Formerly 'Rambling with a cantankerous old mule"
This is a very difficult post for me to write. I’m not in high spirits as I lie here on the double bed in the house I’m looking after in Pretoria, South Africa – down duvet pulled warmly up to my chest. It’s winter; the cold weather has finally rolled in like a wave. Even I, who don’t get cold easily, have felt it creeping into my bones …
… Last Thursday night, after attending a musical in the inner city I drove the streets, keen to capture a different side to a city I know so well in the daylight.
But instead of being struck by the beauty of the city at night, I was grieved by the number of people sleeping in every nook or cranny that could shelter them from the cold. I saw some who had blankets, others who were huddled in the foetal position with jackets pulled tightly about them. Some lay close to each other for warmth. Many have come to town looking for work, and just can’t return home in the evenings; or afford accommodation in the city. They have no option but to live on the streets …
I thought about the insecurity, fear, loneliness and hunger they must bed down with every night. And I felt helpless. Days earlier I had walked the same streets and had emptied my wallet bit by bit to people asking for food, soap or something hot to drink. As an individual I can only do so much – in fact, over the years I have chosen a lifestyle below my income so that I could be more generous. But I can only do so much… so much, which always seems too little. And as I drove past the countless forms littered in doorways I couldn’t help but think that our government had failed them. Our government of fat-cats who regularly point blaming fingers at Apartheid and racist white people for all that ails our country.
But it’s been 18 years since Apartheid ended in 1994 – too long a time to continue falling back on that excuse. We see elected officials misspending government money: holding lavish state-funded parties, crashing luxury state cars and living it large in government-funded mansions. I read an account recently about the Gauteng MEC for Local Government and Housing who has been accused of buying an artwork worth R10 000 ($1250) from fast food outlet McDonalds with his government-issued credit card, and then trying to pass it off as a purchase for hamburgers. (At that price he could have bought a hamburger for every person on the street and still had change left over).
And so it seems that it will come down to righteous businesses, non-government organisations and individuals to make a difference to the poor, whether they “deserve” it or not. Like friends who took all the blankets they could find on Tuesday night and gave them to the homeless on Church Square. Or another group who collected money for 80 pairs of shoes to give away to the needy in the inner city over the weekend. Or my (white) friend who recently moved with his whole family to Hillbrow, an area in Johannesburg that has not had white residents “for a very long time.”
Here are some of his views:
“We should always be fighting for the rights of the poor, oppressed and disadvantaged to have equal access to services which provide human dignity because no person is worth more than anyone else … Cities attract the broken and hurting – in fact, the new centres of poverty world-wide are the city centres. Most cities do not have formal programmes to cater for the influx of the poor that come to seek a better life. How do you create a place of dignity for those seeking refuge en masse in cities? We need to recognise this and work out how to deal with this.
“I used to say you (shouldn’t give money) to beggars as it can perpetuate the problem but I guess I have relaxed. I have gone through phases of giving clothing to the naked, food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty etc. I have taken food in my car to distribute at traffic lights and I have also tried at times to make time to take people out for a meal – to share my food with the hungry. The bottom line … is that relationship is key. How can I not help my friend in need? My relationships with the poor have led me to rethink my budget. How can I live in such extravagance when my friends suffer so badly?
“We have unfortunately been taught to harden our hearts … but relationship with the poor keeps them soft!”
This is an emotional post. I’ve been challenged. I don’t know what difference I can make to the poor. But I do want to continue to try.
What is your opinion on the relationship between the rich and the poor? Do you think the rich have a responsibility towards the poor? How do you feel about the widening gulf between rich and poor? Do the poor have rights, whether they pay taxes or not, or should they just be left to fend for themselves? And – how do these images make you feel?
I have been blogging here since around April 2011 - my little place on the blogosphere to express myself creatively. As a teenager I used to write a diary - in fact, as a 17-year-old living in Belgium, I wrote religiously every day. Fortunately the Internet didn't exist back then because my ramblings as a teenager were ever-so-slightly dark, cynical and depressing. You won't find much of that here. Also, mostly, I try not to get too deep or philosophical in this forum - I'd like my photography to uplift and inspire, and, where I can, I try to bring a bit of humour into my writing too. I've been fortunate enough to travel extensively and have made many friends across the globe. This is my spot to keep in touch with them.