Living on the streets of the city centre is tough, but Etienne Kies and Willem Havenga are determined to better their circumstances by making their jewellery business work.
Etienne and Willem run a jewellery stall in the Company’s Garden, where they also sit and make pieces when they are not busy serving customers.
“We met at the District Six night shelter, and Willem taught me to make jewellery,” said Etienne.
“We’ve been business partners for about four years now, and we really enjoy what we do. We are hoping that we become successful.
“All our jewellery is handmade. We even make our own tools. While Willem is good with making sets, I use anything I can to create different designs. We are artists in our own right, and people love our work,” he said.
“The people who buy our style of jewellery are here in the city. We have already built our client base here.”
Etienne grew up in Bonnievale with his grandmother, as his mom when he was two years old.
When his grandmother died, his father showed up for the first time to take Etienne and his brother in, but they were treated badly. “We were physically abused, so we ran away – we were even reported missing. We ran back to our family in Bonnievale, and we were told to work for our money.
“I was in Grade 7 at the time – my biggest focus was to matriculate.”
He said his father was a very disruptive force during his schooling, but through the intervention of social services, he and his brother were able to finish school.
While they both wanted to study, Etienne decided to give his brother an opportunity and went to find work to take care of his sibling.
He then found a job in Atlantis. He wanted to move to Cape Town so he rented a flat with a colleague’s daughter’s partner.
“His family made canvasses and we decided to open our own business. I did the sales – I was good at it and we were very successful. Then he had to meet his parents overseas and I had to run the business on my own. Eventually I took on another business partner because funds were running out.”
But then Etienne fell ill and was hospitalised. “After I had recovered, I found that my new business partner had taken my business. I had nothing, so I came to the city centre and ended up on the streets.”
Willem, however, started living on the streets “by choice”. Originally from what was Transvaal, he has lived in Cape Town for 19 years. “I had a successful non-profit organisation that provided wheelchairs for cerebral palsy children,” he said.
Willem said he and his wife lived among people who drank and became disruptive in his life. “I hate alcohol – it makes people do stupid things. And before I lost myself in that world, I packed my bags and left.”
Willem said that on his second day on the streets of the CBD, he was robbed of all his belongings. “I still had my jewellery-making skills. I learnt to make jewellery when I fixed my wife’s earrings.”
He later found a job through the Department of Social Development (DSD) and pumped all the funds into his business. “I went through many processes to get my business up and running, and the Company’s Garden’s management was kind enough to give us this stall. I am so grateful that Etienne joined me. He is my right hand.
“Our business is growing – we even reached an international market here. We would like tour guides to make our stall one of the stops, so that tourists can spend some time here to see what we do,” said Etienne.
But living in the city centre is expensive, and they are looking for affordable accommodation close by. “Life is tough on the streets. Everyone steals your things. I was robbed at least five times. Some of the street people are ruthless, and sometimes criminals live among them.
“Myself and Etienne fell through the cracks. Some of the other homeless people don’t accept us because we have our own business. Now we are too rich to be homeless, but too poor not to be,” said Willem.