Washing away unemployment

Gift Lelaka (23) was born and raised in Soweto. In grade 11 he dropped out of school and was left unemployed.

Gift learnt from a man in Soweto who used to stand at a busy intersection and wash windscreens how to do this, and always had the idea in the back of his mind.

Fast forward a few years, Gift met a girl from Rustenburg who fell pregnant and had his child. “I stayed in Joburg and she was and still is living in Rustenburg,” he tells. “I then had a feeling she was cheating on me, and needed to get as close to Rustenburg as possible to catch her out.”

Gift moved to Oukasie in Brits, where his mom also lives, in order to be close enough to Rustenburg to satisfy his suspicions. He just giggles and says “her attitude was still funny so I knew she was cheating,” when asked whether he managed to make the findings he was hoping to make by moving.

Gift realised that he would need to do something to make money, but does not have any formal education, and then remembered his one skill he learnt back home.

Around three and a half years back, he managed to get a squeegee and a two liter bottle filled with soapy water to wash the windscreens of motorists in Brits. Gift chose the intersection he would work at wisely.

As he watches the traffic lights attentively, he runs up and down at the big, busy four way intersection in Brits where Hendrik Verwoerd and van Velden roads cross. There is a non-stop flow of traffic in all directions at the intersection. As the light turns red for traffic heading in one direction, he runs and offers his windscreen cleaning services to one motorist after the other who are waiting for the light to turn green.

Some people treat Gift very rudely and with terrible impatience and give him a cold shoulder. Others look straight ahead and pretend that he is not even there. “I don’t let this get to me,” says this strong-willed young man. “I just see it, take note, and move along – eventually there will be someone who will allow me to wash.”

Gift says he has regular clients who he knows always want a quick windscreen wash. “I know their cars and will run to them and wash quickly if they happen to stop here.” This is Gift’s routine from around 09:00 to 17:00 every day. He says he doesn’t really get tired, even in the blazing Brits sun. “I work for a couple of hours, rest for 30 minutes and then go on.”

Gift worked this way on his own, wearing a self-printed T-shirt saying “R2 Windscreen Man” until he was noticed by Cash Converters in Brits. “We saw how dedicated Gift was and decided to sponsor him, so he wears our vest and we pay him at the end of the month. We wanted the public to see that we support him,” said Wikus Hattingh, the floor manager of Cash Converters in Brits. He also collects his water and soap from there every morning now.

Gift says that motorists give him things from time to time, including food, clothing and some extra money on good days.

Cerise Mtshatsheni

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