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An Anniversary and a Link to the Past

6 Dec

Madiba’s face on our notes takes on a new meaning now, doesn’t it?

Madiba note

Today, December 6, is the anniversary of the day I returned the car that inspired the creation of this blog last year. This time last year, I drove my Range Rover Evoque back to Land Rover’s offices and left it there.

I still don’t own a car. I very nearly bought a Subaru XV this year, but panicked at the last moment and decided against it. I’ve had friends try to persuade me to buy a Fiat 500. I’ve borrowed Fords and Citroens and loved them very much. There’s still that car blog I need to get around to launching. If you’re wondering, I use my grandmother’s C Class when I need to. It has less than 14,000km on the clock despite being more than four years old.

Do I miss the Range Rover? Yes, of course. I miss having the freedom to drive up mountains. I miss the thumping sound system. I miss the space for transporting easels and artworks. But sometimes it’s necessary to part company from the objects you love in order to open up space in your life for other things.

Instead of cars, I spent much of today thinking about Nelson Mandela – as I imagine most of the world has done too. I watched the tributes on the TV as I lay in the dentist’s chair, and fired off emails and texts to clients and colleagues as we tried to navigate the challenges of running campaigns when the world in which they were planned has been turned upside down.

There was a link between the Evoque and today, though, one that goes beyond an anniversary. On the way back from the dentist, I thought about how I could try to emulate Madiba in small ways. I thought about the campaign that triggered this blog, where I was going to hand out money to beggars at intersections in an effort to compensate for the luxurious car I was fortunate enough to drive for free.

I passed Madiba on to this beggar, who is usually found at Hyde Park Corner. While I waited, he told me that he is from Orange Farm and has two kids. Unlike most of the beggars I’ve met on the streets of Joburg, who are Zimbabwean, he’s South African.

Beggar 1

Around the corner from where I live, I gave another note bearing the image of Madiba to this regular:

Beggar 2

I see him often, and he waves and wheedles and who can blame him? Today he scored. Tomorrow my heart my harden again, and I’ll do my best to make him invisible. But today – today I wanted to pass Madiba on.


At the top of the mountain

2 Dec

This is what the top of the mountain looks like. It was a misty, rainy day in Marakele, and the clouds only just began to clear after I arrived.

Top of the mountain

Did I find what I was looking for? I’m not sure yet – I suspect I need to do some processing, and writing as I am now, hunched over my laptop in a parking lot in Thabazimbi, is not conducive to mellifluous prose. But one thing is clear: that this was as much about the journey there and back as the destination itself.

This is the journey there, in the rain, on a very narrow and dangerous road:

Road there

And this is the view from the journey back, as the sun started to appear:

Road back


One thing I do know: I should have spent today working. I am glad I decided to drive to the top of a mountain instead.

My drive to the mountain

2 Dec
Dove trapped in the Thabazimbi Wimpy

Dove trapped in the Thabazimbi Wimpy

Every now and then, I need to leave Johannesburg. I need – in a way that is so deep-seated that I can’t really express it – to find a road and aim for the horizon. I crave that freedom and the sense of autonomy that driving alone brings with it. Just me, my music and this beautiful car that I must hand back on Thursday. Which is why, yesterday, I had one of those “what the hell” moments again. I decided to find a road and a horizon and not stop driving until I got to the top of a mountain.

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.



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.

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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