Busking in the dark

Patrick Mthanyana

Patrick Mthanyana’s world may be dark, but it is filled with music.

The blind busker can be seen strumming his guitar outside Woolworths in St George’s Mall every day of the work week.

Accompanied by his wife, Patricia, on tambourine, they add to the vibrant atmosphere of the area.

Mr Mthanyana was born and raised in Ku Qumbu, a small village in the Eastern Cape where, he said, “life was tough.”

“We were struggling and we were very poor.”

A case of severe measles at the age of 3 robbed him of his sight.

Although there was a school for the blind in Mthatha, Mr Mthanyana ended up not going when he got older because his mother could not afford to take him.

He had no other choice but to learn how to make use of his hands and help his mother at home.

“I came to learn how to weave baskets, sometimes fusing them with wool, and I stuck by it,” he said.

On 31 July 1990, he packed his bags and headed to the Mother City, hoping that Tygerberg hospital could help him regain his sight, but the news was not good.

“I remember the doctor saying that my eyes were beyond repair and that there was nothing they could do.”

Mr Mthanyana realised he had to look for a job to sustain himself.

He joined the basket weaving team at the Cape Town Society for the Blind where he stayed 30 months.

He also supplemented his income by charging children to play TV games at his house.

Eventually, he said he left his job as a weaver and that was when he bought himself his first guitar.

“I had the courage to form a choir with my ex-wife and that went on very well until we separated.”

He said he started singing and playing his guitar in the train where passengers would sometimes give him money and that kept him going.

He also met Patricia on the train.

They thought it would be a good idea if they applied for a busking permit and when they received it initially he said the space in the walkway over Strand Street where he busked was nice, orderly and there was security so it suited him perfectly.

As time went on he said the place became very unpleasant as security left and hawkers took over.

He said robbers also came and that’s when they started losing a lot of money.

They eventually left the walkway after applying for a permit that allowed them to sit anywhere in the city and they chose outside Woolworths.

“I love sitting here because there is shade, it’s a little peaceful and people support our music,” he said.