We live in Africa. Beggars are part of our scenery. Every traffic light, side street, and even my own front door is home to various beggars asking for money, food, a job or sometimes even a Bovril sandwich.
I try to give beggars money whenever I can. Sometimes, I don’t have change or they look particularly like a murderer and I just turn down my eyes and mumble “sorry” while feeling guilty as I slink past.
But without fail, if someone knocks on my door asking for food, I will give it to them. I always imagine how hungry I would have to be to ask a stranger for food, and that thought drives me to try to feed the hungry. People argue that they probably throw it away around the corner, but I don’t care. I never want to turn away the one person who might genuinely be hungry.
Today I went to Woolies for a small grocery shop. Outside the entrance, a man was asking everyone who passed him for money. As I passed him, he asked me for R6 for mielie meal. “Sorry, I don’t have any change” I said, trying to look sorry as I walked in.
I recognized this man immediately as the one who constantly harasses me at the traffic light. He sells newspapers, and if you don’t want a newspaper he asks you for money. He looks very much like a murderer. He tries to intimidate you.
Still, piling my trolley full of organic chicken stock and tender stem broccoli I felt increasingly guilty about not giving this man some money for a meal. Even though I really didn’t have any cash, I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of my bulging trolley and his empty tummy.
So I put a big bag of mielie meal in the trolley and walked over to the till. The queue was long, and I didn’t want him to leave before I’d given him his packet, so I got his attention from the queue and pointed to the mielie meal, indicating that it was for him.
“NO!” he shouted “I said I want bread and pilchards!”
WELL! I almost fell over from shock! I was so incredibly taken-aback by his indignant shouting and obvious ingratitude that my blood started to boil.
“You said you wanted mielie meal! You’re ungrateful! What a bastard!” I shouted at him from inside the shop. Heads turned and people stared as my face practically set alight with embarrassment.
I feel sad about today. And I feel sad that people like this man are the cause of many South Africans saying “I never give money to beggars”. But I’m not letting him stop me from giving food to the hungry.
I’m am however going to call him a bastard every time I see him from now on.