Teecee Boley spends a day with a homeless man on the streets of Johannesburg, in the middle of the winter, to understand the unique challenges he faces on a daily basis.
“Move away, go!”, a security guard shouts at Azisa. The 35-year old former KwaZulu-Natal resident spends his days on the streets of Johannesburg, begging for money, finding shelter and rummaging through rubbish bins for any edible food. Being chased away by security guards is just a normal part of his day as a homeless man in the city of gold.
Azisa, who refused to give his surname, was released from prison a year ago where he spent the last three years for theft. His mother died while he in prison and his younger sister has been taken in by some relatives. With no money, a criminal record to his name and no identity document (ID), finding any kind of job is impossible. But finding a job is one of his lowest priorities, staying warm in plunging temperatures is his biggest challenge.
The 8am morning sun provides a little heat but winter has been tough on him. His only set of clothes is not warm enough and he does not have a blanket.
“The cold is hurting my bones and my leg is swollen,” he says, removing his sneakers to expose a leg badly in need of medical attention.
Azisa is happy to follow the security guard’s orders. As we speak, he moves away from under a tree at the Johannesburg theatre where he had spent the previous night. He takes his small black backpack which contains everything he owns and moves to the park across from the theatre.
The park presents two opportunities – one, to get heat from the sun and another, to beg for money. At midday, he gives up on the begging and heads to Park Station for a bath.
“I must pay R10 to clean my body. You see, I am smelling because I have not cleaned for two weeks,” he says pointing to his dirty clothes.
It’s 1:30pm as he heads to lunch. Rummaging through a rubbish bin outside the station, a smile lights up his face as he discovers a packet of fried chicken leftovers. His lunch is followed by a short nap and about two hours later, he starts begging again, this time in desperation for a blanket.
As the day comes to an end Azisa tries to find a place to settle down for the night. Despite the near freezing temperatures ahead of him, he remains hopeful: “If I just get the ID I will find a job, rent a place, marry and have two children.”