On the eve of his 45th birthday, I had the opportunity to catch up with Louis Fransman. A Joburger, born in Ravensmead, the youngest of 8 siblings. Louis speaks of his family with a fondness underlined with a tinge of pain. This is his story.
Surrounded by the same old narrative
“My family was pretty much dysfunctional; led by an alcoholic father, my brothers used dagga and all kinds of substances”. At this stage in his life, he saw no hope for a future beyond their home on the Cape Flats. Surrounded by the same old narrative. “I dreaded weekends because my brothers would get into some sort of fight. To a point where the police would no longer respond to our calls because they recognised our address.”
Louis grew up confused, very nervous, and with low self-esteem. Being molested at the age of 12 by an older boy was another thing to deal with on top of his unpleasant home circumstances. “As a teenager, I was filled with anger and resentment and I turned to alcohol as my solace”. Alcohol, unfortunately, played a dominating role in his household. His mother, the matriarch keeping the family together, eventually also started drinking heavily at the age of 60.
The anchor who brought hope and some form of stability to the household was now engulfed in the force shackling her family.
“Through it all, deep inside of me, I always knew I was destined for something greater”. In 1994 after he matriculated and started working as a till packer at Shoprite. Louis had no choice because he had to assist his mother financially, who at that stage was the sole breadwinner with the income of a domestic worker. By this time his life had taken a turn for the better as he found a new identity in Christ, he stopped abusing alcohol and did his job as a till packer with pride. Through hard work and determination, he was elevated to what was considered the next level – working in a factory. He earned more and could then increase his contribution towards the financial support his family needed.
Called to ministry
It was the call from his church for young men to go do missionary work that set him up to respond to that feeling of “being destined for something greater” that he always had. These missionary trips opened his eyes to a whole world beyond the flats. “I got to travel around the country, seeing places that opened my eyes to a newness I never thought existed”. For two years, missions were his life, the pride instilled in him while working as a till packer was clear in his role as a missionary. He stood out head and shoulders above the rest. So much so that he was offered the opportunity, under sponsorship, to study towards a Youth Worker’s Diploma at the Hugenote College, Wellington.
Louis completed his Diploma and did another year of missionary trips. He went back to Ravensmead where he could plough back into his community with all he had learned and experienced. While working there, in 2001, he was called to do youth work in Gauteng.
“I had mixed emotions about leaving my home because my parents were old and I felt that it was my responsibility to look after them”. However, the “destined for something greater” feeling, continued to gnaw at him. It was impossible to ignore so he decided to relocate to Gauteng. There his mandate was to build bridges between churches and schools. He performed so well that his superiors suggested a degree in Education. “I refused. Me? A Degree. No. I opted instead to enrol for my Theology Diploma also at Hugenote College.”
A culmination of events led to Louis working at a Special Education School, where his love for children with special needs originated. It then dawned on him that he could be even more effective in the lives of children as an Educator than he was as a youth worker. At the age of 35, in 2010 he started studying towards his Bachelor of Education at The University of South Africa (UNISA).
After moving around between Gauteng, Port Elizabeth and Ravensmead, he finally settled in Gauteng. He had a full-time job, so he worked during the day and studied in the afternoon and evening. “This 10-year journey was not always easy. In fact, most times, it was very difficult. I failed several times. I was unable to register at the beginning of certain semesters because I did not always have the money to pay the required fees”.
There were times when giving up seemed like the only option but it was definitely not an option. Louis was always encouraged by the “destined to be something greater” feeling and every module passed was a small victory.
Finally this year after overcoming so many obstacles that could have put an end to his dream, “I received my final results and completed my B.Ed. degree”.
Due to COVID–19, he was unable to attend his graduation ceremony but a friend brought him the graduation gown and cap to celebrate in. “I have proven to myself and hopefully to my family and anyone with a similar or even worse background to mine, that anything is possible!”
Looking at him through my laptop screen, with his freshly shaven head and grey beard, I feel privileged that he shared his story with us. Towards the end of our chat, he quickly adds words by Lorcia Cooper Khumalo, “I’m paraphrasing but she said, where you come from can either make you a better person or you can turn out exactly as ‘expected'”.
Louis clearly chose to soar above his circumstances.
He plans to further his studies in Education, he has been accepted into UNISA to start his Honours Degree in Special Needs Education.
When speaking about his future he has an optimistic look in his eyes. “Hopefully kan die ou brain my nog so ‘n paar jaar dra.”
Be encouraged, that no matter your circumstances, no matter your age. You can be whatever you feel you are destined to be.