Feeling at home with charity on Louis Botha Avenue

If we were to draw inspiration from spiritual books, we would learn that the hand that gives is more blessed than the hand that receives. On Louis Botha A venue, however, sometimes it is giving inspired by experience, yet without expectation, which contributes to changing lives.

Second-hand shops along Louis Botha Avenue are not uncommon, yet there is one that stands out from the rest. Situated on the west side of the avenue, the Hospice Wits shop does more than sell pre-owned items at a fraction of the price. The shop is an epitome of the saying, ‘One man’s trash is another one’s treasure’. The sales of this said treasure contribute towards sustaining an organisation that ensures that those suffering from terminal illnesses are as comfortable as possible in their final days.

Hospice Wits is a child’s paradise of fun and entertainment, a reader’s central hub of information and, judging by the rose-scented incense burning in the furniture department, a home owner’s one-stop shop for basic essentials.  

The toy store within the Hospice Wits shop provides children with a sense of education as well as entertainment. Photo: Molebogeng Mokoka

Merely describing those who shop there as customers may even seem like down-play, especially considering the role they play towards giving back to the community, abiding by the motto, ‘No end to caring’ as displayed boldly on the corridors of the shop.    

The Hospice Wits shop forms part of a series of charity shops in the Johannesburg region aimed at raising funds for Hospice Wits, a facility in Houghton that provides palliative care to terminally ill patients.

‘The aim is to make the lives of terminally ill people as comfortable as possible before they pass on. In some cases a patient may not want to move into the hospice itself, so there is a team of nurses that visit the patient’s home to check on them,’ said 34-year-old Lebogang Thelele, head of the furniture, toys and clothing department. 

According to the Hospice Wits website, ‘The Hospice Association of the Witwatersrand was started in September 1979 by a Johannesburg couple, Stan and Sherley Henen, who first responded to a need in their community for hospice care.

‘The Gordon Waddell House on 2nd avenue was donated to Hospice Wits, and in 1983 the property on 1st Avenue was purchased. It became known as Greendale House and was converted into a six-bed in-patient unit.’

The facility has since grown to provide services to a greater number of patients, and today it has more than 125 full-time staff members including doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists.      

But how does a charity shop manage to occupy an entire block of land? 

According to a document released, titled Spacial Transformations and Identities in New Immigrant Spaces, by Wits University’s School of Architecture and Planning, ‘Orange Grove and Norwood developed in the early 20th century. Economic and demographic shifts in the CBD in the 1970s and 1980s affected Louis Botha Avenue and Orange Grove experienced a decline.

‘The decline of the area around Louis Botha Avenue during the 1980s made rental affordable for black South Africans, foreign residents and business owners.’ 

Jeffery Shabala, who has been managing the shop for the past three years, said that the Hospice, which has been in existence on Louis Botha for about 20 years, is run independently.

BELOW: Hospice Wits shop along Louis Botha Avenue is not just a charity shop which aims to raise money for Hospice Wits itself. It has become a second-home to some of its employees. Faheema Essop, Busisiwe Mavondo and Princess Nonjijij share experiences within their own family, which inspired them to work at Hospice Wits shop.

 ‘We don’t pay rent because we own this block. Before moving here, the hospice was located close to where the [Inland] pharmacy  was. This block was occupied by a liquor store, I think it was called Liquor Boys, a dry cleaners, and there was also a car park,’ he said. 

The decline not only made it easier to purchase property in those days, it has also permeated the current state of the area around Louis Botha.  

This could be seen in protests that erupted there in April this year. According to a news report by the SABC, residents of Orange Grove took to the streets of Louis Botha, demanding that outgoing Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba address issues of poor service delivery, provide housing for poor families and convert unused government buildings into accommodation. 

Despite not having to pay rent, the charity shop still needs to be able to pay creditors, employees and maintenance.

Shabalala said, ‘Besides selling the items to the public, we also engage in donor drives to generate income. We have also leased some of the space within the shops.’ 

One of these leased spaces is occupied by a nail bar owned by 35-year-old Xoli Nkosi. 

LEFT: It’s not unfamiliar to walk inside Hospice Wits shop and be seranaded by good music. For sale is wide collection of music, movies and games for the whole family. Photo: Molebogeng Mokoka

‘I enjoy working in this space,’ she said. ‘Even though I am renting, I have a good relationship with the people who work here.’ Among those to whom Nkosi refers are Busisiwe Mavondo, Faheema Essop and Princess Nonjiji.

Collectively, these three women are described as the pillars that keep the shop running, going beyond the call of duty to ensure unity among colleagues.

Sitting inside the coffee shop at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon, Mavondo adjusts her spectacles, keeping an  eye on the boutique store located directly opposite. She single-handedly manages the boutique.

‘I have been working inside the Hospice Wits shop for six years.  I first heard about the shop when I came here as a customer. 

‘I started out as a volunteer, since I was a housewife and had a lot of time on my hands. Since then I have been able to work in every one of these shops, except the bookstore,’ she said.

Listening to the top-of-the-hour news on 702, Mavondo says helping the less fortunate had always been something she wanted to do. She hopes to one day go to her home town of Nkandla, Kwa-Zulu Natal, to start her own charity shop there. 

‘I currently stay in Bramley. Sometimes when I am here at work I see an item that may help one of my neighbours. I then buy it for them, because working here has given me the power to help. 

‘I once heard about an initiative that helps young girls with dresses in time for their matric dance and thought it would be a great idea if I did this for my community back home. 

‘In the past, things such as a matric dance were not that important, but they are today. If I can start a boutique similar to this one, I can help young girls enjoy their matric dance. All I need is funding,’ she said.

The boutique contains various racks on which clothes ranging from wedding dresses to formal dresses are displayed, as well as jewellery. 

‘Sometimes people come here and buy from the boutique in bulk. We have filmmakers coming here to buy clothes as costumes.

‘We do not get involved in what the customer does with the items once they own them, but I believe in extending a helping hand, so it would be interesting if the items were donated after being used,’ she said.

Mavondo’s 30-year-old son also works in the retail sector.

‘I raised my children to help others when they can. My son collects second-hand clothing and sells it for a living. 

‘Sometimes he comes here and donates the items he collected. He even comes to buy clothes for himself,’ she said. 

Busisiwe Mavondo shows off her outfit, comprised entirely of items she bought inside Hospice Wits shop. Photo: Molebogeng Mokoka

According to an article by Susan Horne titled The Charity Shop: Purpose and Change, General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, wrote in his book, ‘There was a large amount of wastage of goods in “well-to-do” homes that could be channeled into supplying the “submerged” with employment. 

‘Category 1 covers those charity shops that sell only donated goods. Category 2 comprises shops that, in addition to selling donated goods, sell a percentage of new bought-in goods. Category 3 shops sell only bought-in, new goods’.

Situated west of Louis Botha, the Hospice Wits shop could be classified as category 2, since some of the items sold inside are new.

Before it hits the shelves

Everything that comes through to the shop has to first pass by the eyes of Faheema Essop.

Essop, 34, has been working at the shop for the past nine years. 

‘I came to know about the hospice itself when my grandmother was ill. During her last days, nurses from the hospice came to our house to check on her and make sure she was as comfortable as possible.‘

Seeing the nurses care for my grandmother made me see that there are people out there who are willing to help others, even during the final chapters of their lives. That is what inspired me to come here,’ she said.

Essop works in the donations section of the shop, where people drop off goods or where the goods are delivered after being collected from donors. 

‘We have different people coming in regularly to donate clothes. Not everything we get is usable, but we never turn people away because they have good intentions.    

‘I would describe this place [the hospice] as my first home. I spend more time with my colleagues than I do with my family. I am here from eight o’ clock in the morning until around five in the afternoon, from Monday to Saturday.

‘Our work goes beyond collecting items. If one of our colleagues needs help with something, we try to assist them in the best possible way. We not only make it easy for strangers to give to our organisation, we also help each other out as colleagues,’ said Essop.

The force being long-standing relations

 Nonjiji has been employed at Hospice Wits for 13 years and is one of the employees who have been there longest. 

The 53-year-old retail assistant is described as peaceful, straightforward and respectful by her colleague, Trevor Makwesa, who is one of the heads of department. 

RIGHT: All donated items are first brought to the attention of Faheema before they are sorted and displayd in the different shops. Photo: Molebogeng Mokoka

‘I know everyone who works in this shop because I have been here for so long. It’s not easy when everyone comes to you asking for help.  

‘Sometimes my colleagues have disagreements and come to me for advice,’ said Nonjiji. ‘The toughest thing is that people have different personalities, so I have to solve the problem and make sure that the two work well together in the future.’

Despite this, she said these were not the only challenges.

‘Over the years, the amount of donations we have been receiving has gone down. In the past this whole corridor [pointing outside] used to be filled with clothes and toys, but it’s not the same anymore. 

‘We also used to get donations from big companies, but not anymore. I think that maybe people are selling their things on the internet and getting money for them instead of donating them for free, I can’t say for sure. But I can tell you that it is not the same as it was,’ she said. 

Despite Nonjiji’s concern that the shop is not generating enough donations and support as it did in the past, there are some customers that frequently visit and have formed relationships with the staff. 

ABOVE: Hospice Wits shop sells a wide variety of antique items, books, jewellery and clothing and furniture. Photos: Molebogeng Mokoka

One of them is Lydia Daka, a 46-year-old woman from Berea who has been visiting the shop since 2005. 

‘In the beginning I used to come here to buy chairs and tables,’ says Daka, ‘but these days I either come here to read or buy books when I have money. ‘I know most of the people who work here and they are always willing to help. At least when I am buying from this shop I know I am contributing to a good cause,’ she says, holding up a copy of Right Body For Your Health.

The library feel of the bookstore lies not only in the setup, but also in the musty scent of old pieces of paper piled up together.
Hospice Wits on Louis Botha tells a story that goes beyond donations and fundraising.

It tells the story of people who witnessed transformation and decay over the years, where factors such as poverty lurk in the corners.

Mavondo, Nonjiji and Essop’s involvement is not only inspired by previous experience within the family, but the three women also instill in their colleagues the notion of healthy working relationships that benefit the greater community, proving that the concept of family may sometimes go beyond blood relations.

FEATURED IMAGE: A graphic showing people and the word Charity, Photo: Supplied