Thembinkosi Matimba or “TK” to his friends, was raised in four different environments, rotating between families in the Eastern Cape, Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, and Stellenbosch. At the age of 10, he was briefly reunited with his mother, then passed forward again to an uncle in Stellenbosch.

He always felt more at home on the streets, than inside any home. According to him, he never knew a house where he was not an outsider.

“It’s complete madness to be raised in so many different households, each with different sets of rules, expectations, and instructions. Without warm, lasting connections, I become lost,” says TK.

Addiction and Prison

The instability in his home life led to TK being introduced to the disastrous habits of life on the streets. By age 16 he was hooked on tik, the street name for crystal methamphetamine, and by age 17 he had dropped out of school.

Ten years of smoking tik changed his behaviour, appearance and complexion.

“I involved myself with bad people. The kind of people who corrupt each other on purpose. One mighty gang, united only in the resolve to fight wars, to rob the innocent and break into houses,” he says.

It all came to a head in 2016, when he was convicted for housebreaking and theft. He was sentenced to serve two years at Pollsmoor, the maximum-security prison in Cape Town.

True to his early fate as a child, TK was sent from one prison to the next. Towards the end of his sentence, he arrived at Drakenstein, a prison between Paarl and Franschhoek.

Breaking the Chains

For prisoners, there exists a thin line between life and death. Following his arrival at Drakenstein it became clear to TK that he had to change his life.

Mercifully, he found the right choice in the Word of God.

“Drakenstein is where I joined the church. In faith, I found a shield against the negative energy of bad people. I breathed deeply, and I watched carefully, and positively navigated my way out of prison,” says TK.

Finding his Saving Grace

Two months before his release from Drakenstein, TK was introduced to one of Valcare’s member organisations, The Message Trust.

The Message Trust aims to break the cycle of poverty, unemployment, gangsterism and crime in South Africa. They provide guidance and support systems for recently released youths, and help to reintegrate them back into society. The youth are placed in employment at various places like The Gangstar Café in Mowbray, where they continue to receive long term personal attention and care.

As soon as TK was released, he called The Message Trust, and he spent six months in Salt River, doing the reintegration programme. He was then placed into employment at The Gangstar Café before being sent to the Ground-up Academy in Claremont to qualify as a barista. TK emerged as the top achiever in his class of 16 students.

When The Gangstar Café opened a new branch in Durbanville, TK was their obvious go-to coffee guy. These days, you will find him at Sonder Café in Observatory, but he also trains new baristas for the Redband Academy and The Gangstar Café.

Focusing on the Future

Back at The Gangstar Café, his face radiates pride as he points to the larger than life poster of himself.

“My goal is to own my own coffee shop one day. I have the energy and skill to work with people,” says TK.

His focus is on staying busy at all times and to balance priorities between church, work, family, and his girlfriend.

“For better or worse, life will always teach you something. Even when you learn about bad things, it is still a lesson. Stop waiting for someone to drag you into the light. If you want to see the light, open your eyes and see the light.”

Photographs and original words by Marzahn Botha.