Kevin’s story starts – here.

The next part of Kevin’s story I uncovered by accident. On his Refugee Permit, I saw his address was listed as an orphanage. Which turned out to be in Johannesburg. I contacted them and they were most distressed to hear one of their children had died in such tragic circumstances. The director of the orphanage remembered Kevin and she had his file. She and his social worker had a conversation with me on speaker phone.

The official photo of Kevin from the orphanage

According to their file, Kevin was taken in on 17th May 2013. He was officially admitted 5 days later. He spoke little English and they had a translator help them put together his story.

Kevin told them he had no living parents. He had lived with his two uncles. Kevin said his uncles wanted him to sell drugs. He was brought to South Africa by one of the uncles. The story is vague, but we do know that Kevin lands up in South Africa alone. He speaks of being taken to a room where people are wearing doctor’s outfits. There appears to be a police raid. Kevin mentions a driver who was shot in the leg. The driver tells Kevin to flee. The next thing he is assisted by social workers, who place him in the orphanage. Kevin would be about 14 years old. At the orphanage, Kevin apparently learns to speak English quickly. But he frequently absconds – and is working for a man from the DRC.

A document in the file, written exactly to the day that he would take his life – 7 years earlier – Kevin expresses his wish to die. He tells the interpreter that he is tired of living. He has seen “too much things” in his life.

I’m assuming Kevin struggled to fit into routines. Or was perhaps being influenced by an outsider. He made the decision to leave the orphanage. To do that he had to provide an affidavit that he was an adult. Which he did. The orphanage had no choice but to release him.

There are two further notes on his file which relate to Kevin being admitted to hospital. He’s admitted to Thambo Memorial Hospital 28th May 2016 and to Helen Joseph Hospital 17th June 2016. Both instances record an issue with substance use. And both times Kevin absconded from the hospital.

There are three missing years for which I have been unable to account. He spent time in Gauteng. Possibly with family.

Kevin has an older sister who I’m led to believe arranged for him to move to Cape Town and stay in Joe Slovo township late 2019. He struggled to find work and apparently had to sell his smart phone to pay rent. Kevin was getting desperate. One afternoon in late January 2020, it seems he was standing at the end of Erica Road in Milnerton, exhausted from giving out C.V.’s, he was given a lift by a young man who would offer him a job the next day. A lifeline. A way out of his dire situation.

The person who offered Kevin a job was the young owner of a dog walking business in Milnerton, Cape Town. I met him and his partner – Tuesday 16th June 2020 (Youth Day) – when I went with Kevin’s brother, his wife, and my husband to collect Kevin’s possessions. Kevin had been sleeping in the garage and had not taken anything when he left.

Kevin out walking dogs

The appointment was for 11:00am. Kevin’s brother had asked this young man if he could pack up his sibling’s belongings himself so he might have closure. My reason for coming along was I hoped if we met in person, he would help me with Kevin’s story. He would hopefully know a lot more than I did.

Despite three polite texts to Kevin’s employer (8th June/11th June/15th June), and three to his partner, (same dates) asking if one, or other, or both of them – would meet me so I could help piece together Kevin’s life. There was zero response.

Hey, one of his employees had committed suicide. He might have been traumatised. I hoped that a one-on-one meeting, and almost two weeks later, enough time would have passed which would enable us to work together so I could tell Kevin’s story. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This young man was late. Not a bit late either. No apology for that. He never expressed any condolences to Kevin’s family. Or even compassion. We were left standing in the street.

He went in – and came out – with Kevin’s possessions in a bag and placed it on the street in front of us. Kevin’s brother asked to be allowed to go to where Kevin had lived in the garage. This was declined.

Kevin’s brother explained there was a custom in his culture that required him to clean the space. A rite he wanted to do for Kevin’s family. The young man was unmoved. He turned his back and said – “I can’t entertain this anymore.” With that – he walked back into the property – and closed the gate. We stood outside in disbelief at the callous treatment we had just received!

Kevin had a way with dogs

Kevin’s boss had also kept someone (I think it was his mother) on a live call during part – or all – of the conversation.  No idea how much she was listening to. Had I not heard her asking during a quiet impasse – “Is everything OK?”, we would never have known this was happening. And we most certainly, never consented to it.

My guess is that the next employee taking Kevin’s place was already living in the garage, and Kevin’s boss didn’t want us to know.

So, here’s what I know about Kevin’s time at the dog walking company. I spoke to customers who I made contact with via the Milnerton Neighbours Facebook groups. I followed up on people who had commented on my Facebook post. I found various bits of info online posted by the dog walking company. Kevin also kept a journal. Plus his family and friends had insight into his situation.

Kevin happy with dogs

It would seem Kevin worked for the dog walking company from late January/early February – until late May/early June 2020. The exact dates vary depending on who you speak to. Prior to that – according to the dog walking company’s Facebook page – he had been out of work and was desperate to earn an income.

From what dog owners told me, and according to the company Facebook page – services offered were – Dog Walking, Dog Training, Dog Hotel and Dog Washing. On a page called Pet Backers, this company claimed to walk 40 dogs a day. Dog owners told me they were charged R75 per dog for a walk. Dog walking services occurred Monday to Saturday. Just on the dog walking alone, the income could have been R3000.00 per day. My guess is, with the extras, the income could have been over R100K a month.

Here’s the rub. Kevin was paid – R500 a week – for a six day  week. That’s R83 a day!

We know this is what Kevin was paid because this young man’s mother phoned Reverend Natalie after my visit with Kevin’s brother and said neither of us were to contact her son ever again. Apparently, her son was being made to look bad. Not sure by whom. She confirmed the salary to Reverend Natalie on the phone. Kevin’s boss also told the four of us in the street that’s what he was paid. And e-wallet payments on the phone showed Kevin’s weekly income.

Kevin kept a journal. He wrote his duties and hours in this journal. He started walking dogs from 06:00am to 09:00am during Hard Lock Down. After Lock Down was relaxed, he walked dogs until 10:00am. That’s up to four hours of walking – with up to 10 dogs at a time. Six days a week.

But that’s not all. After that, he had to feed the dogs, wash and fill bowls, pick up poop, fill holes, fix fences, put out bins, wash dogs . . . he actually said in his journal he had to “Give all”.

Excerpt from Kevin’s diary indicating his work hours

If he had spare time, he worked for family or friends of the dog walking company.

I believe Kevin worked long days. A friend of his said as much to me.

Every single one of the dog owners spoke of Kevin’s soft, gentle, nature. One woman said she asked him to be bolder when rattling the gate so he could be heard when he arrived. Kevin never did make more noise. He was described as a dog whisperer. He could apparently walk up to 5 large dogs on each arm. People stopped him in the streets to take photos of this feat.

Dog owners say their fur babies loved him. One woman said her dog did back flips when she saw Kevin. He would take them swimming at Milnerton lagoon. Throw sticks for them. And talk to them. They always listened to him. He never shouted or pulled his dogs. When he stopped and asked them to sit, they obeyed him. Even when people with dogs passed, the dogs he was walking were well behaved. He clearly had a way with animals.

Some owners indicated they were not satisfied with the services of Kevin’s boss. He wasn’t always reliable. Kevin was, they told me, the best thing to happen to the company. They also mentioned that the company had a history of dog walkers coming and going. The impression I got was vulnerable people would be employed and then eventually leave. Kevin’s suicide is what caused people to ask questions. To come forward and speak to me.

Kevin’s goals from his diary

People described Kevin as well dressed, good looking, bright, hardworking, and ambitious. A friend said he had hoped to get his paperwork in order and make enough money to move to Australia.

Some dog owners said their pets had gone quiet since Kevin had died. One woman said of her dog, “It’s as if she knows”.

Kevin’s story continues – here.

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