Selling The Big Issue South Africa may be what Themba Tinzi, 44, does for a living, but soccer is his real passion. During his nine years selling the magazine on the streets of Cape Town, Themba has taken every opportunity to combine his job with his passion, including playing in the Homeless World Cup in 2006 and 2008.
Themba has had a love affair with the "beautiful game" since he was 13, growing up in a township in the Eastern Cape in South Africa, where he began playing with friends and his cousins.
"I've always had a love for the game ever since I can remember," he says. "Soccer is my favorite sport and always has been."
In 2006, The Big Issue vendors received a soccer ball as a donation. They decided to form a team and play a few friendly games with each other. The friendly games soon came to an end and their competitive streak kicked in when they learned that South Africa would host the 2006 Homeless World Cup.
"It was fun at first, just a bunch of guys playing around remembering the good old days. The challenge started once we decided to take the game a little more seriously. After that we played to win," he recalls.
Eighteen countries came to Cape Town to compete in the 2006 Homeless World Cup. The Big Issue South Africa vendors were amped after months of practicing to take on the teams.
"We practiced two days a week and also late many afternoons after spending the day selling the magazine. Many of us sacrificed to make up the working hours so that we could practice and still earn an income from selling the magazine."
It was a sacrifice that paid off when the team won its first match, an experience Themba recalls with a huge grin. "I can't describe how happy I felt. It was like everyone had accomplished something at that moment. I was proud of my teammates and myself. It was pure bliss."
Two years later, Themba's long-held dream of visiting another country became a reality when he was selected to play for South Africa at the 2008 Homeless World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, where 56 countries battled it out on the fields.
"To go overseas is expensive, and I would never have been able to go had I not been sponsored. I would have loved to stay longer, but wouldn't trade my experience for all the money in the world."
He also found it comforting to meet vendors from around the world and learn more about their lives.
"I saw how other vendors weren't so different to me. It was nice to be around people who understood what we as vendors were going through," he says.
Themba still plays, but reckons the Homeless World Cups were the highlight of his prime soccer years.
"Now that I am older, I can tell my children about the time when I went overseas to play soccer."