A painful life on the streets

Many homeless people find it hard to escape life on the streets once they have ended up there.

Life on the streets is not what Isaac Magathi had planned for himself – chasing after a dream, he found himself living a nightmare instead.

Mr Magathi, who lives in Hout Bay, says he has spent nearly 15 years on the streets, but his life was not always like this. Originally from the Eastern Cape, he completed both primary and high school there before travelling to Cape Town in search of a better life.

“I was offered a job, and I left my whole family behind. It was my grandfather who gave me the money to travel halfway, and the rest of the way, I had to hitchhike,” he says, scavenging through the remains of an old KFC bag.

In Cape Town, he says, problems with his paperwork cost him his chance of working as a print-machine operator in a factory.

“When I got the news, I was broken, because I made my family so many promises. They were going to be supported by me.”

Then he got a call to say his grandfather had died. Two days later his mother died, followed soon afterwards by his father, he says.

“I could not believe it, because it all happened in the space of one month, and it all happened after I left home. What made it hard is that I could not afford to call home every day, so I would get the news days after the funeral.

“That really hurt me and I felt like I let them down. That made me do things to hide the pain.”

Sniffing glue and smoking marijuana took over his life. He eventually stopped but by then he had lost everything.

“I lost contact with home. I had no money, no job, no food, nobody I knew in the area. I landed up in Hout Bay after I got to help somebody with a paint job. After we got paid, they went home and I stayed, because I did not have anywhere else to go and I did not want to waste my money to go back into Cape Town.”

Over the years, Mr Magathi has tried to make a life living in shelters, but he says he either could not afford the fee or had bad experiences in them.

“I had all my things stolen in a shelter one day and I just never felt safe. So I thought I am better off on the street, it’s not safe, but I have control over my own life.”

Community leader Kenny Tokwe says homelessness and a shortage of land for housing are major challenges for Hout Bay.

“Overcrowding is a health and fire hazard. All people need a house that will bring dignity and respect into their lives. National government and the City of Cape Town must work together to bring life for our people,” he says.

He says Mr Magathi’s story is tragic. “It’s a real shame to humans and seeing the treatment of people less fortunate, being treated like they are not human.”

Mr Magathi only agreed to speak to Sentinel News on condition that we did not take his picture.