All children want to be with him, they enjoy his company and he clearly enjoys theirs. One would think he is their grandfather, some say.
Forty-eight year old Johannes Rooi has been mentally challenged since birth, but has a magnetic appeal to children and they always crowd him at his shack at Keetmanshoop’s Ileni informal settlement.
Even his neighbours’ children come over to his shack and play, it is as if he has a charm that attracts children.
Minna Pienaar, who stays with Rooi, told New Era what a wonderful man he is, saying he has always loved taking care of children and the children are also very comfortable when they are with him.
The mother of six says all her children grew up under the care and with the help of Rooi, adding he has a unique demeanour that makes children and even little babies comfortable and at ease with him.
“The children don’t want to stay away from him. Even when we sleep and a baby cries we would usually give it to him and the baby would stop crying immediately,” she said.
Pienaar says despite his mental ability, he takes very good care of the children and they are always safe with him. He loves them as if they were his own.
She reveals with a smile on her face that Rooi is especially fond of her three-year old daughter and their close friendship has sometimes gotten the family worried as the two would decide to embark on risky escapades without anyone’s knowledge.
She says sometimes Rooi has problems accepting that he will not be seeing his little friend whenever she goes to visit her father in Aroab and this causes him to cry.
“She went away one holiday and he would wake up and cry every morning because he wanted to see her,” she said.
Despite being a good person and friend to children, Pienaar is worried about what she termed abuse from community members who send him to collect firewood and give him only a small amount of money, or even just a bottle of the homemade brew (tombo).
She says he walks about five kilometres alone in the wild in search of firewood and she fears that one day the worst could happen to him.
She said people take advantage of the fact that Rooi does not know the value of money and pay him as little as N$2 for firewood. She says that is unacceptable and called on residents of Ileni to refrain from sending Rooi to do chores for them, saying he is not mentally stable.