes. She was the type of person who I believe has lots to say but choses what to tell you. Nonetheless, she is a sweet, still-spirited old lady, who lives a simple life from what I know, and I hope to see her again and find out more about her.

These people are not homeless.  These are people who have made choices to be where they are and are being sustained through human kindness.  They all know how to survive and how to get off the streets but they choose to stay.  If you choose to give to them you are enabling them to stay there.  So unltimately – its YOUR choice, do YOU want beggars or not?

From Royal Hotel to on the streets – Mac’s story

Royal Hotel suit and tie, to on the streets filth and drugs – The journey of how I went from an internship at the Royal Hotel to trying to run away from Durban hitching to Cape Town.


I had been to rehab and heard what others who had suffered from drug addiction had said, stuff like alcohol is a trigger; don’t stop going to meetings and church; stay away from places where you used to hang out or use at; and don’t mix with those same friends you used to use with. But they can’t tell me what to do – who do they think they are? They had no clue that I would be working at the royal hotel studying at an international hotel school accredited by an American standards institution. I was at the best job I had ever had and studying through the best college I ever had (thanks to my loving mother and sisters who went through great lengths to get me accepted).

Well I was doing pretty well – I was a Christian who got born again in rehab and came out and got stuck in a church for a few weeks. I found work to occupy most of my time and I enjoyed it, mostly because of being a people’s person and I enjoy serving and learning about how to be a great manager. As 2 months of being clean and sober outside of rehab passed I started having this “I can do this” attitude, meaning “I can live without attending AA/NA meetings or even church. My life is at the beginning of its great future – I don’t need these meetings to hold me back. I can hang around the shops where I used to hangout now. Come on, I’m fine.”

The staff/interns at the royal were having parties every week and I would go with them occasionally and just drink a coke or something. In rehab I apparently stopped smoking cigarettes, but that wasn’t really the case; I used to secretly find a place to smoke a cigarette where nobody would see me. Even my family and friends thought I had stopped. But slowly I started smoking openly with my colleagues and eventually my family knew. I remember my sister clearly saying “I just hope you don’t go back to the drugs” and of course I said I wouldn’t. One night there was a big party hosted by the royal hotel staff and I remember clearly wanting to drink but not wanting anyone to know, so I left the party and went to Joe Cools, a club at the beach. Those double brandy and cokes brought that tingling tipsy feeling back, and even though from sheer self-disappointment I didn’t drink again for at least 2 weeks, the memory of the feeling was with me and I slightly craved it.

There was no fear of a drug relapse, no! I just had a drink; I didn’t spend a grand on a full moon (Crack cocaine) or something. Well the thought that I can have a drink once every 2 weeks and be able to maintain control sneaked in. I didn’t see this as a slow spiral back to old behaviour; no, this was the new and improved Mac. He now has control over his drinking and smokes cigarettes, doesn’t go to church much since he works most Sundays (excuse), and he doesn’t need a support group because he has control. I had had at least 4 episodes of drinking once every 2 weeks (nobody but those who were in the bar knew about these) and on my 5th episode I got so wasted I passed out somewhere and only got back home the next day. You would really think this was old behaviour wouldn’t you? Not me. I could fix this. Well the next time I got very drunk to the point I knew if I went home my mom would know, therefore I needed to fix this! I needed to get sober. How? Crack gets you sober; of course I would know this. Eish! We all can hear and see what’s going on here but somehow I still believed I had control.

While this was going on for a period of about a month and a half, I would not arrive at work on some of those days when I had a jol the night before. I had a tavern I always used to hang out at and I would sleep at the back there by the merchants place. Yes, smoking weed (marijuana) again and drinking as much as possible because I was under lots of stress trying to not lose the good boy image which I had wrecked a couple of times already. It wasn’t long until one day I spent my whole pay cheque (R5000) on Crack. 25th December 2009 I didn’t spend with my family, I came back on Boxing Day, changed my clothes and left for a party. I only came back on the 31st (New Year’s Eve) and did the same thing.

In the industry of taking drugs you generally don’t smoke alone. It’s not that you can’t – you can and definitely sometimes you will. But when you are going to go buy there is usually someone hanging around who is trying to hustle people who are going to the bar or are buying from the dealer. They ask people for loans and if they can smoke with you. If you one day gave them a smoke then you can say “remember last time I hooked you up?” You can even go home and try seeing what you can sell like Cell Phone, Clothes, anything valuable.  So I obviously had no phone anymore and I lied to my mom and sisters and said I had been robbed.

Work had given me a last written warning before Christmas so I believed that I now had no more chances, and my dream of being a restaurant manager melted away like the crack when it was in the pipe and I inhaled it. It was gone! After New Year’s I never went back home. I couldn’t face my family because I was guilty, full of shame and embarrassed. I hung out and slept by the bar at the bottom of Umbilo where the dealers were, and I met a guy named Andrea when he one day called me to smoke with him. He told me that he is homeless and I asked him how he gets money to smoke and he said he hustles. He said he asks people for broken appliances and he fixes them and then sells them. After he and I got close because he would come back to the bar every day to buy, he asked me if I wanted to go with him, to which I agreed. I had spent at least a whole week sleeping at the back of the tavern, the mommas and the merchants liked me so they were very helpful to me, and they fed me and gave me weed and cigarettes.  So Andrea and I became friends I would follow his lead because he knew how to hustle on these streets. I was just hopeless and full of guilt and shame and just wanted to disappear.

Thinking about those times right now makes me want to cry because I did not feel loved even though in my heart I would always talk to God. I felt like a naughty child whom God would not help because of what I was doing and how I was acting. I still asked for help though. So we would go around the areas of Montclair and ask people for their broken appliances or even phones or any old things they wanted to get rid of. People would give us irons, wooden furniture and even broken phones. They would also give us food and something to drink. He showed me how to always check garages, to check if they were open, and bicycles were what we mainly looked for when doing this. We had a dealer who would give us half a moon for one bike. We occasional found other things in garages like electrical appliances (drills, etc.), which we would steal and sell. Andrea was street smart; he was not afraid to do the most stupid things just so he could get his way. Well I was stupid as well by thinking he was a worthy teacher for me to follow. We slept all over the show – post office steps, train station benches, behind the bar, a broken down car in Clairwood (we made friends with a mechanic who owned it, he wanted us to sell appliances to him).

I still had a gym card which my mom was obviously still paying for because whenever I got close to South Way Mall (where gym was) I would go and have a shower there. My clothes where not clean though. Andrea had a mother who stayed in Yellowwood Park with his step dad who didn’t want him there because he stole from them every chance he got. His mom, though, was still concerned about him and wanted him to get a job. He took me to go see her a couple times and we would go there during the day when he believed that his step dad was not there. His mom would feed us and he would bath on occasions and we would then leave. I remember seeing her cry once or twice when we left. She liked me for some reason and she asked me to help him.

There we go, I now believed I had a purpose – to help this guy get a job and clean up. So we attempted to stop smoking Rocks (crack). We drank more and we started smoking sugars on occasion. I would just sweat and vomit nearly every time I smoked it, so I was reluctant to do it. I preferred getting drunk (in attempt to drown my sorrows). He came up with an idea I jumped at and was so keen to do. He said we should go to Cape Town and I got psyched up. He said we could hitch a ride from truck drivers. I believed him. He kept smoking sugars and I started getting frustrated with him a lot because of this. I would constantly encourage him that we should look for a job or start our journey to Cape Town. I believed I was going to start a new life in Cape Town and I would be away from all this shame and guilt.

Towards the end of our relationship we become like a husband and wife just arguing a lot. We started sleeping at a shelter on Point Road and there was more sugars being sold around there than anything else. One day he left in the morning with another guy whom he had become friends with overnight, and he told me I should meet him back there at 17:00. So I walked around town alone the whole day. I went to the beach and had a swim (bath) and after a long day of not being able to do what he did because I was shy and scared when he wasn’t there, I eventually came back to the shelter that evening and he wasn’t there. I got shattered. I had no mission and my dream to go with him to Cape Town was gone. I spent another day walking around Durban, and when I came back to the shelter in the afternoon I saw him, but from our conversation I got that he was in a hurry with that new friend of his, and he just wasn’t interested in how I was or how I had spent my days. I knew then that I should try making my way to Cape Town by myself.

I somehow hustled and somehow got some money, because I remember that I bought some bread, juice and fruit. And so I was off. I headed towards where the old airport was and walking on that road I hitched. I had a little bag with that bread and stuff and a little bible and a shirt and a pair of pants. I walked for ages with no trucker giving me a lift. I got to Toti and went towards the beach for a break. With determination to get to the Cape I again went towards the highway for another session of scorching heat. To my luck this time a truck driver stopped and he said he was going to stop somewhere by Park Rynie. I accepted the lift, and although he wanted some money I told him I had none; he graciously took me anyway. It was getting dark when we arrived so I slept on the beach somewhere by Park Rynie. I had a very soul searching session at the beach (every time I’m at the beach alone I have a God moment).

The next day I ate the last of the little bit of bread I had and I then knew I had a problem. So I continued walking along the train tracks on the beach down the South Coast, I vegetated on a beach the whole morning, and around midday I started trying to get back to the highway. On my way I walked past a house which had no fence and I heard the maid laughing out loud while a gentleman was talking to her. The house door was open although the gate was closed but not locked. On the left hand side of the door there was a bicycle just leaning against the wall. Long story short, I stole that bicycle in such a way that I qualified myself as a professional bike thief. Yes, believe it or not at that moment I thought I was brilliant in terms of how I stole the bike 007-style. It is sickening to think that I got a rush and a proud moment in my head about orchestrating a criminal activity. I surely see now that it’s not something to be proud of.

Well then another journey started. I tried going to the local pawn shop to sell the bike but due to the long process it took I had no better idea than to cycle all the way back to Durban which I did. I went to my dealer, sold the bike for R500, bought R300 worth of crack, and then bought a bunny chow and beers with the rest. That evening I found myself sitting at the beach with this distinct thought that I had lost my mind. My legs were finished, and I had tried to go to Cape Town but only got as far as an area by the South Coast and was back in Durban with no plan. Realising my insanity I decided to pray for help. I asked God what to do (sitting on a beach again) and I remember sensing/hearing that I should go to an old friend’s house. This guy was a police officer and I believed he would help me.

That was the 1st day of the end of my homelessness; the hard journey back home began. My “run away from home and world as I had known it” (homelessness) had come to an end, a harsh, dark, sad and twisted evil time of around 2 and a half months. Honestly, I’m glad I made it out alive.

My friend gave me a caravan to sleep in and he fed me and I could have a bath at his place.  He was an alcoholic and he did smoke weed, so that part didn’t help, but at least I could cover myself with a blanket and was clean all the time. He encouraged me to go home and tell my mom where I was, and I eventually did. I got my clothes and had decent stuff to wear. My habits hadn’t changed drastically, but I eventually got a job as a waiter at a nearby Spur because of my history in hospitality. The job didn’t last long. I just spent the money on alcohol and drugs, and would not pitch up to work. My mom eventually convinced me to come back home; she was so worried about me. She never gave up. I could see her spirit crying out for my life to come into order, and I could see the hurt she went through because of me was supressed by the relentless hope and love she had for me. Even though I had lost hope in myself. She really has gone through a lot because of me and I would not be who I am and where I am if God did not use her to be there for me the way he did. I was her son, nobody else’s, and I thank God she never fully gave up. Thinking about her and what she went through makes me what to cry again.

Well my behaviour still didn’t change, but at least I was back at home. A failure filled with shame and guilt, but I was back home. My sisters didn’t want to see me or help me, but at least I was back home.

This article was about my homeless phase, which ended there.  But to leave it there would leave you wondering… so I eventually reconciled with my mother, and my sisters and moved home.  I stayed clean and drug free and now 5 years after this episode my life is starting to impact others and has meaning and purpose.

Derivco – Musawenkhosi ECD Centre painting

A very big thanks to the team from Derivco who decided that instead of going quad-biking for their teambuild they wanted to do something of value for the community.

Last year we had a number of big storms lash the Durban area and one of the places affected was a little Early Childhood development in Inanda where two of its walls collapsed.  The school teachers contacted We are Durban earlier this year to find out if we could help in any way. With the help of various volunteers we have done a complete makeover of the building.  An upgraded facility has been completed, thanks to Derivco who painted the building a sunny yellow.

Musawenkhosi facilitates the education and care of 46 children from the community under the age of 6.  The children’s parents pay R100/m for their little ones to be there from 6am -4pm.  Previously the building leaked like a sieve as it was a really old wattle and daub building.  Thanks to people in Durban who gave of their time and talents, these children have a lovely, safe environment to be nurtured in.

A big THANK YOU to the team from Derivco for the effort you put in.

Heritage Day Potjie Kos Competition 2014

For Heritage Day this year we couldn’t think of a better time to hold our annual Potjie Kos Competition and so we sent out invitations for people to put together a team, buy the ingredients and join us for a cultural experience in the valley of Bothas Hill.

Fifteen teams joined us for the morning, bringing the total number of participants to almost 100 people. The atmosphere was electric and there was loads of socializing while sussing out the opposition potjies. The weather seemed a little overcast to begin with but it ended up being a scorcher of a day and this added to the fun.

Russell Chill from the venue The White House gave a brief introduction to the organisation and the work that they do there. The venue was originally only a community centre but due to the needs in the area they now have brought in wheel chairs, hospital beds and carers and have transformed it into a care centre for the elderly and abandoned.  With the food from the 15 teams we were able to bless 100 of the local community with a delicious meal as well as a product hamper each from Unilever.

We were given some lovely prizes from Bevurn Marketing and Brand X promotional clothing and so the competition was rife, but in the end it was a tie between Glee Projects and the Potjie Master Chefs.

Well done to all the teams for such a great effort and for all your enthusiasm throughout the day, we hope to see you all again next year to see who the Potjie Competition winners for 2015 will be!

Mandela day

This year’s Mandela day we decided to partner with a nonprofit Christian organisation called iCare. Their aim is to create a meaningful and sustainable solution for the street children of Durban through awareness programs, rehabilitation, shelters and skills creation. Each day during the week they have about 20 children come to the centre for food, showers and clean clothing as well as games, sport and educational programmes.

On Mandela day however their schedule changed dramatically. They were met by the staff from Duromed who were busy preparing an amazing breakfast of scrambled egg, bacon, tomato and bread rolls. The children came in and showered before being served this delicious treat which really got the day off to a great start.

Together with the VUM staff we then split the children into four groups, and engaged with them in an interactive activity called city mapping. City mapping was a drawing exercise which was meant to show/inform us where the kids spend most of their time. With VUM staff asking the kids to draw Durban as they see it, they were asked to draw their safest place, favourite place, worst or most dangerous place etc.  The end results revealed some interesting points beside their obvious love for soccer and the beach. It also revealed their fear of metro and the police who often round them up in the vans and drop them off in far places as far as even Stanger. iCare have their own social workers who try to reintegrate these children with their families but I think this exercise was appreciated by the children because it gave them a voice, even if it was just for 67minutes.

We were fortunate to have an amazing bunch of volunteers who then led the kids in some  fun and games. Activities such as balloon popping, hoola hoop catchers, blind folded mime game and the sellotape game amongst others.

While the kids were busy with their city mapping and games there were some hard working volunteers who became carpenters for the day. They sanded and stained the wooden staircase in the hall as an additional blessing to the iCare group. They managed to do 99% of the work but with time restraint had to come back to the following week to complete it but its now finished and it is looking great.

In the afternoon we all gathered outside where Velocity had prepared a braai for lunch. Everyone from the iCare staff, the kids as well as the volunteers sat outside to share in this amazing feast which ended off an amazing day.

iCare has responded with comments of gratitude, informing us on how they had such a great experience that day and especially how the kids loved it. It was such a privilege and honor to serve that Organisation and those children.

Warrior Race 2014

26th July 2014 Holla Trails Ballito

We are Durban teamed up with Soldiers of God  to compete in the Warrior Challenge to raise funds and awareness for Khulani Children’s Shelter in Park Hill, Durban.

The 2014 Warrior Challenge was held at Holler trails Ballito, on the 26th of July. It’s an adventure race that has 3 different levels and plenty of muddy obstacles to overcome.

The Khulani’s Children Shelter was established to provide a place of safety for orphans & abused and abandoned children in the North Durban area, children who have different obstacles to climb. Children are placed at the shelter by state welfare departments and the SAPS. The facility is currently registered to provide accommodation for 12 children between the ages of 8 and 16 (although no child is turned away).

The day of the Race was a bit chilly, 1000’s of people where there, +/- 909 teams entered and +/- 4100 individuals took part in the Challenge, but 11 of these teams had more than just a race as their drive/motivation for entering the competition. We had teams such as The Epic Shrooms, Yshuldweclimbit, Team ARB, #Arewethereyet, Team Ripped, Meat wagon, Gun Runner, Wandaful UTI, The Avengers, We didn’t think this through, and Ooohimunfits.

These amazing warrior kings and warrior queens tackled the obstacles and overcame them; they got soaked in mud, ran, and climbed up steep banks of sand. They were freezing cold, sore, batted and bruised in the end but all felt a sense of pride and achievement.

Here are a few stories from the Soldiers who partook;

“I have done this race before last year 2013; before the race began I was feeling excitement with some serious nervous tension in the air. After the race! Buggered, sore, Cold and waiting for the cramp to set in. My main motivation for doing the race or finishing it was the kids from Khulani who are facing serious obstacles (my warrior obstacles look insignificant to what the Orphans have to face). Knowing we can make a difference to their precious little lives motivated me to finish the race. Would I absolutely do this again next year?  Well doing this race was all about supporting Khulani’s underprivileged, and I feel funny enough sad that we just really don’t do enough for causes such as Khulani. I just wish I had arrange an outing for these kids to have come and watched, to have been apart, to have been inspired by what we did by overcoming obstacles of a physical nature and to show them that they too can have strength to overcome any adversity/ obstacle they are faced with and most importantly to know that true happiness is through Jesus Christ!!!!”      ~ Keith Chelin from Team Ripped

“This was a first for me, afterwards I felt Elated, but pretty sore.  The camaraderie within our little team was brilliant too. I did it to help to get pledges toward the Khulani Childrens’ Shelter, and also as a personal challenge to myself. I probably won’t do it next year.  My upper body strength is just not there anymore, and I think I’m too old for this sort of challenge (only physically, hey J)

I believe in the star-fish principal, and that everyone just needs to do a little in their personal capacity, to make BIG changes.  I have always had a heart for the underprivileged, and did a lot of work in this vein whilst living in Swaziland, where funding is non-existing for projects for widows, orphans, the disabled, etc.  I don’t necessarily need to see the end result; I only need to trust in the organization that I KNOW for sure to be putting the money where it is needed.”                   

 ~ Kathy Hughes  from Epic Shrooms

Those are just a few stories of the experiences of the many great men and women who for the sake of making a difference in more than just their own lives but in the lives of the children from Khulani’s As well, took on the challenge. This is how together we can make Durban a better place for all.

We are Durban would like to thank all you warriors who fought and pushed boundaries to make a difference in the lives of Children who are less privileged like the kids from Khulani, A particularly special thanks to Keith Chelin for being the driver of this campaign, SOLDIERS OF GOD, It’s been a great privileged to have you inspire many to take part in this challenge and witnessing your heart on this has given many inspiration.

Annual Youth Day Beach Event

Pirates Beach Saturday 28th June 2014

This was our biggest beach day event yet with almost 250 children and volunteers joining us for the morning.  Although the rain was teasing it thankfully stayed away and we were blessed with the perfect weather for the kids to run around and play.

This year we had children from Operation Bobbi Bear, Khulani Children’s Home and Molweni Community Centre and so because of the increased numbers we had Volunteers running 10 game stations across the beach and twenty teams with volunteers taking them from one station to the next.

We were very fortunate to have a number of sponsors come on board, such as CheckSave who donated t-shirts for the volunteers, peaks for the children and then a juice, yoghurt, chips, ruler, apple, orange and banana for the lunch packs. KFC also very kindly donated a piece of chicken to add to each lunch pack as well.  Holomatrix supplied a wrist band for each child’s safety and team marking and Aquelle had flavoured waters on the beach while the children were playing. Another non profit organisation called Volunteer You also joined us and together with Pirates Lifesaving club they were able to offer a number of staff and some invaluable assistance.

It was a long morning of hard work for all the volunteers but it was exceptionally rewarding seeing the smiles on the children’s faces as they ran around on the beach. As always this event wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the generous time, love and patience given by each and every one of the volunteers, and so we extend a very special Thank You to all who made this day possible!

Whoonga Park – Linda’s opinion

Okay, it’s been a long time coming.  Many people have asked for my opinion to Botha/Albert/Qalakabushka/”whoonga” Park , what’s going on there, what is being done, what is the solution…  (For ease of reference, I’m going to continue throughout this article referring it to Qalakabushka instead of all the possible options).  So here is as much as I can say.  All I am saying is from my research and dealings in the park, dealings with authorities, and every bit of what I am saying is my opinion.  I have been in the park a number of times and been chased out with a mob following after us too. I have also been part of many, many meetings with the Municipality trying to figure outSo I do have some first hand experience.

Let’s start with the drug itself. Whoonga.  This is not an entirely new drug, but came to be known in 2010. It is also known as “Sugars” but it taken in a different way. It is fairly localised in this form and is only common in Durban.  Whoonga is sold in “straws” and in Qalakabushka a person can get the straws for R20, whereas in the townships and outlying areas, it can be as high as R80.  Hence, the flocking into one area for the drug. The drug itself is third grade heroin mixed with strychnine. There are rumours of it containing ARV’s but no samples tested have actually been proven to contain them. This is South Africa, however, and if there is a rumour about something someone is going to try act on it – so this rumour in itself is dangerous. The contents of the straw is then usually mixed with dagga or tobacco and smoked. The effect of the drug? Well, heroin is the most potent painkiller known to man, and causes and enhanced sense of euphoria followed by drowsiness and mental clouding for several hours. Once the effects wear off the person starts withdrawal which can include the following; restlessness, aches and pains, diarrhoea, vomiting, and insomnia.  Tolerance to heroin develops quickly and soon one straw is not enough. In the park there are some people taking about 8 straws a hit, 3 times a day (yes, that is R480 needed a day to sustain the high)! Then there is the strychnine element – probably the most evil thing to add to something that is going into a person.  My guess is that the heroin is actually saving most the people from this killing them.  30mg is a lethal dose!  The strychnine itself causes many of the symptoms we are seeing in Qalakabushka; agitation, apprehension or fear, restlessness, and painful muscles spasms.  The combination of the strychnine and the heroin withdrawal, results in the person doing anything, by any means, to get their next fix.

Not all the people who take Whoonga are homeless – many land up that way but probably only 200 people sleep in the park.  By the end of the day that 200 has swelled to about 2000 people! This creates a volatile situation. 2000 people who have cloudy mental processing or are agitated, restless and in withdrawal are a big problem.  Small issues can become big problems in seconds, which is an understandable concern for those non-addicts who live, work and study in the area.

Demographics of the people – in a study done last year 95% of the people interviewed were South African.  Of course, if you are an illegal foreign national, you are not sticking around to be interviewed, but the beauty of this finding is that the municipality has a responsibility to the residents of South Africa, so they are trying to do something.

Possible solutions? Bear in mind that we are dealing with people addicted to a substance that changes the way they behave.  In my experience, this group of people is the most difficult category of people to work with for a number of reasons.

  1. Firstly, an addict needs to want to be rehabilitated
  2. The cost of rehabilitation is astronomical
  3. Withdrawal pains are so intense (and last about 4 days – ladies think constant labour pain for 4 days, with no relief)
  4. The addict has normally burnt their bridges with any healthy support system they have and therefore their support system is a bunch of addicts

So bear this in mind as we chat through some solutions – I’m going to list solutions people have thrown at me over time and chat them through afterwards;

  • Do a raid an charge the people for loitering
  • Round up everyone and put them somewhere where they cannot impact on Durban
  • Put them into rehab and reintegrate them back into society
  • Remove the Druglord
  • A multi-pronged approach

Option 1:  Raid and charge. Municipality tried this last year. So the first thing that happens with a raid, is people run and hide.  Sadly where the problem initially was isolated to a section of Albert Park it has spread to the railway lines and Botha Park.  The next problem is that we don’t have enough holding cells in Durban for that many people. As a reseult in a short space of time everyone is let out with a rap on the knuckles and a warning – essentially showing everyone that there is a flaw in the system… even though it’s a temporary answer it creates more of a widespread problem and the people are back on the streets within a day.

Option 2: Round up.  Though this is appealing and seems humane as the people will have housing, it does not deal with why they come to Qalakabushka.  They come there for cheap drugs.  So even if the accommodation is sorted out, the people would head into town daily for their “fix” and as mentioned previously a large proportion of those who attend the Park daily actually don’t sleep in the park.

Option 3:  Rehabilitate and reintegrate. This was also attempted.  The only government facility we have available is Newlands park which has a small number of beds.  They have a large waiting list of people who want to attend the rehab, and when there is a round up these people have to wait longer.  In the trial round up and forced rehab attempt, only a handful stuck it out through detox, the rest absconded causing a lot of damage in their wake.

Option 4:  Remove the dealer. This would seem obvious and it is one of the routes Municipality is pursuing.  There seems to be 2 problems though.  Recently the cops tried to arrest a dealer, a mob of addicts attacked the police and then tried to kill a man they believed to be the informant (he may not have been the informant just the unlucky person the mob picked – so it may put innocent people in danger).  The second is that there is a huge demand for the drug, if one supplier is removed I would guess a new one would rise to fill the demand fairly quickly.

Option 5:  Multi-pronged approach. This is one, We are Durban is working on at the moment in conjunction with the Municipality and would be a long term solution to all vulnerable people in the city, but it will not help everyone, as not everyone will want to go.  It is aimed at being a voluntary programme where people can get shelter for a month while attending a psychosocial centre during the day to receive lifeskills training, adult education, visit a clinic, browse the internet, clean their clothes and attend a gym or dancing/art class etc.  The people on this programme will also have access to the Job opportunities centre to give them a hope of a future.  Although I personally see this is one of the best solutions, sadly we are dealing with a group of people who are not wanting help on the large part.  Obviously given the choice between enter the system or be put in prison most would choose the system, but not all would last to the end.

So in conclusion, things may seem a bit bleak.  I want to commend the municipality on the amount of thought and effort they are going through to try and solve this problem.  (If you haven’t picked up from above they have been trying things, but also they have been engaging every sector and department in trying to find a good solution.)  I truly believe it is our biggest struggle as Durbanites at the moment and it is something we as Durbanites need to team together to see a solution to.  I personally don’t think the rampage we saw the other week will be the last of the violence that will occur either from the addicts themselves or those “fed-up” with the addicts, because there is fear in people.  Fear reduces us to the basest of people and we are seeing that around the park.  I want to finish on this one thought that if we as humans can’t do something about this, we are going to have to rely on God to solve this for us.  I think that it is time that we all get on our knees and pray to the God that we serve to intervene in the situation,  that the addicts would have an encounter with Him and would then have the strength to change and walk away from the prison they have created for themselves.