Asylum seeker with spinal cord injury faces eviction from his shack

Markus Nyoni can no longer pay his rent because of the Covid-19 pandemic

By Tariro Washinyira

12 June 2020

Photo of a man in a wheelchair working

Markus Nyoni in his shack in Lower Crossroads, where he repairs people’s mobile phones and laptops and helps them install software. Photo: Tariro Washinyira

Markus Nyoni has always been determined to be self-supporting. He lives in a shack and uses a wheelchair, yet he gets around on his own and earns a living. But now, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, he is facing eviction.

In his shack in Lower Crossroads, Cape Town, Nyoni repairs people’s mobile phones and laptops and helps them install software.

When he runs errands for his work, taxi operators help him to fold up and unfold his wheelchair again at his destination. He is able to stand for a short time with the aid of leg calipers.

Nyoni grew up in Gweru in the Midlands province of Zimbabwe. He did his High School at Chaplin. He holds a Diploma in Information Technology (IT) from Gweru Technical College. He worked for an IT company in Johannesburg for two years before relocating to Cape Town in 2010.

As an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe, he does not qualify for a disability grant and he has to renew his papers every three to six months.

Nyoni suffered a spinal cord injury when he was stabbed on his way to work on 3 January 2018. He says he spent a month in Groote Schuur Hospital and was then referred to a rehabilitation facility.

“I never imagined myself in a wheelchair. My spirit was broken for a while, but I quickly pulled myself up again and soldiered on. I had to rearrange my life, my career and come up with ways to uplift my spirit. I remained positive. I then decided to use my IT knowledge and skill to support myself financially.”

Before the stabbing, he had worked his way up from waiter to manager at restaurants in the Waterfront and then Sea Point.

“There are times I feel down … Most buildings are not wheelchair friendly. I get frustrated when I get to a mall and can’t access other offices because of my wheelchair. It’s a setback but I don’t lose hope. I am grateful to be alive and able to use my brains and hands to sustain myself,” he says.

But right now business is bad. Many of his clients are immigrants who worked in hair salons and the hospitality industry, and are now unemployed due to the Covid-19 situation. Repaired phones and laptops lie uncollected by people who can’t pay.

He is also anxious about his own health since he has numerous co-morbidities.

“Before lockdown I would travel to Cape Town, Bellville and Parow tracing people who owe me. I can’t also allow customers to visit me; it puts my health at risk. I take 31 tablets a day for health problems that include bladder control, urinary problems, constipation, shaking, spinal cord injury and bed sores.”

Nyoni was not been able to make his rent for April and May. His landlord evicted him on Tuesday morning, but allowed him back after the community intervened citing Regulation 36 of Alert Level 3 which prohibits evictions. He said he is willing to leave but needs adequate notice.

The landlord has not given up on trying to evict him and he has received messages via Whatsapp. In one voice note, the landlord says in Xhosa: “I don’t care what stage [level 3] you are talking about; that’s my own place. You can go ask the councillor to get you a place to stay, not mine … That’s my house. You will leave Markus.”

The landlord has refused to take our calls or reply to our messages.