Maverick Citizen

THE ACTIONISTS

The Pretoria café where generosity, kindness and love are the order of the day

The Pretoria café where generosity, kindness and love are the order of the day
Former pastor Gideon Swart. (Photo: Thom Pierce)

Former pastor Gideon Swart has created a culture of paying it forward among his customers at the small coffee shop he owns.

In a small café on the corner of a nondescript road in the eastern suburbs of Pretoria, Gideon Swart has created a space for kindness, love and community to thrive, and it all started with a coffee van and a mission to connect with people.

As I leave the Wild Cactus Café in Garsfontein after the interview, Samuel, the car guard from next door, greets us. 

“Are you hungry?” asks Swart. “Come inside and have something to eat.”

This is the generosity that he seems to extend to everyone he meets.

By Swart’s own admission, it is not the greatest way to run a profitable business, but he isn’t driven by money. Yes, he needs to keep the lights on and the rent paid, but his motivation is changing the people around him and creating a space where that change can happen.

“We started the coffee shop as a beacon of hope where everyone belongs, from the CEO to the homeless guy,” says Swart.

He and his wife, Olivia, gave up their jobs as pastors in 2019 and opened a coffee van. Over the years, it has grown into a formal café. From the very beginning, they committed to feeding the homeless people who would pass by, offering them coffee and a chocolate croissant, no questions asked.

As time passed, Swart got to know the regulars, engaging with them and finding ways to help them off the streets and, if necessary, into rehab.

His actions became an example to all his customers and, before long, a culture of generosity emerged in the coffee shop. It became normal for customers to pay for the food and drinks of others who may not have the means. From this arose a pay-it-forward system by which customers can add extra coffees to their bill. The baristas then give these, at their discretion, to someone who is in need.

Starting in 2014, Swart has committed himself to raising awareness of human trafficking, using the café as a base for his actionism. After learning about the true scale of the issue and how it operates in proximity to where he lives, he discovered the nonprofit organisation Brave to Love, which provides medical, psychological and emotional support to victims of sex trafficking.

In collaboration with Brave to Love, he has been working on ways to raise awareness of the issues. The coffee shop was designated as a donation centre and customers were asked to drop off blankets, toys and bedding to help with the various programmes of rehabilitation.

Swart is also raising awareness through running. On 30 September, he will be competing in the gruelling 75km Maxi Race in the Cape Winelands. Throughout his training, he has been making noise on social media and through radio interviews. At the race itself, he will be raising money and drawing attention to South Africa’s sex trafficking issues.

If you want to know more, pop in for a coffee at the Wild Cactus Café — and maybe buy someone else a coffee and a chocolate croissant. DM

The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who engage in direct action. They are people anyone can turn to in difficult circumstances: a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa. Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles these people. Through a website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide ways for people to get involved.

Nominate Actionists in your circle at www.theactionists.co.za or email [email protected]

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