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‘I’m human too’

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The late humanitarian, Cape Argus columnist and Dignity Project ambassador Danny Oosthuizen, died at the beginning of the year after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.

Through his columns, Danny gave hope to the homeless community and opened our eyes to life on the street. We mourn a friend, colleague and a beacon of hope to his community. Here is one of the first columns Danny wrote for the Cape Argus. We are running it because we believe Danny’s message of dignity for all should endure. Rest in peace Danny. 

“My name is Danny Oosthuizen. I am one of many homeless people in Cape Town.

When people look at us, they don’t see the strength that we have. We are resilient. We’re tough.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t need love.

Yes, it’s true. Some of us are spiritually and psychologically damaged. Wouldn’t you be? There is a constant struggle for recognition in society.

And maybe sometimes we even feel like we don’t belong in society. I mean, we don’t look the part, we don’t smell the part, but we’re human too.

People often look at us and think all we want are material things. I’m not saying we don’t need things – everyone needs things. But we don’t want your money and material things; we need engagement, we want to be part of society.

Before I lived on the street I had a home and a job, just like you. But when I was diagnosed HIV-positive I hit rock bottom. Life became too much.

My parents died when I was very young. First, my mother, when I was 9, and four years later, my father. I was raised by one of my father’s employees, a black woman. Remember, this was apartheid South Africa and my community of white, Afrikaans-speaking people ostracised me. Can you imagine being 13 and having lost both parents and then the people who are supposed to be your “race” turn around and chuck you out because you’re being raised, and raised well, by a black woman?

They called me “k*****tjie”.

I’m also gay.

And HIV-positive.

I’m triple-f***ed.

I was a broken man after my diagnosis. I gave up. I wanted to die. I stopped caring.

I fell into depression, drug abuse and partying my worries away. I guess I just gave up on life after it seemed like life gave up on me.

I lost everything.

A memorial service for Cape Argus columnist Danny Oosthuizen in St George’s Cathedral was attended by family, friends and people whose lives he changed. Picture: Armand Hough /African News Agency(ANA)

Nobody is responsible for us being here. I can’t blame somebody for my situation – where I find myself at 46 and on the streets for three and a half years.

On the street. Homeless. Mining and skarreling every day to get by.

My first years on the street were horrible.

I was too scared to sleep at night. I started using drugs to keep me awake. All night long.

During the day, I felt a little better sleeping for a few hours.

Eventually, I got used to it. I decided the drugs weren’t for me. You learn to figure out where you can go to get a shower, where you can go to get a plate of food, where to hide your belongings, where to get cheap haircuts, where you can shave.

Do you know where I can get a razor blade?

This coming winter, NGOs and charities will come and give me 15 blankets.

What am I supposed to do with 15 blankets? Someone gave me a couple of coats once. A week later, that person asked me: “Where’s that coat I gave you?” I said: “I sold it.”

How am I supposed to store those coats and blankets? You know what I need? Razor blades. Washing powder. Soap.

The reason I can’t keep all these things is that they’ll either get stolen or they get taken away by law enforcement and other authorities.

You know, there are two types of people I despise. People who cut down trees and people who collect homeless people’s things and throw them away. They just throw them away. That’s everything I had. And now it’s gone, along with the smart ID that I was hiding there with it. Yes, I have a smart ID card. There are people and projects doing good work out there. These people have hooked me up with a bank account. You do your internet banking, but you know how proudly we homeless people stand in the queue at the bank? Charlize Theron moment.

Last week, it was very warm but I carried a jacket with me. You know why? Because I went to fetch my medication.

I can’t go off this regimen. I can’t lose my meds. If I do, I die. So, I have to carry the whole bang lot with me everywhere I go. I have nowhere safe to store my goods.

What do I want you to do about it? Oh, please, I don’t want your pity. I don’t need you to feel sorry for me.

I want you to talk to me.

I want you to see me.

I want you to acknowledge my humanity.

I want you to greet me.

I’m human too.

Sincerely,

Danny”

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