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Begging for Change | Like a Ghost

Like a Ghost

by Samora Chapman / 22.06.2012

There is one last beggar I want to visit… if you live in Durban you’ll surely recognise his sad face. His name is Sanele and he stands at the intersection of Musgrave and St Thomas Roads, where four church steeples reach for the sky.

I headed to Sanele’s intersection in the twilight one evening. I parked around the corner and walked to the spot, a bit shaky with anticipation. Sanele is always shirtless. Around his neck hangs a crucifix that mirrors the one silhouetted against the evening sky. I’ve always wanted to take his picture. It’s almost like I had a vision of the shot before I took it.

I hovered like a vulture for a few seconds. Self-aware… experiencing the scene from a distance, like a ghost. I set my camera to maximise the fading light… ISO 1600. F Stop 3.5. 18ML. No flash.

The kid came over to see what I was up to and I propositioned him like a filthy sinner. Waving my R20 bucks in his face and mumbling about a photo. His eyes glazed over… he took the money. I guided him into the middle of the road and took the pic.

I asked him where his family was. He said they were dead and tears welled up and seeped out of his eyes to run down his dry cheeks. I took another pic as he turned his back and walked away into the night.

So I went home and shed a few of my on selfish tears as a thunderstorm brewed over the ocean.

I am fully aware that there is no single answer to the issue of begging. But for the sake of integrity I can only offer my thoughts… which are themselves conflicted.

I always used to give to beggars. Believing that R5 is nothing to me, but is close to a fortune to a kid that hasn’t eaten today. I have recently stopped giving at random. I find it difficult to say ‘no’ every single time.

Giving cash at random might be feeding a starving stomach today, but it is also perpetuating the crisis. In a way, handouts serve only to soothe the bourgeois conscience, whilst disempowering people by affirming their status as beggars and discouraging entrepreneurship. To work for a living is really a greater gift.

“It is unlucky to give to beggars because it traps them in a degenerative reality.” – The Dalai Lama.

That being said, the widespread tendency to resent beggars for being lazy free riders that do not contribute to society is blatant ignorance to the history the bore the problem.

There are non-profit organisations that are dedicated to providing both charity and welfare. Mahala is affiliated with Umthombu Street Children, a non-profit organisation that provides a safe haven for street children and empowers them through rehabilitation and education as well as providing food and accommodation.

You can get involved with Umthombo here.

Read part 12 and 3.

*All images © Samora Chapman.

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  1. Onan the ambidexterous says:

    Ah fuck, no man! 1,2 and 3 were good but this is sentimental crap. Next thing is you’ll be telling us you’re a fucking Christian and that Jesus is the answer to all our problems.

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  2. Ray says:

    Really enjoyed this series Joegz, brilliant, honest writing on a very difficult topic.
    But this part:
    “In a way, handouts serve only to soothe the bourgeois conscience, whilst disempowering people by affirming their status as beggars and discouraging entrepreneurship. To work for a living is really a greater gift.”
    So true but really unfortunately so. I don’t think that encouraging entrepreneurship is necessarily a good thing if this is what you’re implying? Nor is working for a living if you hate what you do or even moderately dislike it. This, to me at least, is the greater tragedy. That we are stuck in an avoidably cruel world that demands competition and ruthlessness (it seems ruthless not to give money to a starving child because it traps him in a victim mentality) just to survive, never mind succeed by any standard.
    Is it even reasonable to blame the societal infrastructure (read capitalist democracy) for this problem from behind a computer screen anymore? It certainly highlights one of it’s failings, but I can’t say I’ve contributed much in the way of reform.
    Still, awesome piece man, much love.

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  3. Simo says:

    i really felt for your insight and images..i have very much conflicting similar issues…
    maybe it is a valuable thought to consider more deeply how and why we bring more souls in to this world! Thank you.

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  4. Candice says:

    I am familiar with this young beggar. About a month back I was on my way to a movie at musgrave and it was a chilly night. I stopped at that robot and saw this boys hopeless grimace right before me. I decided to give him the warm fleece jacket that I was wearing. I was overcome with fervor as I knew he would be a little more warm and comfortable that night. The next day on my drive home from work, I drove the same route thinking I would see this boy again, only this time with a slightly less pained look on his face as he would have a jersey to protect him from the brutal cold. To my surprise, he was not wearing the fleece. I did not know what to think. Perhaps he gave it to someone else, a younger brother or friend who needed it more, or perhaps he chooses to stand in the street bare foot and topless in effort to garner more pity, and in turn reap more benefits. I don’t know, its not my place to judge, but I think you are right in saying support of these beggars is only encouraging their self degeneration.

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