living in South Africa: poverty, to give or not to give
April 8, 2008
Sunday’s is market day in Hatfield. I usually go look through the second hand books, but also just because I like the atmosphere. It’s not a large flee market, since it’s situated on Hatfield Plaza’s upper parking, which is quite small. I haven’t been there in quite a while though. I guess I’m not used to the amount op beggers to be found in Hatfield, but they really seem to have become more since I was there last. Actually, all over the city beggers seem to be becoming more, especially white beggers.
So I walked into the first begger, he wanted R7,50 for the train. I didn’t believe his story, it was the classic one that he’s wife got a baby and is in a hospital somewhere (at least he didn’t try and convince me that he have to buy a blanket or else the hospital won’t let him take his child). But he was telling the truth or was at lying, most probably the latter. I have a bad habbit of remembering faces, which have caused many a begger some discomfort when they try and convince me that they are not another regular, and I remember them from 6 months ago or something. But this guy I couldn’t recall, so I gave him the benifit of the doubt, and gave him the money. Maryke later told me that she know him, but she doesn’t like to take part in my conversations with the beggers, so she didn’t say anything.
Next up, I walked into Johan. This one I remembered, I found him about 6 months ago in front of the Transvaal museum, opposite Church plain. Johan lives in a flat somewhere in the inner city with his wife and child, and he asks for food or money, and hand out very small hand-written cards with Christian messages on them. He attempts some humor sometimes, jokingly giving us the card, and then saying that it will be R100 per person, then laughing, asking if we would buy him bread and milk. The department store was closed by this time, so I gave him money for bread and milk.
Why do I even do this? Everyone will tell you that you never give money to beggers. This only make them dependent. And I guess this is true. But the reality is that there are really people that do not have food to eat, and there really isn’t enough jobs in South Africa. So the nice Pauline verse which people like to throw around (out of context, when writing this Paul is addressing those who expect the coming of Christ to be immanent, and therefore have stopped working) that those who doesn’t work shouldn’t eat isn’t that easlity appilicable to our context. I guess part of why I give is because I don’t know where to send them to get a job.
This struck me a few years ago when I was talking to a begger that said he isn’t able to find a job. And then suddenly I realised that is this guy was asking me for a job I wouldn’t have given him a job, because he doesn’t look like someone that will do a good job. Some would say I’m just doing this to make myself feel better; maybe I am, but too many who are saying this generally don’t do something other than blame those who give money for not doing enough.
There are some people who do amazing work with the poor, maybe I should rather give money to them? Maybe I should give it to the church? But then, although the church is doing good work, and I’m not the one saying that everybody should stop giving money to the church, only a little of what I give to the church will go to the poor. If I give to the church, I must know that this will probably go into other important word, but not into helping the poor. Maybe I should start a business that help with the unemployment problem… I guess this is a really great idea, but struggle to see how I will be starting a business.
OK, so how do I help? Looking back, I think I was stupid to give money to the guy wanting to take the train. I think he lied to me. I would rather have given Johan some food than money, but I guess it wasn’t his fault the shop was closed. Maybe we shouldn’t be handing out money, but I belief everyone has the right to eat, and I have no problem in giving food. But yes, the critique is correct, I’m not doing enough, I ought to be getting involved in a persons life, but this is much more difficult than many who haven’t tried it may think…
So, this is the reality of living in South Africa. When in South Africa it’s kind of obvious what I’m called to do as a Christian, because suffering is in my face day after day, and I know I called to help those who suffer. How I’m supposed to do this is an extremely difficult question.