Friday, September 28, 2007

Introductions - Gsina

Meet the new man in my life. I am deeply in love... wouldn't you be?

This is Gsina. He is 1 year and 8 months old. He is a son of Duduzile, who is Thandi's daughter. When i first met him I thought he was a girl - due to a language barrier between his mom and I.

Gsina lives in the street with his family. Him and mom are HIV positive, so some days he is very sick and down. Other days he is a real little charmer, making all the girls in the office, especially Colleen, go crazy, playing with him, giving him presents etc.

He has an incredible gift. No-one can walk past him without smiling, whatever age, gender, race or walk of life they are. Sometimes he just sits quietly next to his mom, or gran, but sometimes he entertains the whole street by dancing, laughing and pretending to park cars.

He doesn't really know what to do with toys, in fact they seem to scare him, but if he sees a plate of food he grabs it and you can't take it away from him. His other favorite toys so far have been: Meghan's sunglasses, a box, an empty takeaway container... and to my great fear - my new camera :-(

He is one of the few kids in the world that brings out my inner mother. Last time he was sick - I almost cried. I wish he could be mine. I worry every day what will become of him, living with a mom who seems to be just getting more and more sick and a gran, whose heart is giving in, sleeping in the street, with a future of pain, illness and despair ahead.

I hope that every time Colleen lovingly picks him up and plays with him, or brings him gifts - his tiny life becomes that little bit more happy.

Aside: Thank you Cannon

Exciting news, guys. Cannon SA has decided to extend me a helping hand and gave me a pretty sweet deal so thanks to them i can now bring you a whole bunch of photos. Hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I do taking them.

So you see? Not only do they make great cameras - they are also nice. AND they sponsor animals, just in case you didn't know.

Thank you Cannon :-D

Thursday, September 20, 2007

20th of September. Thursday

Sorry it's been so long. I moved houses, went away for a holiday and didnt have a card reader, as well as a few pressing matters in terms of the restaurant that kept me from blogging. It's been a very long time since i slept :-(

So let me try and recap what's been happening

Now you are probably wondering: what the HELL is happening in the pictures above? Why is there like over a dozen cops around this poor looking lady? She must be some hectic criminal..

Well no she is not. That's Olga, whose only crime was being afraid of the cops.

Let me start from the top:
- so it was a lovely morning and the sun was shining. I opened the window to get some fresh air... and saw a whole bunch of metro cops running into my building. I found it worrying. I mean i know the tires on my car are a bit smooth... ok very smooth... but it's not THAT bad is it?

I rushed downstairs to see them surround a couple of homeless women, pulling them by the arms and shouting at them. I shouted: What the hell is going on and why are you in my building??

It seems that when Olga and Fikile saw the cops - they ran inside to where i let them put their stuff during the day to try and hide their things.

The cops said:
- They illegally trespassed
i said:
me:- no I give them permission to use this as a storage facility
cops:- Ok, but we have to search them.
me:- On what grounds?
cops:- They ran from us.
me:- well yes, you keep taking their stuff
cops:- erm, they are sleeping in the street
me:- no they are not
cops:- well, they are selling stuff illegally
me:- no they are not... where is this stuff they are selling?
cops:- well we have to search them anyway
me:- do you have a permit?
cops:- yes.

they didn't. Instead they just proceeded to search her, rather violently, after covering their name badges from us. We kept shouting, they kept shouting back and actually laughing at us and telling us to just get lost, unable to answer a simple question: What right do you have???

The pictures you see above are taken by Chris with his cellphone, which they actually tried to take from him. He had to run away. The rest of us got threatened and insulted.

I usually am quite ok with cops. My mom was an ambulance driver when she was young and often had to rely on cops for help. She taught me to respect them as being 'just people doing their job'.. well these cops didn't act like people, and if their job is to harass homeless people instead of helping fight real crime... then i do not wish to pay my taxes towards their salaries.

But on a positive note - this was the first time i shouted 'Oink' at a passing Cop van since i was 16 ;-)

What else?
Thandi is back from hospital, after 2 weeks or more of absence. She is looking a lot better and has some medicine. she's been asked to go back on the 26th.

Her daughter came back with - to everyone's uncontained delight - the son ;-) She came to see her sick mom, but now cant go back as the family didn't have enough money for a two way bus ticket. We are going to try scrape together some money to send her back.

The daughter is very sick. She has AIDS. She has lost a pile of weight and mostly sleeps. the kid has good days and bad days. When he is sick - his chest sounds like a grinder and he cries a lot. When he is well - he provides entertainment for the whole street. He is one of those beautiful kids you cant walk past without smiling. everyone plays with him, and every girl in the office is madly in love with him. Lets just say - whenever he is around productivity around here drops

Thursday, August 30, 2007

29th of August. Wednesday

Syabonga drinking tea on a cold morning

This is a bit of a bulk entry. I am moving houses, so have been quite busy. All will go back to normal next week.

Ok, so Olga is back. Her troubles seem to be somehow related to a previous operation she had with a pregnancy gone wrong.

Thandi is still in Hospital. No one can really tell us what's going on. One minute they say she is to be operated on, next minute she is not. We also don't know how long they plan to keep her. Apparently by some demented twist of fate - the crazy man that hit Figile came and threatened her in hospital. I am definitely going to kill him.

Thandi's nephew came and took a change of clothes for her. Olga, who keeps having to go back to the hospital, also keeps visiting her. I will post as soon as I know more.

There is a crazy woman in the street. I don't know her name but she gets quite agro. She recently hit Figile with a crate and threatened Maria. Figile had a swollen arm, but she is better now.

In rather more disturbing news, I had the pleasure of meeting the head of NORA - Norwood/Orchards resident association. This is how it happened:
As Colleen and I stood outside, talking to Maria and Olga - we saw a Metro cop circling. He left and came back half an hour later, this time accompanied by a whole bunch of Norwood residents - the guy from the book shop, the large man from next door, etc.
''Look at those people, just sitting there'' - they were saying.
''And they pee on the wall too''
''Why must they sit here? why can't they get a job" - Hmmm... good point. I mean it's not like there is a huge unemployment rate or anything.
''They all look healthy, they can work''.
This is the part where Colleen piped up:
- actually most of these ladies are seriously ill.

This is when we met Chantal, the head of NORA. She runs a wedding dress shop in the area. We told her as much as possible about what we knew of the homeless in her area and their lives. We also tried to tell her that the Metro Police being called has an unnecessarily devistating effect on the community and doesn't solve anything. She agreed to meet with us in the near future to discuss what can be done

If anyone wants to help out with suggestions, comments on the situation etc directed at NORA - please post them here and we will pass them on

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Introductions - Olga

Olga is the new kid on the block. She appeared sometime last week and just walked up to me and started chatting. She is very friendly and pleasant. When I asked if I could take a picture, she took of her jersey, assumed this sexy pose above and smiled at me: 'Yes please' :-)

Olga has a boyfriend. he does some sort of road works. He is a small guy that speaks little English, and was great at taking care of her when she was sick.

Colleen told me the saddest story today. She says Olga told her that when she woke up in the park this morning, she looked at the small piece of wall next to which she sleeps. Still half asleep she thought to herself for a second that she was waking up in a house... Until she realised she was still in the park

Olga found this hysterical.
We found it heart breaking

Aside: 'I will have to start all over again'

This article was originally published on page 11 of The Star on August 24, 2007

By Botho Molosankwe

With his eyes closed, his hands on his head and a look of despair on his face, Jermaine George walks away from the place he called home.

It wasn't much, but it was all he had.

George lived with several other homeless people under the bridge over Bree Street in Fordsburg.

Among the blankets when he went to sleep on Thursday night was a bag that held all his possessions - clothes, ID book and phone numbers of relatives.

Now he has lost it all.

Residents say that at 7am on Thursday the police swooped on the area.

They told the "residents" to put their hands against the wall, searched them, put them in police vehicles - and then torched their belongings. While in the vans, the people who lived under the bridge were not aware of what was happening and could only see smoke.

When they got out, they were stunned by the sight that greeted them.

The checkered pants, takkies and blue shirt George was wearing on Friday morning when the police arrived are the only possessions he has left. The fire destroyed all he owned.

He and his friends had called the littered space under the bridge home for years. Although not much, it was all that they had. It had blankets, food, clothes and toiletries. Some of the belongings were handouts, while some had been bought with the money from their daily odd jobs.

Now it is all gone.

For Abrachman Idries, who was hurt in an accident and wears a spinal cord-supporting brace, the medication to help him heal was lost in the fire.

Some people are determined to make the place home again and soon after the police left they began clearing up.

"I will have to start all over again," said George.

--The Star will donate blankets to the people who lost their possessions in the fire.

Monday, August 27, 2007

24th of August. Friday

When you look at the image above, what's the first thing that comes to mind? A fun thing to watch on a Friday?

Didn't think so.
Now try putting not one, but two homeless people in an ambulance in one day.

First it's Olga. Her pain is so bad she cant even lift herself off the ground. A lady from Carlos, Gwen, who is a trained paramedic happens to walk past. She attends to her and gets an ambulance. They arrive, due to her insider pull I am sure, within 20 minutes. We get Olga on an ambulance and hope for the best.

Sure as hell, not even an hour later Samantha calls me. Thandi's nose just wont stop bleeding. I run over and see this giant puddle of blood on the ground. I panic. Aragorn and I run over to Carlos to get Gwen. She drops everything and comes with us. She estimated a liter of blood to be lost and calls an ambulance. They send out life support that arrives withing 20 minutes (Bless you Gwen). A lovely guy called Kevin attends to Thandi, and I must commend him on his level of professionalism. Thandi's heartbeat was through the roof. He put her on a drip, hooked her up to a machine... and we sat in the cold for 2 hours waiting for a bloody ambulance, while people in expensive cars insisted on parking almost on top of us, despite Kevin telling them he needed to keep the space clear for his ambulance. Riddle me this: when You see a life support vehicle, a lady covered in blood and a paramedic attending to her, is your first thought 'OOH look, a free parking!''? WTF!? Poor Kevin. I am sure he has enough crap to deal with, trying to save lives, and here he is having to argue with some selfish rich person.

After Thandi finally left - I went over to Carlos to have a much-needed drink and thank Gwen and Lesleigh for everything they did for us. They allowed me to take a photo.

Here they are, the new owners of Carlos coffee shop. Both of them are trained paramedics and Gwen used to run a children's shelter. Admirable people and by far the nicest, kindest and most genuine residents of Norwood. They selflessly went out of their way to help Olga and Thandi, so you'd all better support their business :-)

Introductions - Samson

Remember Sam and Virginia from earlier? Samson is Sam's brother. They work together. Good looking, charming, incredible people, with a hell of a lot of talent.

Samson is the brain behind the sculptures. Him and his brother where taught how to make wire sculptures in school. Now he says that the times are changing and he has to keep up with all the new technology, so he has started adding beads to his creations.

I met him during the first Metro cop rade. I was scared of the 30+ cops walking around and causing trouble, so I went to the far end of the parking lot and stood next to him. He told me about all the previous times have taken all his things from him. He said something that really stuck with me:
- I am just trying to make an honest living. I work very hard, and they keep taking everything away. What do they want me to do? I have a family to feed! Do they want me to do crime??

Sam makes things to order too. Check out his stuff sometime.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Aside: No 1266/07 - end of journey

By Alex Eliseev (The Star)

Date: August 24, 2007

The lone journey

Part 1: Out of the cold room into a coffin

For 55 days he lay on a shelf in a dark mortuary cold-room, waiting for someone to unlock his secrets. Now his time is up.

One of the 14 cheap, chip-wood coffins lined up outside has his number on it.

He has no name. Only the number. "1266/07".

This is the final chapter for the homeless man who froze to death on a Joburg pavement while an enchanting blanket of snow fell over the city for the first time in 23 years.

His entire existence is summed up in one sentence on a police report: "found dead on the street".

While he lay in cold room No 40, routine efforts were made to uncover his identity.

But hope died on August 10.

On that day news came that his fingerprints - which were tested by both the police and Home Affairs - had come back unknown.

He was not a convicted criminal. He may have been a foreigner or, perhaps, he simply never applied for an ID document. Whatever the case, he was invisible.

Police Inspector Mongezi Ngubane - investigating the death - had just two families who came to look at the body. Neither knew him.

The grey-bearded man's final journey begins early on Tuesday morning.

Two surgically masked men arrive at the door of the cold room, open it and locate his number. They haul the naked body on a bloody steel trolley.

Outside the back entrance, all but three coffins spread out on the ground have been filled. All will be buried in pauper's graves the next day.

The undertakers, like construction workers, push the trolleys. Like wheelbarrows of sand, they tip the metal tray over at each coffin. One by one, the corpses slide off and fall into the wooden boxes.

Some fit perfectly into the narrow coffins. Other bodies are stiff and stubborn and have to be pushed in. It's a grim routine.

At 12.11pm, body No 1266/07 tumbles into its coffin with a thump.

The corpse is wrapped in a plastic sheet - lining each of the coffins - and a lid is placed.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

Four nails are driven in at 12.15pm. The man's mysteries imprisoned.

There are 14 adult coffins and six baby coffins - no larger than a shoebox. At 12.30pm the loading begins.

One of the workers is sitting on the ground several meters from the coffins, catching a short break.

When he's called to help he swears loudly.


He seems exhausted and troubled. But duty calls and, while mumbling more angry words, he takes up his place.

Each coffin has four handles and it takes four men to lift them onto the truck. Body 1266/07 is the last adult one to go in. The baby coffins are feather-light and one man takes care of all of them before locking up.

The engine awakens and the truck leaves the mortuary through a narrow tunnel.

The sun shines as the white truck weaves through the small streets of Braamfontein.

It finds the offramp to the highway and heads towards Soweto. It passes Southgate shopping centre and turns onto Old Potch Road.

The truck has no markings on it. It blends into the thousands of others making deliveries all over town. There are no flowers. No ribbons. No music.

This is a delivery - not a funeral cortege.

The truck driver has a heavy foot and darts from lane to lane. Bara hospital is on the left, the bustling taxi rank on the right. In the distance the colourful twin chimneys of the former Orlando power station against the blue sky.

There is life all around. Except inside the truck.

Part 2: The Funeral

Eunice Mlangeni prays for the forgotten. She is the only guest at the funeral of body number 1266/07 and the others at Ennerdale cemetery in Elandsfontein.

With silence all around, the woman reads Psalms 90 from her tattered Bible.

The contract between the government and the undertaker makes this final mercy compulsory.

The 20 bodies spent a night at Kay Vee Funerals, the Soweto-based undertakers. The digger is only available on Wednesday for the men and women with no names.

By the time the burial takes place the sun is blazing. The desolate hills are covered in endless fields of dry grass.

The procedure is simple: one grave, three coffins and soil to cover the dusty grave.

Three workers use long metal rods to lower the coffins into the holes.

Because of their size, the babies receive their own, more shallow graves.

Each one takes no longer than a minute or two.

The burials are short but dignified. Afterwards discarded surgical masks and gloves are thrown into the graves.

Because of thefts, the cemetery has stopped using small metal plates for grave numbers and now places cement blocks on the ground.

Markings are crucial in case a family comes forward and demands an exhumation.

At 10.19am the homeless man is lowered into the ground. He is the first in the grave, and takes up "position 1". Once they come in, two more coffins will be placed above him. But today he is the last of the bodies to be buried.

There, underground, is where all his answers will lie. Where was the homeless nomad born, did he have a family and how did he land up on the streets?

Police discovered the body on the corner of Noord and Wanderers streets in downtown Joburg in the early hours of June 27.

The old man collapsed at the same time as hundreds of cellphones across the city must have been ringing to spread the news of the rare snowfall. Families were rushing out to make snowmen and take photographs filled with giant grins.

The old man died alone. It appeared he succumbed to natural causes and no crime scene investigations were done. No photographs were taken and no detective was called out. The body arrived at the morgue at 3.10am.

Forensic pathologists described the man as "Neglected. No injuries."

He was 1,7m tall but weighed just 42kg. Lice were found in his armpits. The cause of death was: "Pneumonia (natural)."

The mortuary eventually guessed his age at 72. But that's only a guess.

The fingerprints were, in reality, the man's only hope. No one was going to go the extra mile for him.

A Star reader volunteered R1 000 for a burial - but regulations don't allow for that unless a body has been identified.

Inspector Ngubane will now ask his commander to close inquest docket 1772/06/07 - a request likely to be granted as the trail of clues has ended.

In the first five months of this year Gauteng mortuaries recorded 607 unclaimed bodies.

The year before that had 1 584.

Week after week various undertakers take truck-loads of paupers from morgues and hospitals to cemeteries. Week after week Mlangeni reads from her Bible and raises her hands to the empty hills.

And that's how the story ends.

The nameless vagrant has now taken on a new and final number:

Grave No 4153.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

23nd of August, Thursday

Ever had one of those shockingly bad days? Do you ever feel like huddling in the corner afterwards, wishing away the thoughts that just won't go? I think of people who deal with suffering and hardship as a job and on daily bases, and how they learn not to take the events of the day home with them at night... How???

I arrived at work at about 9. Michael came up to me to announce that the cops came again.. sigh. This time Maria beat them to it and hid her stuff just before they came. Failing to torture her in the usual way of taking away her basic belongings - they took away the crate she sits on. It's almost comical - big men coming all the way to take away a poor woman's crate. Is this what we pay for with our taxes??? hey, don't bother catching real criminals or anything. Pick on the homeless people, why dontcha!!! AAAARRRRGH.

Ok so that blew over. For lunch we served cake which my brother donated to me, sandwiches and fruit. I met a new person, Olga. I will introduce her soon. She sits where Francina used to sit.

Michael got me to type out his letter for his agent who is taking his album, Bridge into the future, to Germany to try get sponsorship... I made Colleen type it. Serves her right for always being so nice.

Anyway. Thandi really wasn't looking good. Colleen has formed a genuine relationship with her and decided to take her to the local GP instead of missioning her all the way to a free clinic. At about 2 we took her through to try and see if anything can be done. Poor Thandi could barely walk. She was very light headed and had been throwing up all morning

The doctor is an absolutely amazing lady, who tried to make Thandi feel as reassured as possible. Considering her diagnosis - it wasn't easy.

She measured her heart beat and it was way too fast. It appears Thandi is having heart failure. The doctor put it down to her poor life style, nutrition etc. It's no wonder that at the age of only 53 Thandi looks so terribly old and worn. On top of that Thandi has Aids - or so I gather.

Half way through the appointment Thandi's nose started bleeding like a stream. I felt torn between wanting to help and being afraid of touching her blood. Aids is scary like that. I could pratically see the word 'desease' in front of me. We eventually managed to stop the nose bleed with an icepack. It was all in all very scary.

The doctor prescribed a course of antibiotics and some heart tablets. I will get the names from Colleen tomorrow. The total cost of the experience was R140, which isn't so bad.

We took Thandi back. She looked so worn out, it broke my heart. Colleen is keeping the medicine for her so that it doesn't get taken from her, like everything else. We will keep telling ourselves that everything will be better now, when the truth is: The woman with a failing heart is going back out into the street. This is by no means a sustainable lifestyle and if she doesn't make it - it will not be a dignified death.

Did my day end there? No. My new friend Olga is in a lot of pain. It's in the lower part of her stomach, on the right and spreading all around her body. She was lying on the ground and crying from the pain. Her boyfriend came and fetched her things from me. He didn't speak much English and looked super worried. I didn't even know how to start helping her. I gave her some of my painkillers - 2 for now and 2 for later. I left her my number in case it got worse. I also left my number with the other ladies, who promised to look after her. I am dreading going back tomorrow to find out that the problem has not passed. If she is not better - I am guessing we will have to take her somewhere.

I have a very bad back. I know what it's like to be in such excruciating pain that all you can do is lie there and cry. I don't however know what it's like not to have the comfort of your own bed, or access to medical care, or any of the basic comforts one should have in a situation like this.

It's scary how bad things are getting in that street. I am not good with feeling helpless. I know that with time we can generate enough interest in these people and change some things. I look forward to that time. Unfortunately when you look closely at the individual cases at hand - Time isn't necessarily a luxury we can afford.

Introductions - Fikile

She is the most quiet and reserved of the lot. In truth we really know very little about her, and what we do know - we learned recently, since she started bringing her limited possessions to me in the morning to hide from the cops.

Fikile hangs out with Maria a lot, as well as Thandi. Her and Thandi often sleep under the same blanket in the park. When Francine was sick - she took care of her too.

She always wears the brown coat, and sits next to Maria on a crate, observing the street. Her English is better then many of the ladies, but she hardly talks. Not to say that she is unfriendly, but there is a certain amount of hardness and determination behind her stance. Her face is scarred, and her eyes sad. She is very memorable.

The only thing she ever asked me for is blankets and eye drops, because after that bastard punched her in the face in front of the whole street - her eye became blood shot and sore. Even then she didn't complain, just simply showed me who he was and told me he was a rapist and not to be trusted. He hasn't come near her since as far as I gather. If he does - I will hurt him.

The others tell me about their hardship. With her I can read it in a silent sideline. I, also silently, wish every day that I get to see her luck change.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

22nd of August, Wednesday

Anderson and his love, Samantha

I didn't blog yesterday. All these late nights of blogging and all the lying awake thinking about the many issues of this world have finally taken a toll and i passed out like a log.

What's been happening? Well, some good news first. Francina got taken in by the welfare people. Michael (aka music man) told me yesterday morning. They came, and picked her - as the oldest and the sickest. They said to her that they have free accommodation in Alex and invited her to go with them. She went, and everyone is really happy for her. At her age and with her health condition she needs more then anything a roof over her head and a stable community around... the little things people tend to take for granted. Everyone in the street is really happy for her. Wish her well, dear readers. She deserves this little strike of luck.

In other news - I threatened to kill a man. I am not usually the violent type, but this crazy bastard hit Fugile in the face in front of the whole street. He has previously claimed that the women in the street are poisoning his food with muti, and didn't spare threats. I humored him and fed him.

This time I am told he tried to get Fugile into bed against her will, and when that didn't work - he got angry, which led to this.

Michael - he is such a star - called me. Fugile showed me where he was. When i confronted him, he tried to tell me that she provoked him. I told him if he came anywhere near her again I would have him arrested. He got all aggressive with me, and shouted at her that he would kill her. I then used a sentence I've always dreamt of using: ''You won't get to, because you'll be dead. I will have you killed!''

Ok, ok, so i didn't deal with it in the calmest of manners... but I just don't take well to men hitting women. These women have enough trouble in the streets without having to take abuse from people like him. I dream of being a big guy with my own baseball bat...

I was driving home today. It was almost surreal. It was late and the streets were devoid of the hustle and bustle of the day shoppers, and the under-life was still settling into their places of rest. I caught a glimpse of Michael talking to a friend, and Thandi sitting alone on the corner, with an empty look on her face, clutching her few possessions. I saw a woman screaming something into the empty darkness...

I have to get these people of the street. Everything i do is so futile in the light of the fact that any night some violent encounter could end their lives, if disease, hunger, cold or poor living conditions don't do the job first.

I was speaking to a friend on Saturday. he calls himself Groen mannetjie and does a lot of work in sustainable farming, medicinal plants etc. He was saying how if i could only get a plot, or a piece of land of some description - I could let these people work with soil, grow their own wholesome food, be their own bosses etc.

So here is my ideal vision (drum roll):
- Get a plot. Move everyone there and start a small farming community which grows enough food not only for themselves, but also to support a vegan soup kitchen that i - and Colleen I am sure - can operate. That way the people can be a community and have a purpose, which is currently taken from their life by a malfunctioning system. Get the wire guys and such like in there to teach them skills and start an small art gallery.

Oh and put an animal shelter in there. Why? because that's what i care about, and i think it's important to help other species. And because it's my dream, ok :-)

Medical expenses and basic costs can be sponsored by willing companies. Perhaps herbal medicine as well as advice on optimal eating with HIV, etc can be obtained.

Ok.. so now i just need some really rich people with plots to read this :-)

Aside: No 1266/07.

Below is a story I recently read.
It's in two parts, as it was published
I might be super sensitive, or maybe I've been thinking about similar tragedies in the making too much lately.. but the sad report below made me cry.

His was a life frozen in time
28 June 2007
Alex Eliseev (The Star)
We don't know his name. We may never know it. But at 3.10am yesterday he became known as "Body No 1266/07".

While snow fell over Johannesburg, police found the man lying dead on the corner of Noord and Wanderers streets in downtown Joburg.

He had frozen to death.

Later, Emergency Management Services said in a statement: "A yet-to-be identified homeless man died near the Noord Street taxi rank in the early hours."

A man's entire life summed up in one sentence.

But what we do know is that he suffered from pneumonia and emphysema, and was probably a heavy smoker.

We know he was 1,7m tall but weighed just 42kg. Forensic pathologists conducting the postmortem concluded he was underweight. Describing him, they wrote: "Neglected. No injuries".

We know the man was wearing a brown sweater and a black jacket. Lice were found in his armpits, his clothes bore traces of leaves.

The first police officer, filling out the report, guessed the man's age as about 70. A second officer was kinder - he put him at about 50.

In the "full name" section of the report a single word: "unknown".

His full history is described in five words: "Found dead on the street".

By midday an autopsy at the Johannesburg Mortuary was done and the homeless man was placed inside cold room No 40 - along with dozens of other bodies.

This will be his home until a family member comes to identify him, until police track down his relatives or he is buried in a pauper's grave.

Police reports show the man had no money and no possessions.

On the death scene form, police wrote that death, it seemed, was caused by "cold weather and rain".

Technically speaking, the man was sick and the freeze which has gripped the city exacerbated his condition until he could fight it no more.

The autopsy found both lungs were a dark colour - because of the diseases.

And that's where the trail ends.

We don't know how he landed up on the street.

We don't know where he was born, whether he once had a wife and children or how he lived.

But we do know how he died. Frozen. Cause of death: "Pneumonia. (Natural)."

Dying cold and alone
09 July 2007
Alex Eliseev (The Star)

Twelve days ago, when snow fell on the city for the first time in 26 years, the dead body of a homeless man was found on a Joburg pavement.

Despite a picture of the man and a plea by The Star for someone to come forward and identify him, his body remains in the city mortuary.

Not a single family member has come forward to identify Body No 1266/07.

Not once has police Inspector Mongezi Ngubane's phone rang in connection with the identity of the neglected stranger who died of pneumonia on June 27.

But the search for his identity will continue this week when mortuary workers will send a set of his fingerprints to the police's criminal records centre in Pretoria.

The prints will also be checked against Home Affairs records, and the results will be known in a week.

If there is no match, a small "p" - for pauper - will be scribbled in the mortuary's ledger next to the body number. The letter will almost certainly mean a dead end in the search to replace the number with a name.

In the first two weeks of August, the body will be taken to a cemetery in Elandsfontein. There it will be buried in a pauper's grave, with only a number to remember a man's entire existence.

All his secrets - where he was born, whether he was a father and a husband, and how he lived his life - will be locked away in his cheap coffin.

His entire life is currently summed up in a police report: "Found dead on the street".

Ngubane has been on leave for a week, and there is no progress in the police's search for the man's identity.

Meanwhile, The Star's readers have been touched by the story. One man has offered a R1 000 donation to make the homeless man's burial more dignified. But mortuary rules say such a donation cannot be received until there is a positive identification.

The homeless man, aged between 50 and 70, died on the corner of Noord and Wanderers streets in downtown Joburg. No photographs were taken at the scene, and a postmortem showed the man suffered from pneumonia and emphysema. Lice were found under his armpits.

Anyone with information can call Inspector Ngubane on 011-497-7280.

Introductions - Virginia and Samuel, sculptors

This double introduction would have been a triple one, had i not accidentally and stupidly deleted pictures of Samson, the philosopher of the trio. I will have to do a separate entry on him when he is around next.

What can I tell you about these people... remember the metal chickens and all the bead sculptures I have been raving about? Well, these guys make them. It's a family business, with all 3 of them doing their part.

I met them because of Colleen who has a disorder. She can't walk past a bead sculpture without getting excited and wanting to buy it. I was apprehensive at first, scared of them forcing their marketing strategies on me, but they are not the type. They are very reserved, respectable and dare I say physically beautiful people, always hard at work on another beautiful design. Their preferred mediums are wire + bead, or metal. Favorite subject matter is wildlife, but you can take them any idea or design and they will make it for you. Colleen commissioned them a pink Pegasus for Anwyn - her daughter. It came out beautiful.

The police have previously taken away their things, which is heart breaking if you think of how much time and effort goes into every sculpture. Nowdays, at the first sight of police, they are fully packed up in record time. Before you even blink all the sculptures are hidden, and all that remains on the ground are a couple of conspicuous bits of wire.

It's always sad for me, as an artist, to see such talent struggling to make money on the street corner, like so many others, while the expensive shops and galleries down the road are selling tasteless junk someone threw together in 2 seconds.

Anyway, I can talk for days about these guys or I can show you some of their work. Here is my latest purchase. It's a gift for my dad, a lamp fitting, complete with the wiring. Here is a picture of lit and unlit. I have spoken to them about making wall lights for my restaurant, also in the flower motif... It looks magical at night

Here are some more of the little bead wonders:

And here is a beginning of our very own Norwood Owl House:

And there is much, much more where that came from :-)

Monday, August 20, 2007

21st of August, Tuesday

A metal melancholy rooster contemplates life, cleanliness and soft drinks.

I still can't believe i lost all those nice pics of the bird's creators. I took some nice ones of Samuel today, but need to wait to take some of Samson before i introduce them. (hehe, Sam and Sam. Two brothers)

Something terrible happened on the weekend. I actually wasn't sure if I should blog about it, but decided it was only fair.

Sunday i popped past the parking lot, and one of the women told me she was attacked last night. I am not going to say who out of respect for her privacy. It was a rape attempt. I cant understand if the man actually went through with it or not. She keeps crying. He threatened her with a broken bottle, and she told him she had Aids. Not sure what actually happened. I just know he was a security guard, and that he took her stuff. I am really not sure what to do. I could really use some advise right now.

Besides that - Anderson introduced me to the woman he loves. She is lovely and I will let you meet her soon. I asked them how the weekend went in terms of money, to which he quite honestly replied: ''well, we did make some money, but then we bought a bottle''. I told him to invite me next time :-)

Francina is having a bit of trouble. she can't eat anything, because of her stomach. She is not drinking much either. I feel so sorry for her

Thandi's blood pressure is through the roof. I am afraid we are going to have to take her to the doctor again.

More tomorrow

Introductions - Music Man

So fine, I forgot his name, and now feel too blind asking, after spending so long speaking to him... you know how it goes. Strangely enough everyone in the office also forgot, perhaps due to me raving about him as 'the music man'.

I first met him ages ago, walking out the office one horribly cold day. He was a vision, tall and unusually dressed, with this strange content look on his face. He started a conversation. I was a bit paranoid of this friendly stranger at first (I live in SA after all), but he soon bedazzled me with his colorful stories and fresh outlooks.

The man is extremely well spoken, has a knowledge of history - both local and international - that i haven't seen in a very long time. When i told him i was Russian, he quickly ran me through the history of my own country, the entire cold war and the relationship between Russia and South Africa.. and must have had a good laugh at my hanging jaw.

His views on the current situation were also quite inspiring. 'Why can't the rich people in Norwood reach out and help these homeless people?' he asked me. 'They have so much, and right next to them are people who have so little. it's their community, so why cant they look after it?'
well, new friend, if i had an answer for you, I would sleep better at night.

I am not entirely sure where he comes from and where he lives. He says he grew up around Norwood, brought up by Jewish people and thus likes to come here to revisit the past, as well as to hang out with the people. They all surround him and his bottle of cheap wine, as entertained by him as I am.

The other day he brought some music that he made. It was amazing, actually. Very African, but with a unique mixture of influences, like old rock etc - his musical background. He records and distributes himself, with many of the songs written for current events - like the bus crash in Westdene dam, or the Mandela bridge. Next time i see him I will ask if he would mind uploading samples for you people to hear. It really did blow me away.

Oh and next time I see him i will be sure to catch his name. Till then he will remain the mysterious Music Man of Norwood.

Update: His name is Michael Lebese :-)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

17th of August, Friday

As promised - here is Meghan on the right. I will get a better pic of her, because she makes my blog look good :-)

All in all - an uneventful day. Anderson got his account, as i mentioned before. He is all happy. Francine's stomach is not doing too good. I will check with her again on Monday.

Colleen and I went to buy some blankets for the women who lost theirs to the cops. Got two, and ended up looking at shoes alot.

The wire man, whose name is Sam, finished a pink Pegasus for Colleen's daughter, Anwyn. It actually looks bloody amazing. I would have had a picture of it up, but like the idiot that i am i magically managed to delete all the pictures from my camera. I had some stunning ones of Sam hard at work. I could kick myself. I will have to take more on Monday.

Collen has been looking at legal ways to try and stop the cops fro harassing these people. I also got advice from a friend to approach a park to see if we could start collaborating on a food garden. Will look into it.

Ok, off to bed. More next time

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thursday, 17th of August

I haven't introduced myself. How rude! here is me, looking dodgy, with the two best carguard dudes - Anderson on the left and Siyabonga on the right. You can meet both of them at a later stage.

and this very beautiful girl is Colleen, carrying food for Thandi :-)

I will post a pic of Meghan, and Chris... if i manage to get a pic of him.

Anyway, back to the day's events.

Something absolutely amazing has happened. The blog had its first offer of a donation today. I don't want to jinx it but a very kind person has emailed and offered to donate us a rather large sum of money towards blankets, food and whatever we see fit. They have asked to remain anonymous, and i respect their choice. I did almost cry though. I just want to share with the world how happy it makes me to know that in this cruel world there are wonderful people, who find it in thier heart to selflessly offer help.

Introductions - Thandi

This little woman is Colleens best friend. Colleen first befriended her because of her granddaughter - which we later discovered was a grandson, but where confused due to the language barrier.

Colleen is a young mother herself, so she would spend forever playing with the little kid. The kid, who is a year and a half old, was rather afriad of us at first, but warmed up and ended up looking happy to see us. He was terrified of the toy Colleen gave him, but would grab the container of food we brought for the grandmother and wouldn't let anyone touch it.

Thandi, her daughter -whom we later met - and the kid come from Durban. Thandi's daughter has AIDs, and the kid is positive too. Sleeping in the park and being dirty hasn't exactly been helpful, so the kid is sick a lot.

One time Thandi called us over and told us that the Metro cops set fire to their stuff and the kid got burnt. To our horror we were shown a giant infected burn on the child's leg. We got a whole bunch of ointments and disinfectants, and eventually it was healed.

Thandi's daughter eventually decided that she and the kid needed to go back home to Durban, where the family would help look after them when they got sick. It was a heartbreaking goodbye, as we knew we possibly would never see them again. Colleen spent hours saying good bye to the child. She also bought them a whole bunch of basic essentials to take with to Durban and helped pay for the ticket. We hope they are safe.

But back to Thandi. She is the sweetest lady, who always has something nice to say to us. She has a lot of friends - also from the streets. It's hard not to get along with her. She also sleeps by Chuckleberries. She is not much of a drinker, but if she does have a drink once in a blue moon - she tells us... I am not even sure why. I guess she just likes being honest. She recently started having dizzy spells and terrible headaches. It seems to be her blood pressure.

Colleen gave her a pair of black boots, which she absolutely adores.

Thandi's trademark is the scarf around her head and a big bright smile

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wednesday - 15 th of August

I love these little creatures. They look like they are about to venture across the road and into the big world. They are the creations of this great Rasta dude and his friends. He also makes bead sculptures. Colleen and I bought a sheep from him, and a really cool strawberry key ring, which i take everywhere. He has had his stuff taken away a few times, so now he packs up in record time at the first sign of cops. I will introduce you to him sometime. He is very well spoken and great to chat to.

Today has been a slightly better day for us all. Colleen and I spent the morning calling Joburg Gen, trying to find out what happened to Francine. I am not kidding when I say - we must have called about 20 times. The level of service in that place is incredible. The phone would either not be answered, or we would be put through to the wrong place, or put on hold for 10 minutes, or - my personal favorite - put through to a fax machine!

Eventually my new musician friend (remind me to introduce him asap, once I remember his name) rang the bell at the gate to let me know Francine was back. I came to see her. She looked reassured. The doctor gave her a card so that she can come back if she is feeling bad again, and gave her pills. I didnt have the heart to tell her that the pills where just Paracetamol.
In truth I am just NOT reassured enough by knowing that an old woman with cancer got discharged with some pain killers, but i guess what can you do. Mental note: get Medical aid!

The musician played me some music. We had a great chat about his views on this country. He is the most positive man, seing a united future for everyone. He has decided to record the street women singing. the new lady i met today has entertained us all with a song, which was great.

Maria has asked us to hide what is left of her stuff for the day inside our parking lot, in case the cops decide to pay another visit. Colleen is thinking of laying a charge of theft. Meghan is suggesting putting up posters to raise awareness within the community as to the situation. Suggestions would be appreciated.

Between Meghan, Chris and myself - we took some rather cool pictures today. Will post them one by one.

Please don't forget, we still need blankets. We have one so far.

Introductions - Francine

Meet Francine, the lady i told you about that went to hospital because of cancer of the intestines.
She is an old Swazi lady. She was the first one of the lot i met, ages ago. We didn't always get along. She had a habit of getting a bit too drunk and harassing me for money, but she was rather charming about it.

Now that she got to know me, she doesn't harass me at all and is always very pleasant. She is a superbly entertaining character. Crazy but charming.

During the day she sleeps a lot. She drinks quite a bit but who can blame her? She has been living in this street for years. She keeps to herself a lot, but the other ladies always take care of her. When we bring lunch - someone always insists i keep a plate aside for her if she is not there.

The other day she asked Colleen to buy her some toothpaste. She wanted to be clean for when - from what i understand - someone comes and takes her home. She's been saying that a lot lately.. No-one ever comes. It's quite heart breaking.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tuesday 14th of August

View from our office.

Afternoon update:
Francine - the old lady - is sick. All the other women are worried about her and asking us to get an ambulance. She seems to have cancer in her intestines. She was discharged from Edenvale hospital but is feeling bad again and crying allot. It's very dificult to watch. She kept thinking for a few weeks now that her family would come and take her home. Hasn't happened. I don't think it will. We called an ambulance. Still waiting

Meghan is taking Thambiso to the train station as we speak. He is sick (AIDS) and wants to go home rather then die in the park. We passed a hat around for a ticket and she will be putting him on the bus to Bloemfontein.

The Metro Cops came again. I wasn't there but this time they took all their stuff. Blankets... clothes... everything. Meghan screamed at the cops.

Maria and the rest hardly seem upset. They say this kind of thing happens all the time.

Francine (aka bearded lady) got taken to jhb gen by an ambulance earlier. I will post as soon as I hear from her. I am a bit worried as to her being able to get hold of me

The guy with Aids should be in Bloemfontein by now. Meghan put him on the bus today

I didn't see Maria and company in their usual sleeping place on the way home. Worried!

OH and just off Oxford, while driving home We saw a c*nt in an expensive car hitting one of the lady-boys. Make that violently punching and throwing out of the car. We stopped, ready to kill but he sped off. I didn't get his numberplate. She was very shaken up and had a bruise next to her pelvic area. She asked to be taken back to Illovo, where after hugging me she went right back into the road as if nothing happened. As i watched this beautiful creature walk into the night, surrounded by other glamorously dressed in-betweeners - It dawned on me that this is the worst job in the universe, beyond what my mind will allow me to imagine.

I hate seeing people so used to horrors

This has NOT been a good f*cking day!!!

Introductions - Maria

On the left is Maria. She is the woman that got me onto this whole thing. I used to watch her from the comfort of my office window. She was the mysterious figure, always dressed in dark colors, sitting on her crate with her head hung low. I always wondered what she was thinking.

As i discovered from one of the others - she is originally from Lesotho. She never really talks about herself. She is very proud and never asks for anything. There is an amazing aura around her, a mixture of strength and independence... and a lot of pride despite the fact that so much of the world looks down on her. She has a really beautiful face. I wish I could get a better picture of her, but she told me she doesn't want to be photographed in her old clothes. Maybe one day if we get her more clothes, and the Metro cops don't steal them for a change - she will be happy to pose for this blog.

She is a queen bee. She secretly sells cigarettes and everyone respects her. She is a very solid woman. Never drinks. Always smiles. She only really looses her cool when the Metro cops come to harass her. Then she goes off in about 3 different languages at the same time.

Maria sleeps on the corner by Chuckleberries, where it's warm, with a bunch of friends.

She always washes her hands before eating out of the bottle of water she keeps with her at all times