Big house on the hill will fall
The second one got to me. The first one didn't. That was almost mechanical. I have become inured to them, you see. They suddenly appear at your window. You glance down at the middle bit of your car, near the gear lever, where there is usually some change.
Then you calculate the time needed for grabbing the change, opening the window and moving along as the light turns green. Sometimes there is just not enough time. This time there was.
I opened the window and gave the boy, a wretched-looking, near-naked nine- or 10-year-old, a R5 coin. Then I accelerated and moved on. I had not even thought about him.
Then, just a 100m away from him, I stopped at another red light. At my window stood an emaciated, dirty boy, his hands cupped, his arms stretched out towards me. His clothes looked like they had been on him for years without a wash. He was also about nine. The clothes were not really clothes: something that had once been a white T-shirt at the top; a pair of huge shorts held up by a piece of wire.
I looked down at my gear lever, at the space where the change is, but I knew that the last boy had got the last coin. I wanted to go back and ask him for a split, for R2.50 for this boy, this boy who was staring beseechingly into my car, his hand now making feeding motions.
The light turned green. I put my foot on the accelerator and drove on.
At the third traffic light it was a woman, emaciated too. At the next light there was a boy, with a black rubbish bag in his hands, exhorting people to throw their rubbish in the bag in exchange and give him some food or money.
One forgets. I have become so used to beggars at the traffic lights, I have stopped thinking about them. I even have my favourites. The blind Zimbabwean and his family on Oxford Road, in Rosebank. The tragic boy with the suppurating hunchback on Bompas Road. The woman who sells the Homeless Talk newspaper on Bolton Street, her child sitting on the pavement. I have known that child since she was born, and the one before her.
I have wrung my hands in despair before about this. There was the wave of Zimbabwean blind and invalided people when Robert Mugabe's murderous regime shut down orphanages, schools and homes for the needy. Then there were the baby-renting scams, which have mercifully been nipped in the bud.
But there are so many of them now. So many street corners at which hands are outstretched. I drive the highways of our land and see desperate people making their homes under bridges, their possessions nothing but filthy bags and cardboard boxes.
We have become inured to all this. Our children are growing up in the belief that it is normal to have people knock on your car window and beg. We raise our children with hard hearts. We raise them to believe that we are a defeated people, that we cannot wipe out the scourge of poverty.
I am sure that many of you will remind me that under apartheid poverty was hidden in the homelands, that influx control ensured that the cities were drained of all poor and unemployed blacks. I am sure it is true. But I am tired of being told things were worse under apartheid. Instead, I want to see examples of life being better under freedom. I want to see poverty being eradicated because of our freedoms.
As the ANC, a party which will be in power for at least another seven years, goes to its conference in Mangaung, I wish poverty eradication was higher on its agenda. There seems to be hardly any mention of poverty eradication by ANC members as they prepare for Mangaung.
Instead, we have ANC members who support President Jacob Zuma holding supporters of Kgalema Motlanthe at gunpoint on the East Rand. We have massive volumes of verbiage about these two candidates. We have hardly a word about what it is exactly they stand for in respect of the urgent challenges to eradicate poverty, unemployment and inequality in our country.
In truth, most of our politicians are now in a battle for power and its spoils. A huge faction of the ANC merely wants to continue the looting that has been going on at the expense of the poor. It is the sort of self-entitled, unthinking, reactionary looting graphically illustrated by the lies that surround that big house on the hill in Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal.
There are beggars at its gates. It shall fall, for it lives in a sea of poverty.