On the stoop of Dumela Dice Shop, Lucas Khosa was sitting underneath the Telkom phone booth, stitching a sandal with a sharp edge wire and a white string. Around him, minibus taxis passed from left to right. It was a hot windy morning that could have made any armpits to cry a river in Acornhoek. On top of a beer crate, Lucas’ son, holding his sneaker in need of repair, watched his father work. Women are the majority of customers in Lucas’s line of business, as they are known to like more shoes than men. Kicks and bobozas, sandals, stilettos, booths and more line closets of fashionista women everywhere. But Lucas admits that he sometimes struggles to repair them all. His customers wear their shoes until the heels break off. “It’s a disaster, but someone has to do it,” Lucus said, pointing to a stiletto missing a heel.
Thembi from Tintswalo was a new customer, wearing one sandal on her size nine foot. She was holding the other sandal in her hand. It had snapped on the way to her grocery shopping. She hobbled up with one dusty foot in need of Lucas’s help.
When Maria, another customer, first bought her size four gold strappy high heels at Shoe Crazy, she couldn’t wait to wear them as a Maid of Honour in a friend’s wedding. The shoes made her feel like a supermodel. “They gave me dignity, like I was someone else important.” After the ceremony, Maria only wore those shoes for special occasions.
The trouble began when she wore them during the first week of school in Hoedspruit. She wanted to make a fashion statement to her new classmates and instructors. The heels started to crack as she made long journeys to her bus station. Maria feared that the repair guys would ruin her perfect shoes. Someone had already ruined the heels of her other favourite stilettos. She hesitated to take her shoes to a cobbler and considered taking them to a person who could completely replace the heels. Eventually, she succumbed, locating Lucas through a friend. Lucas hammered and clued Maria’s shoes, leaving a few scratches and a little crack that has punched a hole in her heart. “I can’t wait to wear them. I feel like taking the ones I’m wearing now to put these on!” exclaimed Maria as she picked up her repaired shoes.
Like many ordinary South African men, being a cobbler was never the first career choice for Lucas Khosa. He used to work in a mine in Phalaborwa. His says underground ended when he started to get sick. He then consulted a doctor only to discover that he had developed a hearing problem. Lucas must wear a hearing aid for the rest of his life. “I felt like I was in a terrible nightmare that seemed endless,” he explained, rubbing his forehead and looking down. The mine saw his hearing loss as a liability, and he was instantly fired.
Lucas was forced to support his wife and their eight children with only his disability grant of R200. “The money was too little, but I managed to build a three room house,” Lucas proudly explained. In 1992, he began to use his skill of repairing shoes, taught to him by his uncle when he was just fifteen years old.
His ability to repair shoes came in handy for most people. Lucas’s bag filled with all shapes and sizes of shoes was proof of that. “Some of them stink,” Lucas joked. Poverty plays a major role in my communities, and often people don’t have enough cash to purchase a new pair. They have to settle for the second best thing: to have their shoes repaired and hope to negotiate for a better discount. “Helping each other is the key in this business,” said Lucus.
When dealing with customers on a daily basis, there is always some drama to add to Lucas’s list of activities. He feels that people tend to take advantage of him because he is Christian. They think he’ll take anything they throw at him without complaint. Some of his customers leave their shoes for many weeks. But he has since found a way of knocking them to their senses. “I go to their house and threaten to sell their shoes,” he said, laughing. “Of course, that’s just a stunt. I could never do such a thing.”
Lucas had since passed on his talent to his son, Afrika. Afrika takes over from when church business requires Lucas’s full attention. “Dad helps to feed us, but mostly he is helping the people,” explained Afrika. He feel that the main reason people need to have their shoes repaired constantly is because they buy fong kongs. “Shoes are like life, they don’t offer any guarantees,” he concluded.