I really wonder if this term “homeless” is fair to the “homeless”.
The reason I say that is because most of them seem to actually have homes but have left them for some justifiable reason according to the individual. So I sometimes harshly feel like calling them Street People rather, because they love the streets. When walking around Durban I’ve realised that driving in a car is like living in a different city, there is this “them” and “us” feeling from both sides of the spectrum; walkers and drivers. Walking gives a more real impression of the happenings of the city and feels more in tune with what’s actually happening on the ground. Being in a car feels pretty superior and is a self and ego booster, like I’m a better person then he/she that walks. I have friends who have unintentionally given off this impression when I never had a license.
Well this is not an article about drivers and walkers, but about the Street People. On the streets it’s a daily hustle, “kuyaphantwa”. This basically means to find, make and plan how you can get food, something to drink (alcohol preferably) and of course something to smoke, whether its cigarettes, marijuana , glue, Sugars (whoonga) or even pure heroin to spike (inject). Daily and sufficient use of these above mentioned things will ensure an individual has a better sleep, whether it’s on the side of the pavement, unattended building, shelter, park, or home.
Walking the streets I got to meet some individuals. W, a 32 year old white male who begs at the robots, says he has been doing heroin since the age of 14. He stays in Malvern/ Queensburgh side of Durban, with his mom and dad. His dad apparently earns a salary of over R20 000, but just gambles it all. His mom drinks because he mentioned that when he got given a R200 note he bought a few beers for his mom and R150 worth of heroin. W has experience in ship repairs and welding. He has a girlfriend and daughter, who both stay a few houses away from him. His wife also has a son from her ex-husband, and when he turns 26 he will get an inheritance because her ex-husband has passed away.
W says he just wants to get off drugs and get a job to take care of his daughter. He seems like such a decent guy, who is just stuck in a drug addiction problem. His brother is also on heroin but chooses to sleep at the shelters. But he says the shelters are terrible because they are filled with flees and are dirty. The more money he makes the more he smokes, and he seemed on the happy side of life and didn’t smell; he looked like he had a bath very recently. He has had many jobs but they never last long. His wife unfortunately has breast cancer, so he keeps speaking about the chance of his wife passing away and he would have to take full responsibility of his daughter. He took down my email address and said he will attempt to ask his dad to email me his CV. He knows he has the ability to take care of his kid and family, he just currently is stuck in addiction, and he knows that methadone can get him through the tough heroin withdrawals but he says as soon as he makes money he goes and buys heroin to use. He spikes heroin and mentioned that the previous night he had missed the vein.
W commented that whites are stingy, and Muslims and Indians are much more generous, although he said that when whites give they give R50/R100 etc., unlike the R1, R2 from the norm. He also stated that when he looks dirty people give him more than when he is clean. He notices that a lot of his colleagues who do the same (beg on the streets and robots) even pull a sad face or kneel down on the floor or limp and act disabled because then people feel sorry for them more than when they don’t do those expressions. He confidently stated that they all do it for drugs “we all do it for drugs, all of us”. There was so much I could learn from W; he was so willing to share about his life and experiences.
On the walk I came across another guy begging by the robots. He had a rubbish packet around his neck, he was very joyous and had lots of energy, and was enthusiastically asking people for money and motioning his hand as if asking for food as well. His approach had me stand there and just watch him for a few minutes, but while doing this a security van stopped and a security officer got out running towards the boy and said “heyi Woza la” and the boy just bolted! I was shocked and curious as to where this man came from; the security van that dropped him off soon drove off and the man went and stood nearby where the boy was. So I went to the man, introduced myself and asked him “is this your job?” He said “yes” and started explaining how they go around picking these boys up and they ask them various questions to find out if they have families and would like to go back. He mentioned that these boys are the cause of most of the accidents which happen at intersections, as well as snatch and grab theft.
Some of these boys are actually peddling the drug Whoonga, and they have caught many of them with handfuls of packets of Whoonga. Some have informed him they make lots of money begging, from R300 to R800 a day. So imagine how much more if they sell drugs at the same time. They pick these boys up and drop them off in far areas like Pietermaritzburg but the kids still come back, so I told him that’s useless then if they come back and surely there must be a better way. He said they do this in hope that the boy would maybe get sick and tired of this life and maybe go home. He mentioned that most of the black boys have homes; they just came to town one day and through peer pressure push each other to be naughty, and end up smoking Whoonga and glue until they are just too embarrassed to go back home. Since the security company works with and through municipality, they did have 3 tents (1 at “Whoonga Park”, 1 by the Station, and 1 by Point Road) to which they used to take the boys to get their details and work out ways they could help get them back home. But then they realized that certain ones didn’t want to be helped; they would throw fits and tantrums just saying they want to be left alone, and would not give away any information. This is why they started dropping them off in far areas. He said his security company also works hand in hand with metro police. They started off as just a separate entity as their company was on probation, and now are closely linked to metro police.
The man said from their findings, in terms of race, all the white beggars normally hang out together. One night they got called out to the station because there was a racket and noise of two people fighting and they got there and found 24 white beggars in one place. Two were arguing, and when they were asked how they landed up on the streets the general and common problems where because they had lost their jobs or got divorced or separated from their partners (family related differences), unlike the young black boys who just tend to run away from their families.
This man seemed to know a lot about the beggars on the streets, as that is his job. He deals with these individuals every day. He agreed with me that the public need to stop giving them money because this does not help the situation and that it’s the main reason why they are there – because the public give them money and basically enable them to be beggars, or should we say give them the job of being a Successful Beggar.
After having a great conversation with the man he took my details and gave me a lot more information on what they do, stating that we (his security company and the NGO I work for) should work together and put a stop to this problem. So I said my goodbyes and started heading back to the office, and to my surprise the boy who got chased away was at a robot two streets up. So I asked him about what those security companies do to them and as I was asking a driver stuck out his hand and gave him some coins and the passenger stuck her hand out and gave the boy some left over KFC. The boy, while nibbling on his KFC, said “Arggh! They just normally pick us up and drop us far away; otherwise they can’t do anything to me, I’m not scared of them!” The boy was very relaxed, not stressed at all, kind of like he didn’t have any cares in the world. He was nibbling on KFC, had money in his pocket and said to me “sho uncle, Ngisayo phuzamanzi”, which basically means “cool uncle, I’m going to go drink some water around the corner”. He took the rubbish packet from around his neck, put it in the bin and went off. I thought to myself that he seems to be on top of his game.
Still on my journey back the office, I walked passed a lady sitting on the pavement looking as if she was fatigued, sitting under the blazing sun. She looked like an aborigine/cape coloured. She had birds around her eating crumbs of bread which looked like she had sprinkled on the pavement for them, since she had the same type of brown bread in a white ice cream container beside her. There was just less than a quarter loaf in the container and it had like some sort of curry on the side. I greeted her and asked “are you tired?” She replied “and sick!”, so I laughingly said “sick and tired!” and she replied “sick and tired of Durban!” Then curiously I asked her where she was from; she said Australia.
She told me she’s sick and tired of the rogues here in Durban; that if you leave anything anywhere someone will come and take it. She told me how she’d had a packet next to a nearby street pole, and now it’s gone but she had left it there just that morning. She mentioned something about getting taken in a truck to the airport and then on a plane to Johannesburg, then she went to Cape Town and now she is in Durban. She carried on talking and I couldn’t ask her how she ended up in the truck. She said she doesn’t get what the big deal about Durban is when everyone here is a rogue, “a bunch of dogs”. I told her I love Durban, and she replied that the weather is not bad but otherwise the people are rubbish.
She was an elderly lady, probably on her late 60s, and she has 3 kids (2 daughters, 1 son). One daughter lives in Hillcrest, one in Seaview, and her son is in Newlands. She was staying with her son but her grandkids drive her crazy; she drinks and doesn’t want to be bothered. She said her husband was a cheat of a man who had tons of girlfriends, and that he is no longer alive. She seemed like a wise old lady in the way she spoke, and she mentioned that she doesn’t know how some people live without God. She said she sleeps outside a house nearby, and the owner allows her to sleep there. While we were sitting there a few people walked past and greeted her by name, so people around there know her. She told me that some people drop food of for her and some bring her clothes, “so life is not that bad, it could be a lot worse so I thank God”. She seemed to have more peace then a lot of people who are more financially/materially rich then she was. She asked me about myself; was interested in my life. I kind of got the feeling she was wondering why I would sit there with her and talk to her. But I honestly think she was a cool old lady, very chilled and worry-free, but at the same time she had concerns or needs such as a blanket and a pair of shoes. She was the type of person who I believe has lots to say but choses what to tell you. Nonetheless, she is a sweet, still-spirited old lady, who lives a simple life from what I know, and I hope to see her again and find out more about her.
These people are not homeless. These are people who have made choices to be where they are and are being sustained through human kindness. They all know how to survive and how to get off the streets but they choose to stay. If you choose to give to them you are enabling them to stay there. So unltimately – its YOUR choice, do YOU want beggars or not?