While the Christmas season is generally one in which quality time is spent with family and loved ones, for the homeless, it is a different story.
For them, it is often a time of loneliness, especially in cities where residents have gone on holiday and hardly anyone is left to offer a lending hand. And in some parts of the country, it also means trying to find shelter from the summer rains after a fair share of cold winter weather.
This has been the life of one elderly man for the past three years on the corner William Nicol and Cromartie roads in Sandhurst, Johannesburg.
But that, as they say, is history.
Mbeji Dube, 88, known as John, lived behind an electrical box, just opposite the Hurlingham Gate complex, for three years.
Today, all that is now left at the place he once called home are a blanket and note which reads: “Friends of John, he is safe and at my home. He was getting too wet in the rain.”
The message is from Good Samaritan Kirsten Legg, 50, who decided to offer him shelter when it rained one Friday in November.
The wind and rain had strewn Dube’s possessions all over a patch of grass opposite the electrical box.
The image broke Legg’s heart, so she decided to collect them and have them cleaned.
But she told Dube if it rained again, she would fetch him and take him to her house. And that was exactly what she did the next Saturday.
“We were out at a friend’s party the following Saturday, and we only finished the party at midnight, and I said to my husband we have to make a detour.
“We have to go and fetch John. On Saturday night, we passed the electrical box, and John was sitting upright with his hands up, crying for help, and I said: ‘John, it’s me. Will you come with me?'”
Legg said her family had spotted Dube, who is partially blind, at the electrical box three years ago and had been taking him food and helping him with small essentials.
But after seeing the situation that Friday, his possessions strewn all over, Legg said she made up her mind to take him in.
Dube now enjoys the comfort of a beautiful room with an en-suite bathroom in Legg’s double-storey home. From his window, he can see a bright green garden.
News24 visited Dube at his new home and found him sitting on a couch next to his neatly made bed, listening to a small battery-run radio. He smiles as he is told that he has visitors.
“I wanted to make sure that John is in good health. I have a psychiatrist relative who was able to come and assess him. He says he is very healthy [although] there are slight areas of concern. A social worker has also come to meet him,” Legg says.
Legg is also in the process of looking for a nursing home for Dube, for which she intends to pay.
She said having Dube around her family has been a blessing and she is happy her children are empathetic toward the elderly man.
“I think it is very important for children to see and reach out to other people. Empathy is the most missing skill in the workforce today. The blessing has been greater to us than it has probably been to him.”
Most importantly, Legg said, Dube has since reunited with his wife who he had not seen for three years, as well as his children and grandchildren.
Since Legg took the man in, his family has kept in contact and have been visiting him.
Legg says the story about what led him to break away from the family was unclear because he has his version and the family have their own.
However, that is not a concern and what is essential is that Dube is well-taken care of and in good health, a smiling Legg adds.
Describing his stay in his new shelter, Dube says: “I am feeling very nice and I am eating nicely here. If I want to sleep, I just sleep here on the sofa.”
Although the first few days were difficult for him, Dube has now adapted and has a routine which Legg and her helpers jointly assist in.
It takes a village
He wakes up at around 06:00, is served breakfast at 09:00 and tea and biscuits at around 11:00. He then sits on the patio listening to the birds before he is served lunch.
After his afternoon nap, he is woken up at around 17:30 or 18:00 for dinner before he goes back to bed at night.
“I really hope to start a foundation called Love is a Verb. I hope to help the elderly on the streets. That is what I feel I am led to do. I do have a plan of doing great things for the homeless around Johannesburg and within our country,” the mother of three says.
The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” has been the same notion at the Leggs’ home in taking care of Dube, as her helpers have stepped in without hesitation in assisting with bathing, dressing and feeding Dube.
“My life was very bad behind there [the electrical box]. I don’t want to go back that side. I don’t like that place anymore. People were just coming there and laughing at me,” Dube says, adding he is now comfortable.
The helpers at the Legg household are enjoying his company and they have likened Dube to a father.
Lizzy, 56, who shares the same surname as Dube, said she was shocked to see the condition he was in when he first arrived at the Legg home. She said Dube shared jokes with them when they assisted him.
The man has also been described as a gentleman who takes good care of himself.
Legg said when she packed his belongings before taking him in, she found a plastic bag full of leaves. When she asked him what they were for, he said he often chewed them to keep his teeth strong and healthy. He also often drank a substance to keep his urine clean.
But now his shaving kit, toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste sit next to the basin in the en-suite bathroom.
“We always help each other. She [Kirsten] is treating him like her father. She has a good heart because other people cannot do that. I feel like crying because of what she did,” an emotional Rachel says.
Another helper at the household, Justice Moyo, 44, hugged Dube and said: “He is like my grandfather. It is good to be with him. He is a good man.”
Dube has created a bond with Legg’s two daughters, Emma and Jessica, and son Bradley.
‘Get your hands dirty’
Her eldest daughter, Emma, 19, said ever since her parents took him, she has realised how privileged and blessed she is.
“I’ve never heard someone say thank you so much and really mean it. He is so happy all the time. For someone who didn’t have much, to just have this energy and just be so happy is so infectious to all of us.”
Legg is encouraging South Africa to step out and help without hesitation. With the plans of starting a foundation called Love is a Verb, she wants to change the lives of elderly people who are homeless.
“We cannot live in fear. You’ve got to step out. Step out in faith and if you feel you are led to do something, do not hesitate but do it.
“Get your hands dirty. You never know what difference you could make.”