Change is in your pocket

The Big Issue is a socially responsible non-profit organisation that enables willing unemployed and marginalised adults to take responsibility for their own lives through a developmental employment programme.
PITCH:  Meadowridge Centre, Plumstead
AGE:  56


We need your help

Michael is suffering from dysarthria, a condition often characterised by slurred or slow speech that can be difficult to understand. He would appreciate any counselling, training in handmade crafts, and assistance with securing his house. If you can help him in any way, please contact The Big Issue office on 021 461 6690 or

Michael Mangolwana

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Michael’s a survivor

Fifty-six-year old Big Issue vendor Michael Mangolwane, was born and raised in Nyanga, and has not allowed his unbearable upbringing to determine his future. Michael endured harsh living conditions as a child because his parents struggled with alcohol abuse.

“My parents were drunkards and I don’t remember even a single day that they were sober and talked some sense into me. Some days my younger siblings and I would go to bed on an empty stomach. We would often be woken by their fights or drunken noise during the night,” recalls Michael.

“The mistake that parents make, even today, is to think that feeding their children is enough. Children need to be loved and taken care of,” he adds.

Due to the impoverished conditions at home, Michael could not continue with his schooling and had to drop out when he was in Grade 2.

“My siblings and I had no support system at home and everything was a mess. I had no school uniform, nor did I have lunch money or a lunchbox. How can you learn on an empty stomach?” he asks.

Living in Nyanga, which is engulfed by crime and drugs, Michael soon found himself drawn to criminal elements in his community. “After dropping out of school, I lived a life of crime and substance abuse. Every weekend I would have new stab wounds or people would be coming to me to look for their belongings, which I had stolen.”

Clean living

Michael’s criminal lifestyle changed in 1989 when he found refuge in his Rastafarian faith. “It all started by listening to reggae music; I would meditate on the message of the songs. Then one day, I decided to leave my old life behind and follow the teachings of Haile Selassie. When I joined the religion, I was unemployed. At that time, my parents had passed away already and had left me their house as my inheritance. Even though my parents did not take good care of me when I was a child, they knew very well the importance of having a roof over your head.”

In 1998, Michael was introduced to The Big Issue by one of his neighbours. “I have been selling The Big Issue in Meadowridge for 21 years, and I don’t see myself stopping to sell this magazine because my religion promotes self-employment and using your God-given talent to put food on the table,” says Michael optimistically.

Home sweet home

For the past seven years, Michael has been living the life of a pullet (young chicken) in the presence of an eagle. He is terrorised by thugs who vandalise his home and damage and steal his belongings.

“As we speak, I have nothing to wear because yesterday I came back home and found my clothes torn apart; everything was a mess. I have reported these incidents to the police and the local street committee, and it seems like they don’t care.” Michael suspects the attacks on his home are intimidation tactics by people who are interested in buying his corner property.

Despite his living conditions, Michael is determined to rise above his circumstances. Although he has many painful memories of his childhood years in his house, it is still the only place he calls home. “People tend to undermine my intelligence and offer me money to sell this property because I am poor. At times, I would get tempted, but my religion is not based on materialism. Hence I prefer having a roof over my head to having printed paper money with another man’s face on it. I refuse to sell this property to anyone,” he concludes.


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