William Baloyi makes his living by selling flowers. Learn and Teach spoke to him at his stall in Norwood, Johannesburg…
In 1941, a tall and handsome man left his village in Ga-Modjadji, Duiwelskloof to go to Egoli. Like all young men, he dreamed of making his fortune in the big city and going back home with money dripping from his pockets.
William Mafemane Baloyi did not find the fortune he was looking for. But he did find other riches — a life-long love for flowers and a nickname: “Flower man”.
GOOD FOR A “SKOP”
William was born in 1912 in Duiwelskloof in the Northern Transvaal. His parents were poor and they could not afford to send him to school. At the age of 13 he left school at sub- standard B to work in a factory.
In those days, flowers meant nothing to the little boy. “They were just there to “skop” and stand on,” he remembers. “After all, we were poor and you can’t eat flowers!”
William left his village and went to Johannesburg full of hope. Although he had been told about the city — its fast life and its “tsotsis” — he was not nervous. He was going to make lots of money.
“I arrived in Jo’burg in 1941. I had nowhere to stay so I slept at the Pass Office. There were many other people there — all looking for a job. I spent eight months sleeping on a concrete floor.”
ON HIS OWN
Finally, he got a job with some Indian businessmen as a flower seller. From his first day at work, he knew that flowers were going to be his life-long trade.
“Our stall was at the City Hall in Rissik street. At first I couldn’t tell one flower from the next, but as time went on, I learnt all their names and everything about them.”
William worked for the Indian businessmen for 11 years, from 1941 to 1952. “I left because I could not understand the way they ran their business. Sometimes, they would close shop for a few days — and I wouldn’t get my wages.
“So I started my own business. I had the skills and the knowledge. I knew which ones the customers liked and I knew where to buy them cheap.”
A MAN AND HIS BICYCLE
Soon after he started his own business, Baloyi bought a bicycle. The bicycle has a big basket in front to put the flowers. He started selling in Bez Valley, a suburb of Johannesburg. “I sold at that corner from 1952 until 1976 — 24 years. When business got slow, I moved from Bez Valley to the rich northern suburbs of Johannesburg, where I still am today.”
When we asked William about his selling days he said: “On Fridays, I sell at the Spar supermarket in Norwood, and on Saturdays at Checkers in Primrose. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays I go to the market and then I ride around the suburbs, selling flowers door-to-door at the homes of white people. I rest on Sundays and Mondays.”
William wakes up at 4.00 o’clock in the morning to start his work. “If I do not wake up early then my family will suffer. I have to sell in the morning before it becomes hot. You see, flowers are sensitive to the hot sun. If they die, I lose money.”
He has organised with one white family in Norwood to keep his cycle. The family have been his customers since 1976. He also leaves his flowers with the family overnight and on the days that he doesn’t work. In return he does piece-jobs or gardening for this family.
“MONEY ISN’T EVERYTHING”
William was a bit shy about telling us how much money he makes. But he did say: “I am not rich. If I was making a lot of money, I would be driving a BMW or Mercedes Benz! I am still riding my bicycle.”
But, says William, money isn’t everything. “I am proud that I do not have to work for anybody and that I am independent. I would like my children to know how I made it. I brought them up with the money from selling these flowers that you see before you. I want my children to also be independent.”
“Look,” he said, pointing to his big display of flowers. “These are carnations, good for buttonholes and for flowers in the house. And these here are lilies and today I’ve got orange and red gladiolis. Glads last for a long time if you put them in water.
They are very popular at church gatherings, funerals and weddings. “And these are roses, perhaps the most beautiful flowers of all and also the flowers of lovers. Here, take one,” he said, giving us a pink rose. “Smell it. It has a lovely sweet smell. Take it home.”