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The pavement people

The sun does not shine for all of us. For some people it never shines at all. Their day only starts at night when most of us are safely asleep at home. You will find these people sitting on the cold pavements of Hillbrow in the freezing night wind.

Now and then a person stops to look at the things that they are selling. No one greets them and asks them about their life. No one knows where they come from, not even the people who buy from them. These are the pavement people.

You cannot miss their beautiful clay bowls, the little people and animals carved from wood, the grass mats and baskets, and the bangles and necklaces made from beads. All these things bring colour and life to the dull pavement.


Mama Christina Lunga was the first to talk. She spoke slowly in Swazi, in the beautiful way of the people from Swaziland. She said that she comes to Johannesburg because there is no work in Swaziland.

“I have a family of ten children and five grandchildren. My husband works in Cape Town as a fisherman. He does not earn much so I have to work to feed my people at home.

“I used to make little wooden toys for my kids. I sold some of these things in Swaziland. But we could not make enough money in Swaziland. There are too many people who sell these things over there.

“Then people from Swaziland came to sell in Johannesburg. A friend of mine, who knew the big city, told me to come with her. We took a lot of work with us and took a bus to Johannesburg. Those were good old days. People bought everything that we had — in just one day. The following day we went back home.

“We sold a lot during those days — but we also had problems. The police used to arrest us for selling without licences. We didn’t understand why we were arrested. We are just simple people who want to sell our goods. We don’t know about licences.

“Now the police do not give us so many problems. But now we have another problem. Today there is no money. People do not buy anymore.”


‘Yes, business is very slow these days.” said Mama Maria Simelane, who has been selling since 1968.

She comes from Emafutseni in Swaziland and is a mother of four children. She leaves her children with her neighbours everytime she comes to Johannesburg. Selling comes first to her as it means bread for her family.

Mama Simelane also sells African masks which are made in Mozambique. She buys them in the market in Swaziland.

“I can do many things,” says Mama Simelane. “I can knit jerseys, make grass mats and bowls, and I have now learned to make things out of wood. I used to go to the self help schools in Swaziland.”


Lindiwe Ndabandaba is only 22 years old. She started selling last year when her parents could no longer pay for her schooling.

“My mother is too old to do this job so she sent me to come and sell here.” she said.

Lindiwe spoke about the problem of having no place to sleep.” We do not know the people of South Africa. Most of the time we sleep on the pavements.

“Sometimes we sleep at Park Station but the Railway police do not want us to sleep there. So they chase us away. But sometimes they feel pity for us and allow us to sleep there.

“There is nothing that we can do. We are trying to get some money for our kids back home. We know that for people like us, money does not come easy,” says the young Lindiwe.

She has a big heart — just like the others. They suffer their hardships bravely so their children may eat and live. For them, their children come first.

May their children live to be strong and wise — with a future as bright and as beautiful as the coloured bangles and necklaces that lie on the pavements of Hillbrow. •


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