As the rain pelts in the streets of Cape Town, a scruffy gray bearded figure stands tucked in a hollow shelter. Apathetic. I, desperately fending for myself, come in hurriedly. Oblivious to this intruder, he welcomes with a light jibe.
“Jesus, it’s pouring. That’s Cape Town for you, hey!” he remarks. “Tell me about it!” I respond in a half pant.
Blotted fingertips peak from his oversized greasy navy-blue jacket sleeves as he reaches for a firm handshake.
His name is Winston Victor Nienaber, 47. His English mother and German father gave him the name after his birth coincided with the death of the great Winston Churchill. You don’t know this, but he relies on you to survive. He doesn’t like this, however.
Everyday, for the last 12years, he rummages rubbish bins and begs for his next meal. He doesn’t care about its nutritional content, as long it’s edible.
“Its days like these that I really miss home and wish I had bigger family. People with bigger families don’t realise how lucky they are. I’d kill to spend one more day with my parents,” he says. He suspects he might have an aunt in Australia.
You see, Winston didn’t always live like this. He once had a stable job in the printing department of a national magazine in Johannesburg. He had been serving the company for seven years when it downsized its staff by 25 percent back in 1999. He was among the unfortunate to bite the dust. Then his father – his only surviving family – died. His mother had died a few years prior.
He never recovered from these misfortunes.
“I’m ashamed of it, I’m ashamed it! (Scavenging),” he concedes “but it’s better than robbing and stealing”.
Diseases are a daily threat for Winston whenever he indulges in these delicacies. But that’s the least of his growling stomach’s concerns.