Columnist and homeless activist dies

Danny Oosthuizen, in the middle, with Kerry Hoffman and Charlene Shapiro of the Souper Troopers.

Danny Oosthuizen, 50, a homeless man who became an ambassador in the community of Cape Town through his column in the CapeTowner’s sister paper, the Cape Argus, died in hospital after losing his battle with cancer.

Danny, who lived on the streets of the city centre, was admitted to Groote Schuur on New Year’s Eve, where his health deteriorated until he died on Sunday night.

He was also an HIV/Aids advocate, and had spoken openly about his status in hopes to raise awareness.

Danny was recruited by former Cape Argus live editor Lance Witten and former editor Gasant Abarder in 2016 to formulate a project that would focus on the plight of the homeless living on the streets of Cape Town.

He became an ambassador for what would become the Dignity Project, and through the platform, had been keeping the community up to date with his battle with pancreatic cancer.

Cape Argus editor Aziz Hartley said Danny will be remembered for his humour, among other things. “I visited Danny in hospital last week and again on Sunday and it was quite sad to see him slip away.

“I knew Danny as a soft-hearted and intelligent human being. He had a wonderful sense of humour – even on days he was not feeling well. We’ll miss him,” Mr Hartley said.

Mr Witten said he did not want to remember Danny suffering, but rather as the “vibrant, off-beat, quirky character who was quick to crack a self-deprecating joke, quick to make light of a situation, even quick to make light of his very real pain.

“Danny taught me so much about humanity and myself, and the world is so much poorer without him. I’m glad his suffering is over, but I’m proud of what he’s managed to achieve – changing mindsets about the homeless and bringing the concerns and challenges of the least in society to the attention of the rest of us.”

Ian Veary, a former social worker at the Hope Exchange in Roeland Street, had met Danny five years ago when he was a student social worker at the then Carpenter Shop. “Danny’s life was hard on the streets of the city, but he managed to put a smile and a laugh on everyone’s faces. He was able to see the silver lining, and I hope he is resting well after his life struggles.”

He described Danny as an outspoken advocate, who, through his work with the Dignity Project, tried to mobilise resources for the homeless and also raised awareness about their plight.

Kerry Hoffman, from the Souper Troopers, a non-profit organisation that aims to restore dignity to homeless people and reintegrate them into society, said she met Danny in the Company’s Garden in 2014 while she was feeding the homeless. “He was such an easy person to talk to and never judged anyone, no matter what drugs or gangs or circumstances they were involved in. He just danced and laughed.”

She said the Souper Troopers had lost an icon, and that they were heartbroken. “He was the first trooper we met and it was because of him and the others who came on board along our journey that we’ve come this far.

“He would always find the humour in situations, and really shared the spirit of ‘life is too short’.”

Ms Hoffman said she was with him for the last few days at the hospital and contacted his family so he could talk to them. “His family is all over the world.”

She said he knew it was the end, and for the past month, he had given his all. “We will work to continue his legacy. He went peacefully, and we are glad that he is now doing the moonwalk with Michael Jackson,,” an emotional Ms Hoffman said.

The Central City Improvement District (CCID) social development manager, Pat Eddy, said when she first met Danny, he struck her as an intelligent person who was grappling with the many challenges of his past, including rejection, abuse and victimisation.

She said he often struggled to express his feelings or expose his vulnerability.

“Being given the opportunity of writing a column for the Cape Argus allowed him to draw on his life experience, and share some of the challenges of living on the street.

“He immediately connected with many people, and his honesty enabled him to change the public’s perceptions of the homeless.”

She said when Danny received his terminal diagnosis, he was determined to live life to the fullest, and refused to allow himself to feel hopeless, despite the very real physical and emotional changes his body was experiencing.

“This positivity allowed him to reach many milestones he feared would elude him, including celebrating his 50th birthday and Christmas.

“I hope his legacy lives on, and the many people he connected with through his writing will continue to build empathy across social divisions.”

The CCID CEO Tasso Evangelinos said:“Danny set an example for all of us, and through his column, taught people the value of tolerance and generosity to our fellow human beings. He was admired at the CCID for his tenacity and bravery, and he will be missed by our social development department and our staff.”

During his time as the Dignity Project ambassador, Danny appeared on TV and on radio. He had also been awarded the Louis Volks Humanitarian award from the Lions Club.