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Philani Sithole, an informal cardboard recycler that is a participant of one of Asiye eTafuleni’s (AeT) projects, was attacked in December 2010 while sleeping and consequently lost his left eye. Even more shockingly, the attacker happened to be a fellow cardboard recycler and friend of his, nicknamed Bra Joe, who was senselessly aggressive as a result of drinking too much alcohol.

Philani before the insertion of the artificial eye

However, after Philani was released from the hospital and returned to work, against expectations of him seeking revenge; he forgave Bra Joe and did not lay charges. He says this is because he knows Bra Joe did not do it intentionally and it was because of impaired judgement whilst intoxicated.  Seeing this incredible act of forgiveness within this community of informal cardboard recyclers operating in the inner city, and seeing Philani struggle to wear eye patches and sun glasses to conceal the gorged eye – this inspired AeT to try and source an artificial eye to restore some dignity.

This atypical project was implemented by AeT’s creative administrator who applied immense energy and commitment in finding the right people. It was through consulting with International Centre for Eye care Education (ICEE) with whom AeT collaborated in providing eye-tests for traders in Warwick Junction that led to Mr Peter Furber of Eye-Craft Labarotory whose practice is supported by the Durban University of Technology.

Mr Furber inserting the new eye

Mr Furber identified that Philani had already been experiencing some infections because his eye lashes were being inverted into his eye socket, exacerbated by the dirt and pollution his occupation exposes him to. He fitted an artificial stock eye of good quality which will reduce the chances of serious infections in the future, and which he discounts considerably for people from lower socio-economic groups that cannot afford them.

Philani was overwhelmed with gratitude, as was the community of recyclers to which he belongs. He has reported going to Addington Hospital to assist him in the cleaning process and reinsertion of his stock eye. He said the medical staff were very impressed with the good quality of the stock eye because government hospitals only issue marble-like eyes of lower quality, and they marvelled at how lucky he is to have been assisted by AeT.

A very grateful Philani – a few days after the artificial eye had been inserted

These were some insights from AeT staff about Philani’s case:

“Getting involved in sourcing and [eventually] paying for Philani’s artificial eye has raised all sorts of questions for us as an organization – some humourous and others serious. As with everything AeT seems to be drawn into, there are significant moments or learnings.  On face value we shouldn’t have become involved or concerned – but that is not who we are!  This quotation makes this idea bigger and more significant: “Letting go is not for the purpose of forgetting or forgiving the past, it is about releasing the energy of the past to give us back our lives in the present which is necessary to deliver us into a new future” [Holloway, R. 2002. On Forgiveness. Edinburgh, Scotland. Canongate Books Ltd]
We do need to break the corrosive, violent interpersonal assaults that the men inflict upon one another [in the streets].  I think the notation of understanding what we have done to be an attempt at “releasing the energy of the past to give us back our lives, suddenly places what we have done into the realm of [potentially] a very powerful development strategy (…) I am certain that if we work with this potential “energy” we will experience a shift in the prevailing street culture.” Richard Dobson – Project Leader

“I truly consider myself lucky to have been part of such a self-less and caring family.  AeT through the prism of its actions on Friday and countless other situations embodies what we mean by Ubuntu – something currently lacking in broader society; and this is holding society back from realising the new future.  Thank you for the reminder.”  Mkhululi Nonjola – Law Intern

“Being a part of Asiye eTafuleni – is a blessing in my life – the work that has been achieved and still to be achieved is enormous.  I was chosen to take on a task which I thought impossible.  But, with the help of Asiye eTafuleni, ICEE, Durban Institute of Technology and Mr Peter Furber, we achieved giving a cardboard recycler an artificial eye and a new lease on life.  It is a true blessing to have been able to have helped and make a difference.   I know for sure it is Asiye eTafuleni’s mission  – to make a difference in the Informal Economy.  Chantal – Administrator

Mr Furber, Patric and Philani

“Seeing Philani a few days after losing his eye, I was so scared that he will take revenge but did the unexpected by forgiving the perpetrator.  I was so grateful and excited seeing the artificial eye inserted in his eye socket. Although he will not regain his eyesight, it somehow improved his ego and appearance. God Bless AeT” Patric Ndlovu – Senior Project Officer

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5 Comments, RSS

  • Lyn Wilson

    says on:
    April 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    What an amazing story of human suffering and forgiveness and well done to all people involved . Restores ones faith in humanity that there are still people out there willing to go the extra mile for fellow human being..

    • Richard Dobson

      says on:
      April 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm

      We have witnessed many acts of compassion amongst people who work informally, so I guess when you see it; it becomes infectious! Thanks for your response Lyn.

  • Meryl

    says on:
    April 5, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Agree with you Lyn, very inspiring, forgiveness is a step to healing,

  • Tasmi Quazi

    says on:
    April 14, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Thank you Meryl for your perceptive comment, this case was incredibly profound.

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