PITCH: Greenmarket Square, CBD
Over the past 18 months, life has been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride for Big Issue vendor Leslie Collins. The veteran vendor tells us about some of his experiences.
Words: Alicia English Image by: Supplied
Big Issue vendor Leslie Collins has had a remarkable life journey, which has been intertwined with tragedy and triumph. The 65-year-old Leslie has devoted most of his life to caring for the elderly. “I was in the Rhodesian air force when I was young, and when I returned to South Africa in 1980, I looked after my elderly mother. I was her only family member and cared for her when she developed Alzheimer’s disease in her later years. I never married or had any children and sacrificed having a family of my own to take care of her,” he recalls.
Leslie joined The Big Issue in 2004 after falling on hard times. In 2007, he landed a job as a security officer at St Monica’s Old Age Home in Bokaap, where his mother lived when she became too frail to cope at home. He cared for her until she passed away, and “it was through her that I have this passion for the elderly”, Leslie says.
When his stint at St Monica’s came to an end in 2012, Leslie returned to selling The Big Issue magazine opposite the Vredehoek Spar. During this time, he started caring for an elderly lady named Mollie, until 2014 when she passed away. Leslie then cared for her best friend Helen, while continuing to sell the magazine. When Helen’s health deteriorated too, Leslie took time off from being a Big Issue vendor to care for her full-time.
“I looked after Helen from 2014 to 2018; she was like a second mother to me,” he says. After her passing, Leslie was informed that Helen had left him an inheritance. He says her family paid for his accommodation and put him up in
a flat while he waited for the Master of the High Court to release his inheritance. Unfortunately, they couldn’t continue paying for his accommodation, and Leslie was forced to find his own way in November last year. He is still waiting to receive his inheritance.
LIFE UNDER LOCKDOWN
When the president announced the national lockdown in March, Leslie was living in a Wendy house in someone’s backyard in Brooklyn. He made contact with The Big Issue and was informed that he could gladly return to selling the magazine, as the organisation has been certified as an essential services provider.
“The Big Issue is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It has once again been my saving grace. I don’t know what I would do without the organisation. Today, I have only had one sale; even though it costs me R40 to travel from Brooklyn to Vredehoek and back, I am grateful to be selling the magazine again. The Big Issue has once again proven to be one of the pillars in my life,” he says.
Leslie has strong views about the plight of the poor during the lockdown. “You can’t have an extended lockdown in a country with so many people living in poverty. The rich people don’t suffer under lockdown; it doesn’t affect the well-to-do. I feel very strongly about this. Government must go all out to elevate poor people’s living standards. I have a passion for poor people because I know what it is like to struggle.
“The COVID-19 pandemic should have taught everybody that life is fragile and short. There is no room for intolerance, accumulating wealth and thinking that riches will save you. Let’s care for each other and remember to help others, not just because of the pandemic. Try to love each other; Jesus said there is no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends,” Leslie says.
He adds that he also values the support from his customers, especially during the lockdown.