Like a Ghostby 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.
*All images © Samora Chapman.