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Hard Hands, Old Faces

Hard Hands, Old Faces

by Montle Moorosi, images Adam Kent Wiest / 23.05.2011

What is Cape Town? The sea, the wine, the views, Steph Weiss, Helen Zille, braids on the dance floor of La Reference, Vans sneakers, pop up abortion clinics, pop up cinemas, Paul Ward and of course the homeless “parasites”. The Cape Town mascots who hide behind the mountain and within the cracks of the city.

Yes, they shit on your sidewalk and they will rape you emotionally for an “entjie” or for the time it takes to tell you about how they need R7 to get a bus to Port Elizabeth. Homelessness has been defined as “a condition of detachment from society characterised by the absence or attenuation of the affiliative bonds that link settled persons to a network of interconnected social structures.”
“Please brother can I have an entjie?”
“Sorry sister, I just have a loosie.” I had at least ten in my pocket, I was in Muizenberg, skid row, I couldn’t afford to start a snowball effect. Their memory of faces is incredible, they will never forget me. I will be their cigarette whore forever.
“Please man, I can see it there.”
“Sorry I don’t have.” I start to walk briskly.
“Are you gay? Huh? Are you gay?”
“uhhh…ok.” I mumble as I break into a gallop.

What is a bum? What is a hobo? A bergie is a subject for a Canon 5D camera, a photo printed at Orms, framed in black and and hung on a wall in Kloof Street. A hobo is a walking and slurring human dustbin. A modern day necessity. They are the circus of the absurd. Bozo the clown with a drinking problem and a shit stained red nose. They have hard hands, old faces, smell of piss and forgotten promises and are generally depressing people to be around when they aren’t drunk and singing Dawnay’s “You Touch Me Funky”. Hobos are even becoming a subculture, they are “photogenic” as fuck (especially in war torn countries) and it’s also becoming increasingly hip to dress like a displaced person, a thrift shop owner once told me that it’s nothing to sell a blood stained vintage la perla brassiere for R600. But yet the bum is shunned and even driven underground in South Africa’s metros, as witnessed during the 2010 World Cup when they actually tried to hide all the bums. Like all unsung heroes, revolutionaries or anything “unsavoury” in Cape Town, the hobo is marked for total eradication, despite the huge cultural and practical role they play for the city.

I for one cannot imagine Muizenberg without being raped for cigarettes. Anyway, I was strapped for story ideas, and due to popular demand and the constant picketing and occasional riots outside my house, I had to come up with a less indulgent story than usual. That’s when my girlfriend suggested I go to a soup kitchen and hang out with some bums. Why not, like the rest of this damn city, just pin it on the bergies… I could smell a Pulitzer and an alley full of piss.
“What do you hate most about Cape Town?” I asked a young hipster outside the Kimberley Hotel.
“The bergies… have you ever tried eating outside at Royale? Fucking hell, the guilt trip!”
“That is quite a bummer… but I like it when you leave left over food outside your house and its gone in 5 minutes… they’re like unofficial civil servants… with crabs.”

By this stage the story was crying out for a metaphor. This street circus of the macabre and tasteless needed an analogy to pull it together. I needed to take one for the bums, literally. It was time to get my prostate checked at the public clinic in Buitenkant Street.

Cape Town Homeless

Outside the day hospital was a black homeless man with a shit stained beanie, and in his hands was a double pronged dildo, a big thick pink and dirty rubber cock with two cock heads at both ends, for ass to ass fucking, obviously. He swung the two pronged rubber cock around like a ninja’s staff as he made sexual Darth Maul gestures at female onlookers. I was slightly amused but nauseated at the same time, but I fucked up and didn’t look away in time.
“Hey pretty! You want huh?”
Not a pleasant thing to see just before having your prostate checked at a public clinic. I dash into the day hospital and see a sign about how weapons are prohibited and involuntarily join a long queue of down trodden men in assorted rags and old bandages. Mummies of Buitenkant with no treasures to protect, not even their dignity or existence.
A coloured nurse approaches me.
“HIV test?” she asks me.
“No, I want to a prostate check.” I say to her trying to whisper, which in retrospect is quite stupid because at least 2 people in that room probably had Aids or German measles.
“A what?”
“A prostate check?”
“Where did they stab you?”

“Do you need new plasters?”
“But I’m checking for cancer.”
The combination of ether and wine scents made me nauseas and I swallowed a small dollop of vomit, it tasted like philanthropic journalistic shit. I began to sweat as the myriad of dry orange rotting faces grew larger and misty, invading my private space in a public hospital, they all wanted my cigarettes and a bite of cheese burger.
“OK, I’ll be back later.” I staggered out and leaned against a DA poster as I gathered my breath and spat out some bits of vomit in a thick soup of saliva. Determined to push this bum analogy, I head back inside, to get my ass examined. And then I see that famous face, my old friend Lungile sitting, waiting nervously, trying not to make eye contact with me. I go and sit right next to him. And he starts telling me one hell of a story.

Cape Town Homeless

“My dawg, please tell me that this happened to you, cause I really feel useless right now.”
“I think it has, probably… I just can’t remember… So, did you fall asleep inside her or just go limp?”
“I went limp.”
“What did she say?”
“She just chuckled.”
“How old are you again?”
“23… but I was totally drunk, though.”
“Obvs dude… obvs.”
I really wanted to console my friend, but I seriously felt uncomfortable discussing impotency just before taking a prostate test at a public clinic, I mean, who talks about Zulu girls before taking an Aids test?
“Ok, check this, I just want to go see something quick, I heard there’s meals for 75c at some kitchen on Barack Street, lets go check it out.” I said to him.
“Thats siff dude, why do you want to go see homeless people eat?” He started to laugh.
“Cause it’s funny!”
“Hey do you think homeless people have sex?”
‘Obvs, haven’t you ever smelt the back of Texies? Thats where they go on dates… by the dustbins.” We crossed Roeland Street on our way towards Barrack, we saw a Cape Party poster that said “End ANC Rule Forever” and we began to laugh. I delayed the prostate check for another day.

The soup kitchen wasn’t exactly what I imagined it would be. There weren’t rows and rows of tables filled with decrepit and dilapidated bearded old mean and toothless wenches bent over bowls of thick soup and crude chunks of brown bread while discussing food and the difference between jungle and drum ‘n bass. All I saw when I got there was a ginger white man hobo (yes! A white bergie. The street’s don’t discriminate like we do) drinking a pint of milk and eating what looked like raisin bread smothered in rat semen. Next to him was a younger coloured man with the word “mob” tattooed on his forehead eating the same lunch packed in a brown paper bag. I guess the rest had gone to Royale or to Fruit and Veg across the road for some fresh fennel. I went home and dimmed the lights as I lit the new 100% organic incense sticks and played some Radiohead as I contemplated the injustice of the world and the displaced souls. Then I thought about maybe buying a new Nikon camera that would match my checkered Element shirt.

*All images © Adam Kent Wiest.

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  1. bi-racial palatial says:

    nice pics love.

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  2. Bby Gns says:

    Sick article, dude!

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  3. Jersey Whore says:


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  4. sydelle willow says:

    nice pics Adam!

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  5. Anonymous says:

    “raisin bread covered in rat semen”

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  6. Thishiwe says:

    I don’t know how comfortable I am with this. It kinda leaves the homeless voiceless, objectified.

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  7. Porcupine says:

    Whew Montle. Whew…. This piece is rough, provocative, crass, insensitive, uncomfortable, offensive — in other words, the perfect jarring combo to jolt us out of the PC-embedded, fake-ass mindset that most of Cape Town’s neo Liberals present to the world. If that was your aim, which I can only assume it was with that level of brutality, consider it job very well done.

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  8. Porcupine says:

    @Thishiwe – I reckon that’s the point: to make the reader feel uncomfortable and question that. Besides, the brutal honest truth is that the homeless ARE voiceless and objectified – Montle just called it as it is.

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  9. Herman Lategan says:

    I like this, objectifying se poes. Why is everybody so fucking PC? It’s the writer’s opinion, experiences. Fuck-off with bourgeois lentil-eating vegetarian organic cunt-like readers. You know nothing about Gonzo, New or Literary Journalism. Yes, the pics are great, and so is the story. Viva creative non-fiction. The rest can go and fuck themselves with tofu sticks.

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  10. Syd willow says:

    Great stuff montle. Think it needs a sequel.

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  11. Thato says:

    I actually like anything Montle puts up, this is no exception. Kiff! I wish someone could write something as naked for Joburg, the armpit of South Africa.

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  12. Neon says:

    Montle has really grown up since the days when all his pieces were just endless repetitions of the word “kaffir” spliced in-between fabricated anecdotes of debauchery.

    Although, I find this genre of journalism to be quite an interesting one, because I’m sure there is a condescension and distance built into its very mode. A spectacle-of-suffering kind of attitude, and also a really patronising “this is the real” attitude too. Thoughts, anyone?

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  13. Zsa Zsa Adore says:

    “I went home and dimmed the lights as I lit the new 100% organic incense sticks and played some Radiohead as I contemplated the injustice of the world and the displaced souls. Then I thought about maybe buying a new Nikon camera that would match my checkered Element shirt.”

    What the hell? Think Montle’s piece got hacked or some shit.

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  14. Black Jesus says:

    i hope people understand this.

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  15. crit man says:

    zsa zsa…i think thats a comment on middle class complaceny…

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  16. AWE, Ma se Kind! says:

    Mummies of Buitenkant with no treasures to protect…

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  17. tamara says:

    Is mahala a story telling platform for writers or a writers platform for wannabe journalists?
    I will never know…

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  18. Anonymous says:

    on point pictures, article reminds me of that “mother fcuka” track on a fugees album..no moses for the poor mourn there mornings.

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  19. vuyo seripe says:

    I think hobos have become a norm and have been around for thousands of years, especially in urban areas. Lower class people are there to make you middle to upper class people feel more progressive. There you go, the hobos helped an incense burning Radiohead listening young black man get over his writers block and write a good piece. This is no different from an awesome photograph of a hobo.

    The problem with our country is that it thinks inequality and classism are diversity. The fact that someone is unable to afford basic necessities is a clear indication that somthing huge is lacking in terms of skills development, income generation and self sustainability.

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  20. CB says:

    I can’t believe what a shallow representation of homelessness this article is.

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  21. Jan says:

    Hobos choose their way of live, I come from a small town and I know every single bum around here has worked for my father at some point in time. None of them are bad workers and my father didn’t fire them, they just stop showing up for work. Whenever one them asks me for money, I tell them they have to work for their money, they can come back anytime they want, just show up with the rest of the guys. Sometimes one will come work for a day or two but most of them never come just ask your for R10 till Monday when they will come to work.

    A Bergies problem lies much deeper than a simple lack of skills or jobs, its a much deeper emotional problem that manifests itself in alcoholism and self hatred.

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  22. Luca says:

    I was really amped as i started reading through this article.

    it seemed like someone was going go that extra step, hit the nail on the head and finally put into a cohesive whole a notion of progression; an ‘a-ha’ moment, a new and fresh approach to deal with something we all face on the regular but, admittedly, dont do much about.

    was this the batter we’ve been waiting for to step up to the plate? fuck i hoped so!

    as i read on, i recognised the listing of things that one can see daily in any SA city and its surrounds – the homeless, fucked out of their brackets, screaming at the sky and dying slowly in the gutters, living in a mind state no one reading this could ever comprehend, myself included. all you need to do is travel per foot or jump onto some public transport, get down to the level where a majority of the population exist in the public sphere and boom! everywhere around you. you cant miss it.

    before i continue, i must mention that i must disagree with the way some readers saw the tale depicted here – “rough, provocative, crass, insensitive, uncomfortable, offensive” it most certainly is not. the story told here of the homeless and the hospital is point blank reality, you have to be blind, dumb or lying to your own brain if you found any of the story “crass” or “insensitive”. i mean come now, what is “provocative” about walking from the day hospital to Barrack street and telling people that what you saw and encountered? jislaaik, do you people have chauffeurs and security guards at your fairytale palace or something?


    i reckoned for while that the writer was just setting the scene, oiling the pan before dropping a triumphant flash-fry conclusion. please tell me this one has figured something out, something else, a new idea, a new angle, a fresh end to the same story…

    but then all i got was the same old worn out riff. blah blah band ref blah blah organic ref blah blah photo ref blah blah blah.

    really? that old chesnut? are you still trying to shine that piece of brass? weak man, weak.

    there is nothing wrong with you going home, lighting some incense and listening to some sweet radiohead while contemplating photography.

    but there’s definitely something wrong with you thinking you’ve done well in concluding your article like that, as if you’ve said something profound. you’re lying to yourself, just like the people who’ve read this and think its “provocative”.

    step up, give your reader some new, fresh and truly challenging ideologies. until then, go back to contemplating “the injustice of the world” until you have something other than the obvious to state.

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  23. Alan says:

    I don’t find this particularly shallow (as some of the comments suggest). This is also hardly provocative. It is merely sensationalistic, a shock-tactic if you will. “Rat semen”? I hardly think a term like that brings to mind any image at all. I would be interested to know if any reader, let alone the author, knows what that even looks like (or would even want to know) As Luca said: weak.

    This feels like that Marilyn Manson or Slipknot crap you see on TV. It tries so hard to be “hardcore” that it lacks the punch where it actually counts.

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  24. STD says:

    Dude this is top shit!

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  25. Jan says:

    I think this piece is rather a comment on society than about finding a “answer” for hobos…
    We all say “fuck that’s horrible” and then go home, light some incense and listen to some sweet radiohead while contemplating photography…

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  26. Kontlap says:

    Joburg hobos ask for Dunhill lights and Vitamin Water – they hang out at the Nike store in Melville

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