Everson Luhanga

Tumi Masite is a multi-talented man who dreamt of turning the street he lives on into a tourist Mecca in Alexandra north of Johannesburg.

Tumi stays on the same street where Nelson Mandela once rented a room in the 1940s. That was when Alexandra was called the “Dark City” due to having no electricity when the rest of Johannesburg was lit up at night.

“My intention was to make 7th Street and Hofmeyer Streets buzz like Vilakazi Street in Soweto,” he said. “That has been my dream ever since I realised that I was staying in the same Street the icon embraced.”

Tumi is the owner of the Ekasi gym, once visited by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Reg Park and Richard Branson. He sells his drawings and paintings to tourists from all over the world and has a tattoo parlour. 

He is a well known figure in Alex. He gave a beautiful painting to former President Jacob Zuma in 2012 while the ANC was celebrating 100 years of existence and has hosted local boxing championships.

But like thousands of others, Covid-19 crushed his dreams and destroyed his businesses – now he is drowning in debt.

He told Scrolla.Africa from his home in Alexandra that everything stopped in March last year when the government introduced lockdown regulations. 

No one came for tattoos as restrictions were introduced, and tourists who used to buy his paintings stopped travelling as borders were closed.

He kept the hope alive that things would get better, and breathed a sigh of relief when people started coming back to his gym.

But there was no money in their pockets.

“When I asked for subscription fees, they would tell me that they too have lost jobs.”

The father of three had to provide for his family so he sold some gym equipment, his television set and a washing machine and went to borrow money from the bank.

But now he is drowning in even deeper debt.

He said the couple has had to pack up the place they were living. His girlfriend has gone to stay with her gogo on the other side of Alex with the children. He has gone to stay with his gogo.

His girlfriend, 28-year-old Sizakele Zuma, lost her job as a waitress during level five of lockdown.

The couple said Tumi’s uncle who works at charity organisations as a driver delivered food parcels to them. “My uncle has been helping us a lot.”

Tumi said in a normal world, he used to make nearly R20 000 a month from all his activities. 

“Now I cannot make R1000 these days. How life has changed.”