Dignity Project EP14. ( Deidre doesnt want her face to be identified - DO NOT LIGHTEN HER FACE. )Deidre is feeding the pigeons with bread at Stroompie. She has been living here for close to year now. Stroompie is an open piece of land behind Trafalgar Hgh School where homeless people have been living for years. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Cape Town - Stroompie resident Deirdré was patiently awaiting her husband’s release from jail when we met her close to her home in the settlement.

A former restaurant manager at a five-star hotel in Cape Town, the mother of four says she accepts her lot in life as she is where she is as a result of the life she has led.

“I’m the black sheep of the family,” she says with a hint of mischief in her eye.

She adds that her siblings are jealous of the love her mother has for her and, as a result, they take their feelings out on her children, who live with them in Mitchells Plain.

“They can’t take it out on me because Stroompie is my home.”

Her eldest daughter, Deirdré says, often jokes with her about it.

“I tell her I must go home and she says ‘but mommy, you don’t have a house’, but this is my home.”

Deirdré recently finished a 40-day stint in Pollsmoor Prison for the possession of drugs.

She says a raid by law enforcement and the police led to the discovery of marijuana in her home.

“My husband is Rastafarian. So yes, we smoke dagga some times. So they picked up these drugs here and they said it belongs to us. But then they scratch around and find other stuff too. The dagga is fine, but it’s the other stuff that gets you in trouble.

“You know, we like to trick the young white people. We crush up Grandpa (headache tablets) and put it into little plastic bags, and then we sell it to them as cocaine,” she laughs heartily.

“Now, the cops find these packets and they say it’s cocaine and we’re like ‘don’t be stupid man, it’s Grandpa! If you taste it you will see it’s just Grandpa’, but they don’t want to listen, they just arrest you and throw you into the back of the van. Now I must go sit in Pollsmoor for 40 days while forensics sits with the stuff to test if it’s cocaine.

“My husband got four months for possession, and he’s about to be released.”

Deirdré got married on December 20 last year and their wedding was the first to be held in the middle of the field in Stroompie.

“Soema there on the pitch,” she laughs again at the memory.

She says her family also ostracises her because of her husband.

“He’s from North West, so he’s black. They don’t like that.”

Deirdré says she doesn’t mind going to prison for her crimes, but her last stint in Pollsmoor wasn’t her fault.

“You know, I know this one lady who went to prison also for that 40 day cool-off, and she picked up TB there. She came out of prison and died. And she did nothing wrong. She just went to Pollsmoor, got TB and died.

“I don’t mind answering for my crimes. I will stand by that. If that’s what I did, then I must take responsibility for it, but don’t send to me to the mang (jail) for something I didn’t do.

“I’ve been there before, to Pollsmoor. I used to shoplift heavy. I used to walk out with trolleys of stuff that I can go sell somewhere.” She pauses at the memory. “That stuff is behind me now. I used to live that high life. Company car, good job, lots of trips… but you know, it ends. You make bad choices, drugs, partying. And you lose it all. It all just disappears and suddenly you’re living on the streets wondering how it happened. Your head is still spinning.”

Deirdré shows a strong entrepreneurial spirit. As a means of getting by, she sells to the community of Stroompie. She saw a gap, and took it.

“Where are you going to get a cigarette at 8pm in the evening when you live here in Stroompie? So, I go and buy a few packets, I’ve got a variety for different tastes, and I charge R1 a cigarette.”

Arab’s eldest son comes over to buy a cigarette. They exchange a few words and he leaves satisfied.

“My best customer,” she smiles.

Deirdré returns to working on the crossword puzzle in a magazine she has in front of her. She sells other things too, like drinks decanted into smaller containers. Arab, one of the principle residents of Stroompie, joins us carrying a large blue plastic bags.

He pulls out an old smartphone he says he could get a few hundred rand for. He also has a few USB and charging cables for a variety of phones he’d collected from various dustbins in the Devil’s Peak area.

“If the cops find this stuff on him,” Deirdré says, “they will accuse him of having stolen it. You know, the other day, one of Danny’s friends got stabbed. Danny was distraught. Why don’t the police rather go look for the guys who did it instead of harassing us for petty things. There are murders and drug dealing happening every day around here, but they would rather bother us than deal with real crime like gangsterism.”

Deirdré says all she wants is an opportunity to get back to the level she once was.

“I’m still young, in my 40s, but I’m still young and I can still do something good.

“I know I can get back up, but I need an opportunity. Everyone just needs an opportunity.”

Cape Argus