Kevin’s story starts – here.
His employer said in a Facebook post – “on 2nd June Kevin decided to leave our Company, we found this to have been a hasty decision on his part and his reasons were not clear as to why he was leaving”.
Given that Kevin had nowhere to go, no money and did not take his possessions, would indicate that the above statement is somewhat incomplete, and that Kevin probably did not leave of his own volition. Two days later Kevin took his life.
SAPS contacted numbers on Kevin’s phone. One was his employer, who in turn gave them Kevin’s sister’s number in Gauteng. She put SAPS in touch with his brother in Cape Town.
Saturday, two days after the suicide, the employer, his partner, plus a housemate and his partner, came in 2 cars to the spot where Kevin took his life. They were all very emotional. Reverend Natalie met them and then they spent time alone at the spot. His employer apparently said to one of Reverend Natalie’s neighbours that he had been in an argument with Kevin. It’s hard to imagine Kevin as difficult given the way he had been portrayed by those who knew him.
What is clear – there was a disagreement.
When the dog company owner’s mother phoned Reverend Natalie, Natalie indicated we were aware that there had been an argument, and asked what it was about. The mother said Kevin had returned late from lunch. It is quite possible that Kevin was fired on the spot!
On 16th June, Kevin’s brother asked about the circumstances of his employment. Kevin had no letter of employment. No UIF was paid. There was no severance pay. And no formal disciplinary action allowing him representation.
In a matter of minutes Kevin was left destitute. And homeless.
This flies in the face of what this company says on their website – “All our walkers are official “name of company here” employees. We don’t use independent contractors.”
All Kevin took with him was a backpack with – a dog leash, a current refugee permit, a notepad, a basic mobile phone, a C.V. and a bible. No jacket or warm clothes. No food. And no money. Bear in mind this was almost midwinter in Cape Town.
My Facebook post triggered an incredible reaction with people responding in myriad ways. Anger that dog owners didn’t enquire about his wellbeing during Lock Down. It needs to be said that Kevin was employed by a company, and not individual pet owners, so any responsibility should have fallen to his employers.
People shared stories, even photos, of loved ones they had lost to suicide. One woman lost three people since the start of Lock Down. People asked for food, talked about losing homes or said they could not stop crying. The tear emoji was posted again and again and again.
Kevin’s identity initially had to be concealed from the public as his full family had not yet been informed. People wanted to know who he was. Did they know him? Maybe seen him walking dogs? I got photos of dog walkers from people asking if it may have been that person. People wanted to reach out to him.
But the big question everyone asked – what drove Kevin to end his life?
Was he a tortured soul? Did he have nowhere to turn? When Reverend Natalie met Kevin’s boss, he told her Kevin suffered from depression. Not knowing Kevin, we believed this, and so the initial narrative around his death was that of mental health issues. They also shared photos of Kevin so we could finally put a face to his name.
We had his name wrong, he wasn’t Calvin. He was Kevin. We also had his surname wrong.
So, if Kevin did have depression as his employer stated, knowing it was winter, there was a Lock Down in place, and he had nowhere to go, surely his employers had a duty to at least check in on him?
A dog owner recalled the last time she saw Kevin. He came with his boss in the van the morning of Monday 1st June 2020. The following day Kevin was at the gate asking if he could walk their dog as he was no longer had work. Kevin said he needed to make money. He came back again the next day as the woman of the house had not been there the previous day. She said he never begged or asked for money. She had no idea Kevin was hard pressed. He must have been too proud to ask she said.
I think the thing that knocked me was Reverend Natalie saying how thin his body was. When we finally had photos of him, he had been fuller fleshed. It’s possible he had not eaten. Maybe not slept? He didn’t have warm clothing. Temperatures those winter days were around 9‘C at night.
It would appear Kevin just gave up. Lack of food and sleep, plus exposure to the cold made him weak. That he survived 2 – 3 days in those conditions is testament to his strength of character. But it was eventually too much.
He knew Reverend Natalie was home from seeing her earlier. It was a quiet street. She had the perfect fence. He could end his life right there and he would be found. It would all be over.
If only he knew how his life affected so many people, he might have held on a bit longer. Reverend Natalie said if only she had spoken to him. The guy with the Labradors says if only he had listened to him. The orphanage said if only he had stayed and got an education. If only Kevin knew where to get help.
Thousands of people said, if only they had known his circumstances.
He was a gentle young man who just needed a chance in life.
If only . . . . . .
Sadly, no one was there when he needed help.
Rest in Peace Kevin. Your memory lives forever.
Reverend Natalie Angela Barnard raised R35 000 which went to the costs of his funeral and a tombstone to place a year from his burial and a plaque to mark the spot he took his life. Sadly Kevin’s sister-in-law passed away a few months later and the tombstone money was used to bury her next to Kevin. Any contributions to fund a tombstone would be most welcome.
St Andrew’s Prestbytarian Church : Standard Bank : Branch – Cape Town : Account – 070 507 112 : Reference – Kevin Tombstone
You can view a live stream of Kevin’s funeral which was held 19th June 2020 at Maitland Cemetery in Cape Town – https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2601014750121479.
Suicide Helpline – 0800 456 789