Some months ago, I was sitting at my desk, looking at the mess. There were papers everywhere. I heard someone greet me. When I looked up, I saw an old man with his hat in his hand.
I didn’t know it then, but I was going to see a lot of this man. His name is Daniel Mojapelo. Mr Mojapelo greeted everyone in the office one by one. Then he sat down and he started to tell me his story.
“I used to go to Learn and Teach classes in Kempton Park,” said Daniel. “Learn and Teach helped me to read and write. So I thought maybe they can help me with my problem.” And that is how Mr Mojapelo came to our offices. Mr Mojapelo’s story started in 1983. A machine chopped off three of his fingers. The Workmen’s Compensation paid him R2 000 because the accident happened while he was working.
Mr Mojapelo wanted to spend his R2 000 in the best way. He saw a tractor that he really liked. A tractor would help in his fields in Pietersburg. Then Mr Mojapelo could stay at home. He wouldn’t need another job in Johannesburg.
“I saw a tractor that I liked at a house in Kempton Park.” said Mr Mojapelo. “The tractor belonged to a man who owned a garage. I asked him how much money he wanted for the tractor. The man said R2 000.”
“I gave the garage owner R1 800. I knew one or two things on the tractor were broken. The garage owner said he would fix the tractor by the next week. And I said I would bring the rest of the money then and take the tractor home.”
But before Mr Mojapelo left, he made a big mistake. The garage owner asked Mr Mojapeloto sign a form. He said it was to change the name of the owner of the tractor. So Mr Mojapelo signed — he did not read the form.
The next week, Mr Mojapelo went back with his R200. When he got to the garage owner’s place, he saw the tractor was not fixed. And then, the garage owner said Mr Mojapelo must pay him R700, not R200.
When Mr Mojapelo refused, the garage owner showed Mr Mojapelo the form he signed. The form said the tractor was R2 500, not R2 000. The garage owner lied to Mr Mojapelo about the form.
After I heard the story, I took Mr Mojapelo to some lawyers. The lawyers said they would try to help Mr Mojapelo. But the big problem was the form Mr Mojapelo signed.
They wrote a letter to the garage owner. Then they told Mr Mojapelo that the garage owner would only give him back R500. Mr Mojapelo was very angry when he heard this. He took all the papers from the lawyer and came back to our offices. Mr Mojapelo said he was going to get his money back by himself. I didn’t know what to say. The garage owner sounded like a big crook. And Mr Mojapelo was just an honest old man. He did not know much about the courts and the law.
The next time I saw Mr Mojapelo, he had a letter. The letter was from the garage owner’s lawyers. The letter said Mr Mojapelo must go to court — because he did not finish paying for the tractor.
I was very worried about Mr Mojapelo. I thought he was going to lose all his money. But Mr Mojapelo believed he was right and that he would win.
On the day before the court case, Mr Mojapelo went to see the tractor. He wanted to see if it was fixed. But it wasn’t fixed. In fact, now, the front wheel of the tractor was missing.
In court the magistrate asked Mr Mojapelo what he wanted, the money or the tractor. Mr Mojapelo said he wanted his money back. The garage owner’s lawyer said that the tractor was their business, not the money.
Mr Mojapelo said, “I think the garage owner forgot to tell you something. He used the tractor for spares. Now the tractor has no front wheel.”
The lawyer asked if this was true. The garage owner had to say yes. The lawyer was very angry when he heard this. But it was Mr Mojapelo’s greatest moment. He knew he was going to win.
The lawyer told the garage owner to give Mr Mojapelo’s money back. But he said Mr Mojapelo must pay the lawyer’s fees.” I was not very happy with the money.” Said Mr Mojapelo. “I had to pay R500.00. But I nearly lost R1 800, so, in the end, I agreed.”
“When I went to get the money I spoke to the garage owner. I said to him, “You are younger than my last born, but you tried to cheat me. I hope you are ashamed of yourself.”
When Mr Mojapelo came to tell us the good news, he could not stop smiling. The old man won his battle after three years of worry and fighting. Everyone in the office was happy for him. “There is just one thing I want,” said Mr Mojapelo. “You must write my story in your magazine. I do not want other people to make my mistake. Tell your readers this. Never sign a form unless you read it and understand everything in it.”
And now I am still sitting at my desk. The papers are still everywhere. And someone is greeting me. But this time it is my friend, Winston. He says he will buy me lunch.
Ek se, majita ek moet vamoose. Heyta daar.