No escape from streets of despair


What makes it a hellhole is not the seemingly uninhabitable dark shadows cast by the scrap piled up to make a pavement home.

It’s not the constant danger of debris falling from the decrepit building that still tries to boast, though now with faded letters, of housing “Bona Hairdressers”.

What makes it a hellhole is the crushing but futile desire to escape the streets.

Montwa Mofokeng has been living rough in downtown Johannesburg for eight years, falling into a fitful sleep every night at the corner of Commissioner and Goud streets.

She lives surrounded by addicts, and every day she watches them selling scrap, or their bodies – or their dignity by begging – to get the money that will feed their cravings for nyaope and other drugs.

Mofokeng left behind an unloving home in Thokoza, east of Johannesburg, and never returned. Aged 30, she has raised two sons, now five and nine, on the streets.

She has watched and listened to the stories of her neighbours at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

She can tell you of the girl who is qualified as a nurse and the woman who once had a career in law, but who now share this corner of the city with her and the many men who seem to fall through the cracks of society more often than women do.

Mofokeng can tell you how often women get raped, sometimes after a beating because the men say the women took their money and they are taking what they want in return. She will tell you that this is the way things are on these streets.

She has been a spectator long enough to have met many people, and to have heard their fantasies of how the world should be, and the reasons it is not as it should be, and the excuses of why it cannot be made as it should be.

She has been told over and over again why drugs are necessary, the world being as it is. And she has watched as the drugs destroyed, one by one, those she calls her family.

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