I woke up this morning to emails informing me that one of my Cape Town kids, Zakkie, passed away. Gulp! On days like today I feel further away from South Africa than the geographical distance tells. I had to get the oil changed on my grandma’s car early this morning and I sat there in the waiting area full of people, tearing up and looking like a fool, as I looked back on the life of little Zakkie; bitter-sweet indeed.
Anybody who knew Zakkie will remember him for being a little ball of energy and life. And by anybody, I mean everybody in Cape Town, because Zakkie and his brother Mogamat are as popular in Cape Town, on Long Street, as Table Mountain herself. There is not a tourist alive that hasn’t run into them at some point, and they are both loved dearly by their Cape Town street family.
Zakkie was the perfect example of why it should be illegal for a child to live on the streets. His parents brought him there when he was merely a baby, and he was raised on the streets. Exposed to the harsh realities of street life from such a young age, his loyalty and addiction to the Mother City was engrained in him from early on; he was enamored by her love, and could not escape her abuse. He was 16-years-old but looked about 10. Years of street life, and all that it entailed, finally caught up with Zakkie yesterday and his little body could take no more.
Zakkie, Mogamat, and their family were some of the first people I met on the streets when I first visited Cape Town in 1999. They welcomed me as one of the family from that point on. I watched the two brothers grow up before my very eyes. I was with them for many of the ups and downs that life threw at them, and have so many fond memories of beautiful moments spent with the Zakkie and Mogamat.
One of my most precious memories with them happened when I spent the 16 Days of Activism (in 2008) living on the streets, in protest to the fact that we allow children to live on the streets. I ran into Zakkie and Mogamat on Long Street early one Sunday morning. They knew, probably better than anyone, that Sunday is one of the hardest days on the streets to find food, due to all the soup kitchens being closed, and not many people being around. They asked if I had eaten and I said no. Worry covered both of their faces.
Mogamat reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of money, they had spent the entire night earning. He said they would buy me breakfast. I told him it was sweet, but I couldn’t take their money. Mogamat made a joking comment about how he doesn’t “give money to street kids” and he was planning on buying me food rather than giving me money. Zakkie (about 13 at the time) patted me in a half-joking, half-serious way and said, “We’ll take care of you my boy. Don’t you worry!” And that they did.
They bought some food for us and we went to the Company Gardens to eat it, and then they asked me to sit with them while they took a nap, because the security guards harassed them if they slept there. I was happy to oblige. After we ate, we stretched out in the grass and Zakkie laid his head on my chest. It didn’t take long before they both fell deep asleep. I remember looking at the two sleeping children and thinking how wrong it is for them to be allowed to live there on the streets, fending for themselves. But at the same time I felt an overwhelming sense of closeness at that very instant, a feeling that “family” goes beyond biology sometimes, and there was nowhere else I would have rather been at that moment.
I’ll remember Zakkie for his great sense of humor, his funny little laugh, and his enormous personality tightly packed in his tiny little body. He will be greatly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him. Though it’s hard to lose someone, I have peace knowing that he is finally resting in peace, where no security guards will harass him ever again. My thoughts and prayers are with Mogamat, the family, and all the others he left behind. Rest in Peace, Zakkie. I love you, little buddy!
This is a song I wrote back in 2008 with Zakkie in mind: So Young, featuring DJ Phax, Sipho Banda, & Jimmy Flexx.