Monday, November 01, 2010

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Beggars can't be choosers - by Nick van der Leek

I was in Montagu last week and I asked a beggar where to to the nearest ATM. He took this as an invitation to get into the vehicle, and he said he'd direct me. Only problem was I was down to my last drop of fuel, so I simply sailed a few metres further and stopped at a fuel pump. The petrol attendant thumbed to his left when I asked where an ATM was. I did a double take - it was right behind me, 20 metres away. I turned to the beggar - "Why did you need to get into my car to show me where it was if you could have just pointed with your finger?" He then still insisted on a tip. "You trick me, I catch you out and you still think you deserve money?"

A few days ago in Port Elizabeth I was parked somewhere in Summerstrand and chatting to someone beside a vehicle when a young boy, perhaps twelve, approached us, bawling his eyes out. It was hard to make out what he was saying through all the snot and trane, but I assume his father sent him to the shops to buy nappies for a baby sibling with the instruction not to come home until he had succeeded. I gave the kid R10 towards his mission, and in the following 20 minutes the fellow wouldn't stop coming back and insisting that I go into Pick 'n Pay and buy the nappies for him so he could go home.

Probably on the 5th or 6th miserable rant I said to the boy, "Look, if you can't find some money from someone else, give me the R10 back." I thought the ploy would get rid of him but all he did was dig a grubby paw into a plastic bank sachet and pull out my note; one of several inside.
When he handed it to me I said, "So you can keep this money if you want, but just leave us alone; I'm not going to go shopping for nappies for you. But if you don't leave us alone then give me the money back." So, you guessed it, he handed me the money back and continued to badger us.

Eventually I gave up and went home, and the kid followed me all the way to the gate, bawling all the way.
I don't know what possesses people to feel entitled to handouts from strangers or to help from people they don't know. It's not helpful. In this country there are swathes of people expecting houses and services, and a lot of them are doing what they've always done: waited. Wanted and waited. And after waiting for a very long time, they get angry.

I worry about that little boy. Because he really had an attitude of targetting not his own people - I even pointed to a well dressed black gentleman waiting at a nearby bus stop and suggested he might be able to help [and understand] his problem. The kid wouldn't even consider it.

This culture of expectation and entitlement is dangerous. I'll tell you why. Perhaps you - a random beggar - are used to receiving handouts on a daily basis. Perhaps you're used to depending on others for your livelihood. But that isn't a right. And getting angry because someone doesn't volunarily offer help - or exactly as much as you've decided you've needed - is a recipe for misery. It makes me wonder whether giving to any beggar anywhere is of any use. Because as soon as you stop you've created a monster.

Giving, of course, is important. But perhaps charity is only of real use, of real benefit, when you give to soup kitchens and organised community services - and perhaps church programs - that specialise in this sort of thing. Giving one on one creates a scenario where the poor feel they can approach you, and if your provisions aren't to their liking, there is a risk of falling prey to them. Think of the doctor in Bloemfontein who was raped in the hospital by a man and a boy.

That fickle attitude to help can change, in a heartbeat, into fury. Beware, and take care.

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