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A call pensioner Doris Ryan made to police to report a housebreaking set in motion a chain of events that would touch her and her community in the most unexpected way.

When Inspector Victor Botha from the metro police dog unit and his partner responded to the call in Malvern, Durban, four weeks ago, he was stunned to find the 84-year-old and her caregiver, Phumelele Majozi, 57, living in squalor.

He said Doris, who needed a walking stick to get around, could not describe the suspects. She had been unable to see them because she could not lift her head. She only saw their shadows and shouted for them to get out. They had fled by the time the officers arrived.

“In the 22 years I have been an officer, I have never been touched by a case like this one,” Victor said.

The grass had not been cut, the roots of the trees were causing the walls to crack, and the roof was collapsing.

“It broke my heart and I told her I would try and assist. She told me she had lived there for 40 years, had no children and had never married.”

Victor called Jeff Verity from the Burro Community Assistance group and the men started The Doris Project, to repair her dilapidated house.

Jeff posted details of her story on Facebook and Whatsapp and was overwhelmed by the response.

The Living Clean company cleaned up the house, and the Queensburgh Islamic Society tidied up the garden. Dezzo Roofing was supplying materials for the roof to be repaired, a pest control company was coming, and the house was being painted for free.


Jeff said local residents came to repair and clean the house on weekends and were currently fixing the roof.

“Unfortunately we will not have the house ready by Christmas, but she will have her house back in January,” Victor said.

In the meantime, Doris and Phumelele were staying with Chrissie Steyn, a relative of Botha’s.

Chrissie said she had huge respect for Phumelele for taking care of Doris for all these years. Sometimes Phumelele used her own money to buy things Doris needed.

Asked how she felt about the community’s kindness, Doris joked:

“It’s taking awfully long.”


She was excited to be moving back to her new home soon.

“I don’t believe in going to doctors and I eat a bowl of Jungle Oats with a teaspoon of turmeric every morning. That is how I have managed to live this long,” she said.

“People say that the police are a bloody nuisance, but I say that the bloody police are bloody marvellous.”

Phumelele said she first met Doris when Doris’s mother employed her.

“Her mother loved me very much. I managed to get my children an education because of her. My son works in Parliament,” she said proudly.

Phumelele recalled the day Doris’s mother died.

“I was heartbroken. She fell and cracked her forehead and I rushed to wrap her with towels. She was taken to the hospital, but she never recovered.”

Phumelele said the bond between her and Doris was like a sister-hood & it keeps growing stronger each day.

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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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