Jannie the vagrant received no donations. Photo supplied.
Date: 21 January 2019 By: Jo Robinson
Earlier this week, Levubu resident “Jannie” undertook a social experiment of his own. Working on the assumption that no matter what most people believe about themselves, judging books by their covers is indeed a lot more common than not.
Jannie grew a beard during the month of November as part of the Movember challenge. Movember is a charity organisation that funds projects for research into men’s health; specifically aiming to prevent men from dying too young from, among other things, cancers and mental health issues. “I decided to keep growing it until my family, friends and customers told me I looked terrible,” said Jannie. “Then I would do a personal experiment in 2019.”
On Monday, he first dressed up as a vagrant and visited a few local shops to ask for a handout. At noon, he changed his outfit, partially shaved, and dressed as a “biker”. Finally, he had a complete makeover. Dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and tie, after having had a full shave, he once again approached shops to look for donations. “The bum and the biker did not receive nothing,” said Jannie, “but the clean-shaven, well-dressed version of me received R160.” He decided to share some of his journey, as well as the reason that he finds it so important that people should not be too quick to judge others on appearances.
Firstly, he introduces himself. “Hi. My name is Jannie, and I am an alcoholic.” He grew up in a mining community in the North-West, in a very dysfunctional household, with a father and a string of family members who were also alcoholics. He told the Zoutpansberger: “The first time I drank at the age of 13, I got paralytic drunk, but it was such a great feeling to me, even though I felt like dying the morning after. This was ‘magic stuff’. Life had colour in it if I put alcohol in my body. I drank at every opportunity, and if there was no opportunity, I created one. I did this throughout my life. I knew deep down inside myself that I was different but could never admit that I was an alcoholic. I changed from brandy to whiskey to rum, and finally to drinking beer only. I rationalised that I could not be an alcoholic if I only drank beer. Or so I thought.”
By February 2003, at the age of 38, Jannie was consuming at least 35 cans of beer daily, drinking them throughout the day. By then he had two failed marriages and three children. He had lost at least five great jobs by then by always resigning before he could be dismissed. “I thought that if I stopped drinking, I would die and knew that if I continued drinking, I would die. Ek was gatvol om gatvol te wees. I agreed to go to a rehabilitation centre, under the impression that they were going to help me to drink like a gentleman and not to stagger when I was drunk.” It took many sessions and meetings before Jannie finally realised that he had a bona fide disease. “I have the disease called alcoholism,” he said. “That means that I am highly allergic to alcohol in all forms, shapes, and whether it is cooked or not. I can never, ever drink successfully. I will die a sober alcoholic or a drunk alcoholic. This is my daily choice. This was devastating news to me. Worse than any I had ever had to deal with before.”
After eventually accepting that he had this disease to his innermost self, Jannie said he was able to move forward. He said that the secret for him was never to take the first drink. Whatever it takes. Nothing is as good or as bad as taking that first drink. “Do it for today only. The past is the past and the future is not here yet. We only have today. I have been a proud member of a 12-step programme in Louis Trichardt since 2003. I attend meetings as regularly as possible, and by the grace of God it was not necessary for me to take that first drink, not today. Life has gone on for me on life’s terms. In my sober life, I am the proud father of two girls who have never seen me drunk. I married and divorced, remarried, was retrenched, lost jobs and businesses, started my own business, and for today I am doing well.”
Jannie wants to emphasise once again that people should not to judge a book by its cover. He said: “What struck me most was that people I have known since 2005 when I moved to this area from Johannesburg, people who had never seen me drunk, their first comments and questions when I was dressed as a vagrant included ‘You look terrible. Did you start drinking again?’ The massive irony of this book-judging experiment is that the vagrant was perfectly sober, and that for the last three years of my drinking career, while drinking 35 beers a day, I was a senior loss-control executive for a large retail company where the dress code was long sleeves and a tie every day.”
Jannie’s final message to recovering alcoholics is to be aware that you are not a bad person, you are a sick person. And for everyone to be aware of this before judging too harshly on appearances.
Jo joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2018 pursuing a career in journalism after many years of writing fiction and non-fiction for other sectors.