Slice of life: ‘People have more compassion’

I’ve been homeless for 10 years. When my father died in 2010, I was excluded from his will because of my drinking and carrying on. I used to be a swimming pool technician in Bryanston — I’m a sort of jack-of-all trades.

These days, I stay wherever I can hide away; where the cops can’t see me. Since the lockdown, the cops say they are going to take us homeless folk to a shelter, but they don’t really do it — they just chase us along, and tell us that we can’t stay here. But we’ve worked out their times: they come between ten and 11 in the morning, and two to three in the afternoon. The security and metro cops — they leave us alone.

But now we’ve found a secret spot behind a shopping centre, in a room where there used to be an electrical transformer, which they’ve stripped out. Since the lockdown, with all the rain, we’ve been in there.

People are giving much more tips since the lockdown happened: they seem to have more compassion, even though there are fewer cars passing. Among the locals I have so many Good Samaritans. They give me food; if I need clothes, I ask them for clothes — I’ve got my regulars. I work here by Impala [corner of Hockey Avenue and Beyers Naudé Drive] and I used to stand by Westpark Cemetery on Sundays, but since the lockdown, there’s nobody going to the graveyard. I used to make a whack there, hey.

Before lockdown I was drinking, and I was making R200, R250 a day, but as I was making it, I was drinking a lot of it. Since the lockdown I’m making about R300 a day, but I’m not drinking it any more: I’m buying food. Before Checkers closes in the evening, I go buy some lekker food, so I’m keeping myself healthy. You know, this coronavirus thing, I just feel, if South Africans can stick together, we’ll get through this. — John Williams, 56, as told to Derek Davey


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Derek Davey
Derek Davey

Derek Davey is a sub-editor in the Mail & Guardian’s supplements department who occasionally puts pen to paper. He has irons in many metaphysical fires – music, mantras, mortality and mustaches.

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