A woolly head of dreadlocks, old dirty brown trousers tucked into large gumboots and wheelbarrow loaded with all sorts of strange scavenged goods. If Rooiland Nangu walked past you on his regular route down Fitzroy Street, you would hardly believe that this man was wealthy. But he is.
At seventy seven years old Rooiland can regale any audience who can understand him with fascinating stories about his past. One of these stories is the tale of how he came to live where he does.
After working all over South Africa, Rooiland came to Grahamstown to work in a tannery for a man called Mr Mentz however there came a time when his employer chose to leave South Africa. On leaving the country, Mr Mentz left his cows, his land and the old tannery building to Rooiland.
In addition to this Mr Mentz left Rooiland a large amount of money in a bank account but Rooiland doesn’t trust banks and has decided to make do with his monthly pension grant without ever needing to use the money left to him. He is determined that when he dies the money and all his possessions will go to his five year old Andile, the youngest of seven children.
And so Rooiland lives from day to day, a rich man, making do on the bare minimum. While Rooiland busies himself with daily chores like tending to his cows, cooking, and fetching water, he is constantly on the lookout for thieves who vandalise and steal his property.
He blames his neighbouring relatives for this, saying that they are jealous of his good fortune however he maintains that he is not a rich man. He hides his money under rocks, his clothes in trees and after his monthly shopping trips is too afraid to keep his food in his house for fear of it getting stolen so he leaves it with a friend who lives on Fitzroy street and returns every week with plastic packets to take a little home for himself.
While Rooiland is not poor, he lives in poverty because he cannot show his wealth for fear of his jealous neighbours. His property is not all that is threatened; his cattle and his dogs are constantly in danger. His large collection of dogs has shrunk to three. All the rest have been poisoned or disappeared because they wander around the area or else bark at night at intruders on Rooiland’s property.
It seems that when one man thrives and does well, those around him do not celebrate his good fortune but rather try to cut him down, do him wrong, and bring him back down to their level. The Chinese have an aphorism which states that "the tall poppy is cut down" and this is what can be seen in this neighbourhood. The problem seems not to be one of money but rather of a poverty mentality. Despite his spiteful neighbours and resulting paranoia, Rooiland keeps himself busy, happy and strong. “I am content. I am fresh like a fish in the water” he says, laughing.