Archive | November, 2012

Do you ever buy stuff at robots?

30 Nov

Buying stuff at robot

Sunglasses, cellphone chargers and license disk holders seem to be the most popular items at red robots in Joburg these days. I have no interest in owning any of them. Occasionally, somebody will buy something, as this woman did. Busy, slow traffic is great for business.


Faith Mbosva, Grayston & 11th

30 Nov

Faith Mbosva

24 year old Faith Mbosva has been begging at the corner of Grayston and 11th for a year now. A Zimbabwean, she sits with her 2 year old son Gift on the pavement and makes about R40 – R50 a day. She lives in Alexandra with Esther Munhande, who begs on the other side of the intersection.

“My situation is not ok,” she says.

Wadzanai Mokonza, William Nicol & Sandton Drive

29 Nov

Homeless Talk

Wadzanai Mokonza is 39 years old, though she looks younger. She has a quiet, refined beauty to her – not so much in the physical sense, but what radiates from her being. In 2008, she arrived in South Africa from Zimbabwe after her brother was beaten for his political views. She lives in Ellis Park and sells Homeless Talk to get by.

I first met Wadzanai when I shot this photo in early November while filming with Lourie Campher. Back then, I’d run out of cash and only had R10 to give her. Today, on the way back from my framers in Parkhurst, I took a different route in order to avoid traffic problems on the William Nicol. As luck would have it, there was a red robot at the intersection where she sells her newspapers. I had one R100 note left, and I gave it to her.

She was thrilled. I observed yesterday that most beggars I’ve given to during this campaign don’t display any difference in degree of emotion – whether you give them R5 or R100, the response is the same. But Wadzanai was genuinely thrilled. “May the Lord give you many blessings,” she said, smiling with delight. “Many, many blessings.”

I am not doing this because I want gratitude, necessarily. It’s far more complicated than that, and I’m too aware of how much power motorists have and how little beggars can claim for themselves in these exchanges. But of all my encounters so far, this is the one that left me with the biggest smile and the warmest, fuzziest feeling in my heart.

Thank you Wadzanai.



The World At The Red Robots

29 Nov

Red robot ecosystem

There’s an entire ecosystem around red robots. Because cars cluster around them, others spot opportunities. So you’ll find, not just beggars holding signs or dustbin bags, but newspaper vendors, wire and bead craft sellers, pamphlet distributors (typically for car repair, mattresses or townhouses) and sellers of toys, sunglasses and cellphone chargers. Fruit and superglue used to be quite common, but we don’t see as much of that now.

Now Gus Silber has observed a new arrival at robots: Matric students begging for money for their vacations.  “I think they have to choose their spots with great care,” he tweeted this afternoon. “Joburg’s robot economy is very territorial.”

Bongi Cala, corner Rivonia Road and 12th Avenue

28 Nov

Bongi Cala

Bongi Cala is the saddest woman I have ever met. Perhaps that’s because I met her on a Friday afternoon towards the end of another long day begging at the corner of Rivonia Road and 12th Avenue. Born in the Eastern Cape in 1969, she was orphaned at an early age and moved to Ivory Park in 1992.

She told me she makes between R100 and R150 a week from begging. I was only able to give her R20 because I’d run out of cash by then, but I make a point of giving her something whenever the robots are red and she is there.

Should we give more strategically?

28 Nov

When it comes to choosing who to give to, I am swayed by my emotions. I’m more inclined to give to people who are one of the following:

  • women, especially women with children
  • old me
  • the disabled

But if I were to think about it, that’s not very strategic. I should probably give more to people who would otherwise be more likely to present a threat to me. If they can’t make a living from begging, what are the chances they’ll turn to crime?  So, if I were to have my own best interests at heart, I’d give more to able-bodied young men who present the biggest potential crime threat. These, as it happens, are the same people I’m least inclined to give anything to. As many people argue: why can’t they get a job?

But jobs, as we know, are hard to come by. Also, giving a job to a person you don’t know is dangerous, especially for a woman. There are far too many stories in the news of brutal attacks, sometimes murders, where the victim allowed the perpetrator into the house as an employee.

Giving money to a beggar is a relatively easy way to salve one’s conscience, opening your window to somebody – but not your life.

What do you think?

Comfort and Elias, William Nicol & Sandton Drive

28 Nov


26 year old Comfort Marambeyika and Elias Nhidza are cousins. Originally from Zimbabwe, they travelled to South Africa together. They live in the Joburg CBD but beg in Sandton.  Continue reading

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