A day in a life of Koketso, the Jozi hawker
The alarm beeped vigorously at the time set.Koketso (Keke) purposely set it for five minutes before wake up time, to give himself time to reflect before getting out of the warm comfort of his bed. Although it is the beginning of spring, he can still feel the harsh winds of winter blowing outside as the tin roof is rattling continuously and can see that the windowpane is misty. As he gets off the bed and straightens himself, he can feel that his toes are already frozen. Nevertheless, as usual he is reminded of his father's words,"In life you have to start somewhere." This has motivated him to carry on and make something than being another unemployed township youth statistics. He abhorred the effect of the lifestyle that youngsters especially "unemployed" were persuaded into. This was evident from the congested juvenile prison cells; hospital casualties as a result of community animosity and justice against the loafing youth who had become drug addicts and criminals; and on the other hand lack of proper rehab centres.
It is soon 5am and Keke had just finished packing his goods, ready to go out to find a good corner on the downtown’s pavement to sell his fruits. Finding a good spacious corner has always been a challenge for the downtown Johannesburg hawkers. This is besides facing occasional rough raiding from police for illegal selling and robbery from thugs. Whether you have a permit to sell as a hawker like Keke, you and your goods can never be safe. Anyway, today he is right on time, had a bath, dressed up and luckily had breakfast. As he is about to leave, he takes a glimpse of himself from the wardrobe's side mirror. He looks neat enough; clad in well washed jean and a t-shirt well tucked in. Having past his adolescent years, he is now pleased with his masculine look; broad shoulders, nicely packed stomach and moustache.
In a long taxi ride from the Naledi Township to downtown Jozi, Keke is half asleep and starts to think about his day ahead. Should he be trying a new corner today because yesterday was just frustrating as a result of too much competition at corner West and End Street? This was stressing besides the dirt and people spitting all over the pavements. By competition in this business sphere, it means too many hawkers selling similar goods within close proximity or along one street. His competition was selling fruits and because of a large number of fruit hawkers in almost every corner, it meant selling the freshest fruits. Other hawkers around town sold anything from sweets, make-up and hair stuff, clothing accessories to house cleaning gadgets. There were just plenty and a great variety of stuff that were being sold. Today he is planning to settle near a taxi rank. No matter the amount of competition, there are always people or rather potential customers taking a taxi or alighting from a taxi.
As the taxi enters town, he wakes up to the bustling sound of traffic and hooters here and there. He has already made up his mind as to where to find a spacious corner. The taxi takes a few turns with some passengers getting off at different intervals and frequently standing before the red robot.
“The next robot please driver…yes corner North and Eloff.” he shouts loudly to the taxi driver who is sitting three seats away and over the sound Kwaito music.
He gets off the taxi promptly with his two large bags of goods, before the taxi speeds off. As he settles on the pavement with his goods close to him, his eyes starts to navigate for a good corner against the teeming and tumbling streets of Jozi. Amidst the different shapes of people running and rushing bumper to bumper up and down, his eyes manages to see a spacious corner.
As he is struggling to move towards the corner spot, he notices a newspaper hawker next to it. He is a tall and flexible man. He is busy pacing back and forth holding two newspapers in each hand and intermittently shouting “Daily Sun’ and “The Times’. He is attracting and serving some passersby and motorists standing at the robot.
He stands a few yards from the man and while trying to catch his breath from the rush. He patiently awaits for a chance to introduce himself. As he is standing closer to the lanky man, he gets a clearer picture of him. He is almost four inch taller than him and is wearing faded jeans, a pair of takkies and a red shirt with the names of various newspapers in one caption printed in the middle of it. After a few minutes, the man manages to glance at Keke from the back of his shoulders and briefly articulates,’ I know …you can take that corner. In this part, it’s first come first serve.’
The words ring magic to Keke’s ears as he was anticipating the usual interrogation and negotiation to use a corner stand to sell. Anyway he goes on to introduce himself, “Thank you my brother. My name is Keke or the walking fruit vendor.”
Ever since Keke started hawking fruits, he had no choice but to succumb to the description of being called, “the walking fruit vendor”. Nonetheless the description made him part of the community and boosted the business at the same time. There were always people coming to buy the fruits especially after hours; when they had nowhere to go.
To others he was not a mere fruit hawker but could relate better to his childhood and family. That is him Koketso Mokati, the son of Onica and Thato Mokati. He came from a fairly respectable family. His parents made sure that Keke and his siblings were always well fed and got the best education. Although the family was not rich, the mother who worked as a seamstress and a father who was a professional plumber managed to put food on the table and provided for their children’s basic need. Keke was known to be intelligent as he aced most of his subjects throughout high school. He had wished to go to college but due to the country’s economic decline, many people had to do informal businesses.
“Nice to meet you, Keke. I am Thabiso the newspaper man. As you can see I market or sell for Prime Media” the tall newspaper man finally said as he points to his shirt and at the same time returning to serve his customers.
With that said Keke gets busy and quickly lays his table and the colourful plates with fruits. Soon his table is looking attractive and meticulously arranged with four and five fruits in each plate. First it is the line of oranges, then the apples, the pears, bananas, paw-paws, guavas etc. Within two hours he has sold a quarter of his goods. His pleasant and jovial character could be attributed to this. But also Keke always thrived on cleanliness. He made sure his display of fruits is always spick and span.
As the day approaches midday, Keke is getting used to the simmering sun against the sight of clustered shapes of town’s buildings. He then notices that Thabiso has sold more than half of the newspapers. Almost immediately Thabiso turns to Keke, “Keke my man. Can I trust you with these leftover newspapers? I need to eat. I will be back in a jiffy.”
“Ok. You will surely find me here” answered Keke. Within seconds he sees the lanky Thabiso walking and dodging traffic until he disappears into some buildings with shops at a far distance.
After two hours of looking after and selling for both businesses, he notices a number of hawkers in the opposite direction nervously undoing their presentation of goods. Some were arranging themselves and their goods in a direction as if ready to run. The air of serenity and the business of the day were disturbed. By the look in their faces, it could mean only one thing- a police raiding, even though no police were visible yet. As Keke was standing and watching in a gaze, his mind starts to search for his permit. He sighs in relief knowing that it is in his pocket.
Police raiding is like a game of chess in the streets of Jozi. The right move is always having your permit at hand. The wrong move would be not having the permit, being arrested, having your goods confiscated and eventually paying a fine which you could not afford as a hawker.
Suddenly he notices a group of bureaucratic police in their pure blue uniform carrying on the inspection. This goes on for a couple minutes. Once the police are gone past some hawkers who had permits, their faces eases up and one could see their gestures of relief. While others who did not have permits were dragged and shoved into a police van with their goods, against all odds.
After the police raiding fiasco, it is midday and the place is now busy and swarming with school children wearing different uniforms from various schools. School children knock off earlier than the town’s workers. He finds that the school children love the fruits and buy in bulk.
After sometime, Thabiso returns with an apologetic smile and a box of chips. ‘Hey, Keke I am sorry. I also had some errands to run. Please take this as an apology.” stuttered Thabiso. Keke is forcefully given a box of chips, which he couldn’t resist the smell of.
"You didn't miss much, except one of those impromptu police raiding," said Keke as he crouches down a big pavement brick which he uses as a "made up chair" and while clutching his chips with his one hand.
"We do need order around here, just wish we could also have more protection from thugs, even amongst us."replied Thabiso as he bends over to look at the remaining pile of newspapers. "It is never save. I tell you, with all this jamming and a plethora of people and some doing anything as it pleases them..."he said as he stands to look at Keke.
"True, there are criminals amongst us selling illegal goods and posing as hawkers," Keke stated as he shook his head slowly and catching Thabiso's gaze.
While relishing the chips and appreciating it as his only lunch, his mind races to another activity he needs to do. Now that his goods are almost sold out, he has to go to the main fruit and veggie market to buy more stock for tomorrow.
Soon, he gathers his scanty left over staff and bids farewell for the day to Thabiso.
“Hopefully we’ll meet again tomorrow. First come, first serve…” he laughs.
He arrives at the fruit and veggie market within an hour. As expected at the forever active fruit and veggie market he finds a horde of buyers gathering their goods and some pushing forward to get their goods. He manages to buy more stock to his satisfaction and catches a taxi to go home straight away.
As a result of heavy traffic of the already homing workers, he arrives at home at 7 pm sharp. As he settles in his rented backyard room, he is met with the usual aroma of the “during the week dish” wafting in the air. It can only be vegetable stew in mushroom sauce and perhaps steamed bread. Red meat, chicken and other treats such as desserts are only served during the weekend especially Sundays.He finds his sweetheart Thandi, busy preparing supper. She has a cunning way of turning anything available into a good meal.
‘Honey, I am home.” He utters as he kisses Thandi on the cheeks.
He then continues to the couch, kicks off his shoes and sighs into space for a while, conscious to his stiff neck and leaden feet. As reality catches on, he starts to count his profit for the day and puts aside money for the rent, grocery and savings towards college fees. Yes, savings for college. This echoes in his mind as usual; and he sighs and contemplates about it. Any kind of college qualification would be great according to his world’s lifestyle. This will be his best achievement for all his life. After all he has never known the meaning of achievement or owned any valuable piece of furniture.
While supper is cooking, Thandi continues with her sewing and they both manage to catch on the evening soapy and soon supper is served.
It is soon nighttime at Naledi Township and all the noise from passersby and traffic in Lebari Street had seemed to have settled down. Later on he is fast asleep until the next day.