BENEATH HIM, the tombstones stand guard. Above him the friendly leaves of his tree house protect him from the sun. AND AT NIGHT HE SLEEPS SAFELY, PROTECTED BY THE DEAD.Mosia Phoka (21) worked a long day, making a living from collecting scrap metal – but his hard-earned cash was always stolen.“I got tired of being robbed by the living, so I decided to get protection from the dead,” said Mosia.The last straw was when thugs took R800.“I work hard all day for the money, only for thugs to arrive at night and rob me. They point knives and guns at me, demanding cash and cellphones,” he said.“One night when thugs came to rob me I decided to move into the tree. I love it here. I don’t fight for space with anyone because it is only me.”Now he climbs up the tree in Joburg every night, using a handy gravestone to get to his bed, which is balanced on a comfortable branch.Mosia also has a golf club and if he hears any movement, he reaches for it.“I’m protected by my golf stick, the ancestors and my tree,” he said.Mosia, who comes from the Free State, has been sleeping in the tree for about a year.“People thought I was crazy the first time I decided to sleep in the tree. They thought I would fall out while I was asleep but that has never happened,” he said.“People even call me the birdman or the snake.”He said he can study the stars at night.“I will only be disappointed if the municipality cuts down the tree, but for now I’m safe,” he said.Mosia said he has big dreams and is saving money to send to his family in the Free State.“I came here looking for a job but when I couldn’t find one I decided to collect scrap metal to make a living. It’s not easy as there are many of us fighting for the scrap.“But I’m happy not to be stealing from anyone. This is what motivates me to wake each day and try harder.”
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