Tag Archives: William Nicol

Eric is not impressed

5 Dec


William Nicol Dec 5

The other day I observed that the reception from beggars seemed the same whether I gave them R5 or R100. Today, heading back along the William Nicol from the framers, again, to deliver a large consignment of lipstick hearts, this man approached me. Confession: I had a R50 note but something about him made me hand him R5 instead. These decisions are frequently made in a fleeting moment, and were I to see him again, I’d be more generous.

He wasn’t very impressed – presumably the car I was driving created certain expectations.


Do you treat black and white beggars equally?

1 Dec

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This is William. I gave him R20 this morning while stopped at the intersection of William Nicol and Ballyclare in Bryanston. On one side of the road is Bryanston Shopping Centre; on the other, Investment Cars. In Joburg, you’re never far from the juxtaposition of extremes.

White beggars aren’t common in Sandton. I’d been thinking about the issue of black vs white beggars after seeing this tweet from Barry Tuck earlier. It was in the context of a heart-rending series of tweets about a brutal attack on members of his family on a farm near Brits. :

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The wrenchingly complex issue of crime, poverty and cruelty aside, it got me thinking. Because I’m very aware that I’m less likely to give to a white beggar than a black one. Why? Perhaps because I feel that there are more black beggars than their white equivalent, that they were advantaged by apartheid, that they induce less guilt, even that they’re less of a threat to me. As with everything in this country, it’s complicated.

Do you treat black and white beggars equally?

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.”

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

Never give up: William Nicol & Sandton Drive, 6pm

27 Nov

Beggar with painting

This man has been at this intersection for some time, carrying the painting his uses as his board. I don’t know his name and can only guess at his story. “Hungry man,” reads the board. “Never give up.”

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