The police officers that used to search his belongings looking for drugs are now among “the shoe doctor” Eric Poku’s best customers.
“The police thought I was selling drugs and using the shoe business as a cover,” said Poku, a cobbler who has been running his shoe-stitching business at Bosman Street in Pretoria Central, Tshwane since 2002.
He arrived in South Africa from Ghana in 2000, with the cobbling skills learned from his father, and little else.
He says that when he began his business, metro police would regularly come and search his belongings at the intersection where he works. “They did not believe that I am just fixing shoes.”
With the help of his South African wife, he secured a trading permit that kept the police from confiscating his work materials and customers’ shoes.
Since then, he has worked every Monday through Saturday for twenty years from outside the offices of the Tshwane Emergency Medical Services, a bustling intersection near a few government departments, the Bosman train station and taxi rank, and a shopping centre.
Over time he has built a big base of regular customers, including not only police officers, but firefighters, taxi drivers, and government employees.
Every working morning at 5am, he takes his work trolley to the intersection. The trolley is laden with plastic bags filled with shoes in need of stitching and those awaiting collection. Some of these shoes have been with him for years, but Poku says he will not throw them away or sell them because “these are not my shoes, but my customers”.
The “shoe doctor” also designs and makes leather sandals for men and women from scratch, which he says sell like hotcakes in summer for R250 a pair.
Poku says his ultimate dream is to have a factory where he would make shoes and create jobs for young people.