Coffee with a Gangster

On Sunday, 26 May 2019, the Minister in Church spoke about having a heart for the less privileged. He prayed that our hearts will be open towards the poor. As I sat in church, the first thought that came to mind was, “but how do we trust beggars these days?”

On Monday morning at 9:00 I arrived at the Labour Court in Braamfontein and had a cup of coffee at my usual coffee shop, doing my final preparations for the case I had to argue in court that morning. As I took another sip of my cappuccino, in my peripheral vision, I noticed a beggar greeting me.

I must admit, I was rather sceptical but greeted him. He then said that he was very cold and would love a warm cup of coffee too. Rather irritated with him at that point, I ordered him a takeaway coffee and as he stood a few feet away from my table, we began to chat. I felt a little intimidated by his presence.

Estee is his name. He was raised by his grandmother in the Western Cape, as his parents abandoned him when he was a young boy. He grew up to be part of a gang who killed various members of the rival gang in his neighbourhood.

He was eventually sentenced to 8 years in Polsmoor prison but got bail after three years, for good behaviour. He gave his life to God in prison and when he got out, he made amends with the members of the other gang.

One night, shortly after his grandmother passed away, he was walking down the street when a car stopped next to him and someone pulled him into the vehicle. It was members from the rival gang who still held grudges against him.

They began to stab him with broken beer bottles, to such an extent that he lost consciousness. When he came to, he tried to flee and was shot in his leg. He again lost consciousness. The only thing he can recall was being taken to hospital in a vehicle by strangers. When he woke up in hospital, he was alone. No record could be found of the people who brought him to the hospital. According to Estee, he was driven there by a car full of angels.

After this Estee decided that he needed to flee from the gang life and came to Johannesburg in 2010. He is a qualified electrician but has been unable to find a job in Johannesburg as he was robbed of his ID book and cannot afford the process of obtaining a new ID card.

The attendant brought him his coffee and I watched him put 5 packets of sugar in his coffee. I asked him if he had a sweet tooth. He said it was actually about the little messages of inspiration written on the back of the sugar packets. He put his hand in his jacket pocket and took out about 10 more empty sugar packets. He keeps them and reads the messages when life gets a bit tough to deal with.

When I asked him where he sleeps, he explained that he usually sleeps in a field not far from where we were. The shelter charges R20 per night and he does not always have the money, as he’s trying to save the R140 he needs for a new ID.

I asked Estee what he did everyday all day long and he explained that he is the self-appointed gardener of Braamfontein. He likes to water the plants in the flower pots along the streets. “Nobody pays me, I see it as my little part towards uplifting the community.”

He told me that he knows God has a plan for his life, even if he is homeless and lives on the streets. Each day he goes to the Zimbabwean women begging on the street corners with their children in tow and he tells them that they are teaching their children that begging is the only way and that is not correct.  He feels that he will make a difference in the world by continuing to do this every day.

When parting ways I gave him the money he needed to sleep warm in the shelter for the rest of the week.

Just before he left, he told me that he is well aware of the stigma surrounding beggars and that he is very thankful that I took the time to speak with him on that morning, as people normally don’t even look at him, as if he is invisible.

He also told me that, just as there is a stigma surrounding beggars, there is also a stigma surrounding lawyers, that they are thieves who steal money from people. He said that he was glad to see that I am not one of those lawyers, just as he is not one of those beggars. At the end of the day, we are all just people made by God, each with His purpose for us.

I firmly believe that God’s purpose for me on that day, was to make a small difference in the life of someone who needed to feel His presence in a real way. Although I felt a little out of my comfort zone, I am glad that I was obedient to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Aimee Nel

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