Begging for change

Man sleeping on the lawn

This man smelling of alcohol passed out on the lawn of Die Braak in Stellenbosch. This town has a huge gap between rich and poor and has some infamous beggars like Moksie

On almost every busy intersection in Johannesburg you’ll face a desperate person begging for small change.

You’ll see a blind person in tattered clothes being led by someone with a cup for cash, asking if you can spare any food or money.

Every time I stop at one of these intersections I’m faced with an ethical dilemma. I recently decided that I will no longer support begging.

This was a very tough decision because I’d like to think it’s in our good nature to want to help others in need. It’s difficult to say no to someone who is needy when just the fact that I’m sitting in a car means I’m worlds better off.

I haven’t decided this because I’m stingy or greedy, but rather because I have set my emotions aside and thought about this rationally (or so I’d like to think).

By giving someone my small change, I might be easing their current situation, but in the long run I’m fueling the fire. I’m supporting something that shouldn’t be encouraged: begging.

Begging is only done because it is profitable. Remove the reward and there is no point.

Yes, it is still better than stealing, but stealing at least entails less resignation. I’m not saying all beggars should rather be thieves, but I am saying I’d rather be a thief than a beggar.

Tonight at robot in Bloemfontein a boy of possibly thirteen asked me if I could give him some money for bread, I could even buy the bread for him if I didn’t think that’s what he wanted the money for. My heart shattered to pieces for that boy. I stuck to my guns and told him I don’t support begging, all the while thinking of how different his life would have been if he had been born with blue eyes and blond hair to a rich family in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg.

I don’t want to support begging because I don’t think it really makes a difference, but I would like to make a change somehow. Something has to give because this can’t continue.

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4 thoughts on “Begging for change

  1. A friend of mine works in Nigeria, and he’s made an interesting observation there. Compared with SA, they have about 5 times the population density and a quarter the GDP per capita, so they have way more people who would fit the ‘qualifications’ for a South African beggar. But they can’t possibly support that many beggars, they haven’t got enough spare cash or enough street intersections to fit them all on, and so begging is not an option.

    As a result, everybody makes work for themselves somehow and nobody begs unless they’re also crippled. They have a massive informal sector, and even traffic management is (crudely) handled by random guys pretending to be traffic lights.

    I’m not suggesting this is necessarily better; their lack of beggars is an indicator of crap living conditions and widespread desperation, just as much as it reflects their heightened entrepreneurial spirit. It’s just an interesting comparison.

    1. Hey Sham 🙂 Yeah it is an interesting comparison, thanx for making it 🙂

      My mom use to work for a charity organisation. This organisation tried to help a lot of young people. The result however was a sense of entitlement instead of empowerment, because if you’re getting something for free all the time, why would you want to work for the same thing on a different occasion?

      It’s the whole ‘give a man a fish’ sentiment…

  2. My gran keeps half loaves of bread on her car. And while this not a solution to the problem you’re addressing, I think it’s a good middle ground. If people gave beggars food instead of money, at least they wouldn’t go hungry, so in that way, a very basic need is met, without the risk of your money being used for something less savoury. Yes, this does still keep people somewhat dependent, but without it, I think there’s an element of our own humanity lost.

    In addition, and this is the important bit, people should donate their time to a project they feel has a positive impact on society to help balance out the injustices they see every day.

    1. Thanx for the comment Sam 🙂 I totally agree. My gran use to be infamous in Stellenbosch as she use to have people coming to her house on a daily basis to collect food, clothes and anything else she was willing to give. When I was younger I use to hate that because she gave some of my favourite things away, but now I understand it better and I know those people she helped needed it more than me. I think spending some time on a worthy cause is a way better idea than spending money on it (although money also helps). I’d like to get involved in something that means something. Just today I was looking at this tiger sanctuary that needs volunteers, and then I though there are people who need help more than tigers.

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