Would you give money to this guy?

26 Nov

Epsom downs guy

There he was, hovering in that way that people do when they Want Something. (Don’t you hate hoverers? Almost as much as having to be the hoverer.) “Don’t worry M’am, I’m not stalking you,” he said, as I got out of my car. “My son and I need food. I’m a delivery man for a bed company…”

I cut him off. “Can I go and get what I need, and think about it?” I said. I was rude. He’d annoyed me. As I marched off to the CNA to buy card for the notes for Wednesday’s art sale to raise funds for Lawyers Against Abuse, it occurred to me that there were double standards at play here. I’d just started a project with the purpose of giving something without question to every beggar I encountered, and here I was, holding on.

So why was I so resentful? Partly because he’d approached me outside of an intersection, which in Joburg is the accepted, mediated space for beggars to operate.  Partly because he isn’t a typical beggar. And also, partly, because he wasn’t honest about the fact that he was begging. Somehow the context made him a con artist rather than a beggar, even though in many ways he was doing exactly the same thing as the guy holding the cardboard sign up the William Nicol.

I encountered him as I was driving out the centre. Could I photograph him? I asked, handing over a new R20 Madiba. “Sure,” he said. “How long have you been doing this?” I asked. “This is the first time I’ve ever done this in my life,” he said, apparently affronted. You can see the anger in his eyes in the photograph.

We both know he was lying, of course. I drove on, and he walked on, to find another Sandton woman in an expensive car to ask for food for himself and his son.


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