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Begging for Change

The Original Mr Bin

by Samora Chapman / 21.06.2012

Part III of our series Begging for Change

“Even if I make millions. I can’t stay here forever.” Said Silo perplexingly. “Let me tell you my story… if it can help me get out of this,” he adds. “You are looking at the original Mr Bin.” Reassuring me that he is the right man for the interview. “Me, I started it, then all these other guys stole my style!”

We discuss dining options like familiar strangers and as we walk through the crisp-blue morning Silo jabbers: “My nickname is Silo, but my real name is Sipho Fana Dlamini. I’m from Mpumalanga and I have a wife and three kids. We stay in daily accommodation on Point. Cosy Accommodation it’s called. 60 bucks a day. That’s 60 bucks I must make before we even eat. But I appreciate my place. If God gives my R20 or R100 it’s enough. This is my heaven.”
“So how much do you make a day?” I ask.
“I can’t tell you how much. But I don’t make less than R100. If business is good, maybe I make 200 or more.”
“Have you ever had another job?”
“Yes I had lots of jobs. I worked in Secunda… doing shut-downs at Sasol. Security guard, petrol attendant, panel-beating shop…” his résumé continued impressively. “But you know what? You sometimes get R50 a day. Then your transport is R20. Then what you left with? Nothing. Here I can make more and I don’t make another man rich. You know, I always say: better to let yourself suffer than to suffer under another man.”

He points to a little curry den and says we can go there for food.

“The people are shit and the food is Indian,” he moans. Options are limited in the semi-industrial downtown. We enter the sticky establishment and get eyed like zoo animals. Sillo sits down and puzzles over the menu. “No pap,” he complains. “You know these people,” says Silo nodding to the Indian shop owners. “They too much here. Once it was raining so hard and I was with my whole family. And I came in here and these people told me: ‘you buy something or you leave.’ Life is suffering man, I’m telling you.”

Life means suffering – one of the four Noble Truths taught by Buddha.

“But a white man, he helped us.” Silo continues. “He was driving a white BMW. He picked me and my family up and took us home and gave me R100.”
Silo painstakingly scans all the food options, then settles for chicken curry begrudgingly and a Fanta Grape to suip.
“The white man is always helping me.” He continues. “This man from Glenridge Church, he used to come sometimes and give me R300. He used to say to me ‘Silo, go and rest.’ I used to take the money and go home and sleep for three days and three nights. This other man, Lynch Landscaping… you know landscaping? Making the grounds look beautiful? Lynch comes and gives me a job sometimes and he used to give me R100 at the end of every month.” Silo is on a roll and there’s no stopping him. He hasn’t even asked my name. He speaks with the fervour of a preacher man wiping his sweaty face with his sleeves. “You know if you forget about the word ‘apartheid’, and you just look at the way things were then and the way they are now; there was no people in the street then. Everyone was working. If you were in the street and not working, they throw you in jail. Now the city is looking bad with all the people in the streets, it’s dangerous, you can’t walk around at night.” He pauses and then continues. “People like Malema and Zuma have failed us. Why don’t they spend their money wise? They buy Lamborginas and jets but why don’t they take the people off the streets? And give us a place to stay. And give us work. I wanted to study Law. To understand these things better.”

“Do you know that it’s against the Law to be homeless or a vagrant?” I ask.
“Yes, it is illegal under law.”
“Do the cops ever harass you?”
“Yes they chase us away. They call me a criminal but I’m not a criminal. People get to know me because I’m always there at my spot. But to be honest you must make it clear in your story that SAPS don’t worry us.” He says this with such conviction that you’d think he was in cahoots with the five-oh or something.
“They [the SAPS] might even buy me food sometimes or give me some change. They see that we are trying to do something to survive. It’s the metro cops. They are the ones who are always chasing us away. Before COP17 they took lots of beggars out of the city and beat them too. During the World Cup a lot of guys were put in jail for the whole time.”
Our food arrives and we tuck in. Silo pushes the oily rice grains around his plate and slowly eats his chicken, sweating and shaking slightly. He doesn’t seem to be enjoying the food. “Too much oil,” he complains.
I decide to try and change the subject to something a bit more uplifting. “Do you like music,” I ask?
“Yes I love reggae… Lucky Dube is the best! But he’s dead. I also like R&B, Tracy Chapman, gospel. When you listen to their music you learn something. They don’t just make music for today or tomorrow. They make music that will last for 10 or 15 years. Like Phil Collins. His music from the 70s is still too good.”
I finish my coffee and toast but Sillo continues to nibble and sweat for about 40 minutes. I suggest he asks for a doggy-bag, but he declines. I get a newspaper to distract myself from watching him eat. We discuss the cover story… A solar storm of epic proportions has sparked unfounded rumours of the long-awaited apocalypse. Great.
“Ja the end of the world is coming,” says Silo knowingly. “Have you seen the movie 2012 with that white guy from Face-off. Not John Travolta the other one?”
“Nicolas Cage?” I suggest.
“Ya!” Silo goes into a convoluted description of the film… how Nicolas Cage’s son has visions of disasters and Nicolas Cage keeps trying to prevent them from happening. But nobody believes him. Then his whole family dies and the world ends. The film seems to have blurred into reality in Silo’s mind. “Everything from that movie is happening my bru. I keep telling my wife: you see baby… the buildings are burning it’s the end of the world.”
“But it’s just a movie,” I say.
“Ja I love movies. I can watch movies one after the other… all night long. And my family loves movies and TV also. It takes away the stress. But we don’t have our own TV.”
When we finally say goodbye I give Silo R40 bucks to ease my conscience. He doesn’t thank me. As I leave he says. “I want a TV. Can you get me a TV?”
I lie and say yes. I don’t even have a TV.

The strange thing about Silo is that he constantly shifts between believing that he is making a good and honest living and then cursing his lot in life. One moment he is humble and insightful and another he is a racist, self-involved bum who wishes he could get given a million Rand and spend the rest of his life sleeping and watching TV. He has limitless energy to curse his oppressors and no energy to spark an idea to change his circumstance. Silo is the most articulate beggar I have ever met, and I believe he has chosen to beg. But maybe a life of suffering beyond the scope of my understanding has created this defeatist attitude, as he yearns to escape his own reality.

Tune in tomorrow for part 4.

Read part 1 and 2.

*All images © Samora Chapman.

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