True charity involves being proactive

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Many traffic Intersections in South African cities are occupied by beggars and peddlers of wares, who pursue a captive audience when the lights turn red.

The definition of harassment involves a person not being able to escape unwanted demands or threats; and demanding a driver’s attention while he is trapped at a robot falls under this definition.

The illegal activity at intersections has become one of the so-called “little” misdemeanours that law enforcement officials and the public turn a blind eye to. Because of the lack of jobs and a general disregard for law and order, those who are seen to be disadvantaged are pitied and given leeway to do things they shouldn’t do. People tend to forget that begging is an age-old profession and an art, and beggars in South Africa have a veritable gold mine at their disposal – a wealthy segment of the population made up of people who enjoy their comforts and who want to steer clear of poverty, but at the same time feel a sense of guilt because of their privilege. Beggars exploit this to the max, providing an opportunity for “caring” folk to give away a few rand from the comfort of their cars to ease their consciences.

Unfortunately, beggars distract us from the true poverty in the country. Many people want to give to the needy but they don’t feel comfortable going into impoverished areas, so they end up offering their change to professional drifters who hang around shops, restaurants and other places where money changes hands. These vagrants earn a lot compared to the 99 percent of really poor people in townships whom no one sees because they have too much dignity to venture out and ask for money.

Beggars often defend their turf by brutal means to secure their business interests from other would-be competitors. They tend to be crass and demanding, they create unsafe conditions for the public and they make up a tiny percentage of poor people; but because they are conspicuous they are seen as the face of “the poor”. This makes them the worst sort of people to support. If someone really wants to help those in need then he or she could keep an eye open for people digging in bins, or for those who look really poor but are not asking for money. It is not hard to identify such people, approach them discreetly and give them a R50 or R100 note, or whatever sum one wants to donate. True charity involves being proactive – putting aside a certain sum each month and using one’s mind and will to identify where help is really needed, instead of being coerced to give when one doesn’t want to.

Geoff Embling

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