Hard Hands, Old Facesby 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.
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 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.
“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.