By Mbangwa Xaba

Greed that fuels opulence and an insatiable appetite for lavish life among government officials is eating at the soul of our nation, says a Joburg philanthropist and businessman.

Trevor Van Staden (56), reckons the seizure of assets from former Transnet Capital Projects executive, Herbert Msagala, by the Special Investigating Unit has hit him hard. He said in a society where more than two-thirds of the people are unemployed, have no income and can’t make ends meet, it is infuriating to have a single bureaucrat implicated in the disappearance of R3,8 billion.

To hear that he bought himself 35 cars from the proceeds of that crime, including SUVs, sedans, bakkies, an Italian sports car, several properties, a farm and nine homes in gated communities, can make you sick.

“If you have a commitment to several hundreds of helpless elderly people and children, who will go to bed on empty tummies without your intervention, such news would make you feel dejected, defeated and confused,” said Van Staden.

“I just don’t understand how something like this is possible.

“I was on my way to a weekly Thursday morning tuition class at 10am of Grade 2s that I teach English and Maths when the news hit me like a ton of bricks. I was still contemplating what to feed my pupils from the nearby Diepsloot informal community.

“They come to class having had nothing to eat,” he said.

Van Staden’s wish was to take Msagala to his class that morning, so “he could look at the teary eyes of children whose stomachs are rumbling because they are hungry.”

For the past eight years, Van Staden has dedicated time to help the poor communities in the Western Rand, Diepsloot, Claremont, Bosmont, Maraisburg and other parts of Gauteng.

He works in partnership with a local grill in Parktown and NGOs including the Lions of the North, to collect food and clothing for the less-fortunate.

He religiously takes time off his two businesses – a protective safety gear and a catering clothing range every Thursday for this work.

Van Staden teaches foundation phase pupils from Diepsloot at the HA Jack Primary School in Highlands North. From there he is off to delivering soup for the elderly at the Jerusalema informal settlement in the West Rand to about 400 elderly residents.

“I spend about 45 minutes with the children, teaching them rudimentary Mathematics. We stay with our pupils for a year. We start them with an assessment test – to check if they can cope with the Education Department’s curriculum. Come the end of the year, we then assess them. We are happy to record an 80% success rate with our pupils,” he said.

Over and above this work, the businessman collects clothing from other benevolent members of the community to donate to the struggling communities.

“We collect clothing, sports equipment like cricket bats, soccer or rugby balls or any other sports equipment, including furniture and blankets to help the communities we work with to experience life that others take for granted.”

Van Staden said he was worried about the impact of Covid on his work. He said they skip a week in some cases without providing their life-saving service to those in need.

He said in such hard times racial consideration is the last thing on his mind.

“I don’t help people based on their skin colour. But I am shamed by the black government, I must say. Their despondency toward black life is shocking.

“Access to food, shelter and education are basic human rights. It is depressing to read in the news how a black government loses billions stolen just for opulence while so many people are starving,” he lamented.

“I know poverty, I know how it is like to be hungry. I would have thought those in government had this experience and would care. Black people have suffered for so many years under apartheid. It shouldn’t be happening now.”

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