When Louis and his brother first came to Johannesburg they had arrived by train from Kimberly with nothing but a backpack each. They were welcomed to the City of Lights, the City of Promise by being mugged The few personal items they had were taken, including their ID documents
Instead of the City of Gold offering riches and opportunity, two years later they still pursue bags of gold in the form of a few rands.
Louis Vermaak (37) spends 12 hours a day outside the PicknPay on Jorissen street in order to survive.[pullquote]”I think this is because we help when we witness some crime”[/pullquote]
For the first seven months after Louis and his brother arrived they lived on the pavement behind the Protea Parktonian hotel, a place that hosts many new arrivals to the city with four-star hospitality. Now they beg so they can afford to stay at the Braamfontein Shelter.
Louis is still saving up to pay for a new ID. Over the past week, Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor received criticism for the new ID smart card prices. The Democratic Alliance (DA) released a statement saying that R140 for the new identity cards was too much for the poor.
DA spokesperson Manny de Freitas said for many South Africans R140 was the difference between survival and hunger.
Braamfontein is a largely student populated area but Louis said he liked that.
“I chose this area because we are not chased away by the security here. I think this is because we help when we witness some crime. The students are also friendlier than older people. Some students generally donate some food for me too.”[pullquote align=”right”]”I told myself I would rather beg than steal”[/pullquote][/pullquote]
When Louis stayed behind the Parktonian, he met a fellow street dweller who introduced him to informal recycling. Louis worked as a recycler for six months but then his trolley was stolen but he did not have money to replace it..
“This is how I ended up begging. I told myself I would rather beg than steal.”
Louis hopes to get an artisanal job once he has made enough money to pay for his ID. “That ID will be a ticket for me to have a decent job so that I can even afford to have my own family one day.”
There may be hope for Louis to get his ID though. The spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs Ronnie Mamoepa said Pandor was in “discussion with National Treasury regarding fees for certain categories of persons that may be exempted”.