An extraordinary day in South Africa

” Before I joined this program,  during my study of Social Work I lived five months in Johannesburg/ Pretoria (South- Africa) to fulfil an internship at Services to people with disabilities (SPD). My task together with my colleagues was mainly to focus on ‘issues’ of the people in the township/ slum Soshanguve. We as Social Workers were there for them, and talked to them whenever they came to our office. Besides this we visited our clients houses and schools. The main issues we were trying to solve were; finding foster parents for children, marriage problems, abuse of alcohol and drugs, finding schools for children with special needs etc.

During my time in the country, I always dreamt of going, I kept record of daily activities including the mentioned internship but also the adventures in my personal life.

This week could be considered as a normal five day working week again, again a week in which a lot of things happened.

On Monday nothing happened in particular, but the Tuesday changed the quietly started week totally.

Around 8.30 in the morning we left as usual from town to Soshanguve, as mentioned it was a Tuesday but it looked way more like Friday the 13th. This morning we visited a client from who we knew that her son was dying, and just the past weekend this man actually died. This man was infected with HIV/ AIDS and refused to take his medicines for a long time, and his choose an very painful and inhuman way to die. During the visit the atmosphere was logically very, very sad. After showing our compassion and giving them our condolences we left.


We visited this house one time before he passed away, and that time we visited him in his bedroom. I will never in my life forgot that visit, entering his bedroom I saw the most harrowing situation in my life. This man was laying on his bed, absolutely skinny and naked, in a room that was so dark, dirty and smelling that we had to close our noses to go in. He refused to be helped, his family members tried everything but sometimes he got even aggressive when someone tried to help him. A very, very sad story and to assist the family we called an ambulance. He spent his last days in a local clinic in Soshanguve.

This heartbreaking story was only the beginning of a very extraordinary day. During our lunch an enormous fire in a local mall started. This fire had been burning for hours before it was under control, a couple of buildings were totally destroyed because of this fire.

After lunch strange enough nothing happened for almost two hours, but of course the 3rd situation couldn’t take very long.

Around 2.30 we drove trough Block AA of Soshanguve, one of the two blocks we were responsible of, on our way to see a client of us. But while driving we suddenly saw a man in the middle of the street, he seemed very disorientated, besides that he tried to attack a random passer-by. But right after he heard our car coming closer to him, he turned around, and decided to walk straight to our driving car. For us there was no other option than to stop the car otherwise we would have hit him. We stopped the car, but the man started to lay on the front of the car and afterwards he started to grab the wheel. This moment was horrifying, the three of us came to the conclusion that the man was totally under the influence of drugs. During the time he grabbed the wheel, more than a minute, he look very deeply in my eyes. I can compare his face with that of an zombie, his eyes almost fell out his head, he was sweating a lot, and he didn’t respond to a single word we said to him. He probably looked only at me because I’m white, but I wouldn’t have found it a punishment if he didn’t look at me at all. It was a minute that felt like an hour, indescribable what went through me. Eventually we succeeded in getting his hands of the wheel, he was strange enough pretty strong. After he was not attached to the car anymore another car came pretty fast in his direction, he started to run at this car just like he did with our. The difference was that this car didn’t stop, but he grabbed the wheel of this car too. But because this car was still driving, and he pulled the wheel the car almost hit a tree. Somehow the guy in the car found a way to drive away, but because of that the disorientated man remembered us again and started to attack us. He was ready to fight, and attacked my colleague.

After a small struggle he started walking towards me. After I hit him once, he came back, but my colleagues were there to help me out and finally we overpowered him. Afterwards we asked bystanders where he lived, strangely he lived 15 meters away from the spot. We dragged him to there, only to see that his mother opened the door and forced him to go in. He was still very mad, because of ‘what we did to him’, and he tried to open the door again in every single way he could. Our advantage was the most houses in South- Africa have two doors, one looks like a railing. Luckily for us this one was closed, so he couldn’t attack us again. After we just left, we saw and heard that his mother started to beat her son with some sort of stick. In our experience he almost didn’t notice it at all, because he was still totally influenced by the drugs. And other heartbreaking fact was that while we dragged the man in his house, we saw a four year old boy sitting on the couch (probably his son), who saw that his father received more than 50 strikes with a stick by his grandmother. These physical punishments are in South- Africa very common, and my colleagues didn’t seemed surprised at all. I was very shocked, and even more knowing that the little boy was still sitting in the living room..

After asking around in the neighbourhood we found out that the man used a combination of marihuana and a very low quality of cocaine, regularly used in townships like Soshanguve.

This particular Tuesday was the most extraordinary day in Soshanguve I had, the lesson we’ve learned is to always lock or doors and to be more careful if possible. What a day, what a day!”

Yannick ten Dolle – Fighting shoulder to shoulder with The Poor

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An extraordinary day in South Africa
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