Every day for the past 18 years, come rain or sunshine, Waleed Solomons has trekked from Mitchell’s Plain to the Cape Town CBD to set up his stall where he sells fruit to the people moving through the city centre.
“The people in Cape Town are very nice. They always have smiles on their faces. They make me happy,” he told CapeTowner.
Waleed, who grew up in Westridge with his grandmother, had to leave school at the age of 14 to work for his family.
His father, Ebrahim, who lived in Bo-Kaap, was already a hawker. Ebrahim worked at St George’s Mall in his early days, and, when Waleed left school, he took him in to help him sell fruit.
“My father didn’t want a stranger running his business. And seeing that I needed work, I decided to work with him.
“My family has lived off this business up until today. I didn’t really have a choice. I was 14. But it’s what I had to do.” When he was 14 years old, the fruit stall was at Thibault Square, but when it started getting busier, the stall moved to where it is now – on the corner of Long and Hans Strydom streets.
“I think they moved us because the office block became busier. We were a bit of a disturbance to the people who had to walk in and out of the block,” he said.
Waleed said there will always be a market for fruit in the hawking industry.
“Fruit never goes out of fashion. It’s healthy, and people need healthy food. I also love meeting new people every day. This is why I sit here. This is why I come to work.”
Waleed said the prices of the fruit vary because of quality, and how ripe they are. The riper the fruit, the quicker you have to sell it. “I have to have good quality fruit for the people in the city. Also, the cost of living is higher here.
“Hawkers on the Cape Flats and at traffic light get to sell their fruits and vegetables for a lower price because the cost of living is lower where they are.”
But even though Waleed charges a little bit more for his fruit, it is still one of the most affordable places to get fresh fruit in the city, and he often bargains with regulars, people who buy lots of fruit, or people who are short-changed but really want a good piece of fruit.
And although Waleed feels at home in the city centre, he is bothered by the drug market, and brazen users in the city bowl.
“The dealers make it difficult for us as honest, hard workers to earn a living, because they sell drugs everywhere.
“Especially on the Grand Parade. The street people sit and use drugs like it is legal. This is why we don’t have a fruit stall on the Parade. It’s much more quiet here.”
Waleed said while business changes every day and tomorrow is not guaranteed, he still sees himself hawking for many years to come.
His hope is to open a store in the city centre where he can sell fruit from, so that he can leave something behind for his family.
“This is my life. This is all I know. What did I have at the age of 14? Now at least I can support my family and hopefully leave this to my children.”