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Stephen Malatji

"It will all make sense one day:” that’s what I always tell my youngest son.

I hope when you see this, I hope you will see a son, a brother, a father of two, a friend, a businessman, a visionary, a survivor, a bread winner and a hard-working man. I’m starting to see that in myself as well, but couple of months back it was a different story.

My name is Stephen Malatji.  I’m originally from Gauteng - Kagiso Ext 6. That’s where my whole life was based.

When I finished matric, I couldn’t continue with my studies, so we joined forces with some friends and we started a business where we would sell first aid kits and fire extinguishers. But because of lack of funding and experience, we had to let go of our business. I started working as a cleaner at a cinema at Key West Mall but after a couple of years the cinema closed down so we had to find other ways of putting food on the table. I tried applying for different job but because of my lack of tertiary level education, I think you all know how that panned out.

During the 2010 World Cup, I decided to come to Durban, just to see if I can get better opportunities. When I got here I worked at a car wash and stayed at a shelter because that was the cheapest accommodation I could find. But in 2012 that’s when things turned for the worse. The owner of the car wash I was working for, he passed away and the wife failed to keep the business running, so she had to close it down. But I had some savings for a rainy day and so I continued my stay at the shelter with hopes to find another job.

As my savings started to run out in 2013, I decided to go back to Jo’burg, instantly scoring another job at a car wash based in Southgate. In the process, I and a friend of mine created a business selling juice to churches and casual events.

In 2015 I came back to Durban. Seeing my old peers live a better life than I did, made it difficult to survive in Jo’burg. Because of who they have grown to be – their families, wealth and status – the pressure made it made it difficult to try and connect with them. It just reminded me of what I don’t have.

All the pressure from seeing friends that you went school with and now they are married, they have money. They would always say we should meet; I would think to myself what are we going to talk about because right now I have nothing in common with them. That was a constant reminder that I’m still nothing. Some nights I couldn’t sleep, stressing about who I have failed to become. On one of the nights I made a conscious decision to move back to Durban. I decided to move to a place where I could hustle and grow without feeling pressure from my peers or anyone who knew me. I mean, I’ve always known who I wanted to be, but Jo’burg made it difficult to focus on my goals. That used to make me stressed. I knew what I wanted be but in Jo’burg there were a lot of distractions. That’s when I started collecting cans along the street, even in rubbish bins, and take them to recycling just for some money. At this time, I was staying in the street.

The toughest time of it all has to be when I started living in the streets. Being that I don’t consume alcohol nor do I smoke, I couldn’t fit in with most of the people who lived on the streets. Therefore I had to learn to live on my own. I would see some of the guys when we are going to the Denis Hurley Centre when we were going to eat or to take a shower. Staying in the streets of Durban is not pap en vleis. You start literally losing your mind: it’s totally different from someone who has a roof over their head. You start talking alone and start thinking negative. That’s why you find that people start smoking whoonga just to forget about their situation. And it’s very easy to fall into that trap because in people’s eyes you don’t exist, you’re already crazy. Even to the people who stay in the street, when you start speaking sense they say you think you are better than them and laugh at you.

I would regularly go for meals at the Denis Hurley Centre and then I started volunteering to clean the yard at the centre. That’s when some umlungu saw me and he asked me to help him inside the centre when they were building the cafeteria for deaf people. He wanted me to do some cleaning up. Then he asked if I can paint; I said yes even if I didn’t know how to paint. I would have still said yes bengizofunda khona (‘I was going to learn there’). From that I was no longer cleaning outside the centre; I was painting walls inside the centre. And that’s when I met Stuart and he asked if I wanted to join his programme of 10 people they would send for piece jobs. When someone wanted to move or wanted their garden done: we would do all of that.

One day Stewart came to me and told me that I should go for an interview and I was surprised because I didn’t apply for any job. It was for here at the Lion Match building. They needed someone to do the recycling. Lucky for me I had experience – when it came this kind of work I had experience. They gave me full control of everything, they asked me to write down whatever I needed and then they let me do my thing. I have no boss; I have no one to answer too. But that doesn’t mean I should relax.

I had to learn to discipline myself. Because I have two boys I need to feed back home


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