Sanele; Shared by Lisette Datnow

Thanks to an old, discarded coffee machine, Lisette and Sanele, the recycler, had the fortune of crossing paths. But this was not any friendship. For Sanele, it meant having someone to believe in him and in turn, inspire him to get off the streets—which he did! All the feels:


Johannesburg, South Africa (07 March 2024) — For Sanele Tolashe, a fortuitous friendship with Lisette Datnow did not just mean having a new person to call a friend. Sanele credits Lisette as the reason his life changed, and the reason he is no longer a street recycler.

Sanele and Lisette met thanks to an old coffee machine that Lisette’s son Michael had discarded back in 2020’s early lockdown.

“Somehow it was fortuitous that I saw [Sanele] pick the machine up and he said he was going to have coffee every morning like normal people,” Lisette recalls.

Every Tuesday, Lisette, Sanele and his late friend Lucky would chat when they came by to recycle items. Lisette began helping with cardboard collections from her office.

When the community worked on an upgrade project across the road, Sanele was in on the helpful action. This led to Lisette and her friends collecting new T-shirts, industrial safety boots and gloves for him, and at the handover, he and his friends and Lisette and her friends all sat in the park and talked. People from completely different worlds, weaved together with kindness and respect.

“These were people who were down on their luck, but good, decent people,” says Lisette. 

The friendship continued from there, and Lisette learned more about Sanele’s life, slowly becoming more than a friend, but someone who encouraged him with unwavering determination.

Sanele had a good life growing up in Carletonville but shares that things changed after his father and mother died. Despite going to school, he wasn’t able to finish his diploma due to financial reasons. After he found work, things changed again when the company closed. This led him to recycling, the streets and eventually, to ‘Miss Liz” as he affectionately calls Lisette.

“That’s when my life changed, because she saw me as a person with potential to change my life around and by that she always encouraged [me] to never give up and always hope for the better,” says Sanele. 

He adds that after spending time with her, he became inspired to get off the streets.

“I packed my things and told myself I’m not gonna live the rest of my life living in the streets.”

Sanele moved in with one of his brothers and got a job as a cashier—the beginning of many more moments he is proud of.

“I was delighted and have followed his progress since,” Lisette shared, adding that they are still very mouch in touch. 

Lisette was key in rallying for Sanele to further his studies (the same momentum Liz had shown before for Sandisiwe who needed spectacles for her studies). Despite the fundraising not panning out, Sanele is now happily working at a construction company.

“I’m grateful to have met Miss Liz because without her, maybe I would still be living in the streets eating unhealthy food from the bins. That’s why I love her has my mother.” 

Lisette’s message to others is to show up with kindness, avoid being presumptuous about others’ circumstances and help where you can—even if it’s striking up a conversation or giving a recycler a colourful bin so the sorting process is easier.

“Only in South Africa can you get this type of friendship. To ask people to “BE KIND” and treat everyone with respect. You don’t know their story or their struggles. Recyclers are trying to make an honest living…if everyone can just be kind, this world would be a better place.”—Lisette Datnow. 

Sources: GTG Interview 
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About the Author

Ashleigh Nefdt is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Ashleigh's favourite stories have always seen the hidden hero (without the cape) come to the rescue. As a journalist, her labour of love is finding those everyday heroes and spotlighting their spark - especially those empowering women, social upliftment movers, sustainability shakers and creatives with hearts of gold. When she's not working on a story, she's dedicated to her canvas or appreciating Mother Nature.

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