Sarah with car

My name is Sarah. I drive a Range Rover. In a little more than a week’s time, I have to hand it back.

For 2 years I’ve been part of the Pulse of the City campaign and in December this year it comes to an end. Before I give back the car, I want to try an experiment.

Johannesburg, South Africa, is full of three things:

  • Cars. (Especially expensive cars.)
  • Traffic lights (or, as we like to call them,  robots).
  • And beggars.

At red robots, all three come together. Usually, Joburg motorists ignore the beggars. We’ve become very good at not seeing them.

A lot of the time, I ignore them too. I wear sunglasses so I can avoid making eye contact with them. I feel guilty, but at the same time, I resent giving them something. It’s complicated: I drive a luxury vehicle, so it looks like I have loads of cash to spare when in fact I don’t – I quit my job at the beginning of this year partly because I didn’t have a car to pay off.

But this time, I’m going to do the opposite. I’m going to let go of holding back. Before I hand the car back, I’m going to give to every beggar I encounter – and not just something small, like R5, but something big enough to surprise them. Maybe even buy a day of happiness in a world where there is too little of it about. Probably hubris, I know, but hey.

The idea came about after ignoring yet another beggar and feeling guilty about it. That’s when the thought occurred to me: what if I stop hoping they’ll go away if I pretend they’re not there? What if I open my window to let the world I want to keep out, in? What if I simply let go of all of those usual reasons – it’s not in my budget, I don’t have cash with me, I’m in a bad mood – and gave away more than I’d ever normally consider rational?

Now, there are obvious potential problems here. For one thing, this campaign could be seen as preachy and self-righteous. (I’m giving away money; therefore, so should you, you miserable luxury car-driving misanthropes.) Also, while the money will help in the short term, I’m not actually doing anything sustainable to solve a massive problem that goes to the heart of South Africa’s social problems.

But I can start a conversation. And I can tell the stories. Because a story is often the only thing that people have to sell.

Let’s see what happens.

Red Light District

One of my paintings inspired by the Pulse of the City campaign

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