Since the turn of the century, millions of Zimbabweans left the country to find employment. South Africa is home to the majority of Zim immigrants who are scattered across the globe. Vokal Da Poet recounts a tale of brotherly love, of shared foreignness in Johannesburg.
One if the most common sights along Johannesburg’s roads are men and women holding up pieces of cardboard with sometimes clever statements begging for a hand out. Some of them are downright hilarious. I remember encountering one that said: “My cattle ate Mugabe’s maize field. I need money for bail”.
It has been a while since I went to Northgate where I saw that one. I wonder if he has kept the same message, since Robert Mugabe is no longer in power back home in Zimbabwe. I even wonder if he is still there.
Zim immigrants begging on streets
With messages such as the one I quoted, there is little question that the bulk of these beggars are Zimbabwean. I assume that most have resorted to this life because the great Egoli dream of finding a great job did not work out as they had hoped. I am not sure about now, but I do remember that back home there was a narrative that claimed that Zimbabweans have the best chance of getting a nice job in South Africa because they are educated. It was misguided. But that is a conversation for another day.
Not all beggars are genuine
Anyway, while for some begging is a last resort, some take it as a proper form of employment. I remember my encounter with a woman (another Zimbabwean) who used to ‘rent’ a child. And she would not hear anything about looking for a ‘proper job’ because she was making good money that enabled her to live an okay life in SA while she also manages to send money back home every month.
My awareness of these things make it difficult to help because there is no way one can tell just by looking at a beggar at the robots that this man/woman is really homeless and jobless and desperate, or that this man/woman is living the good life because he/she is a professional beggar.
Zim immigrants – how we spot each other
So you can imagine my initial thoughts on December 23rd when I walked out of my gate (I was on my way to an Engen garage nearby to buy something), and saw a man begging this white motorist for a few rand. Immediately I noticed that his English had the Shona accent.
The gentleman gave him R10, that is all he could spare. And when the ‘beggar’ turned, he saw me. I have to point out that he was dressed neatly in casuals. After a brief moment of hesitation he approached me, and began his plea in rickety Zulu. I put him out of his misery by giving my two year old daughter a command in Shona, and so he started addressing me in Shona. There was no way I was going to let him continue butchering isiZulu like that.
United by the green-bomber passport
He made a pitch to me on why he was begging right in front of my gate. And he went to great pains to point out that he is not a beggar. He tried his best to assure me that he has a ‘proper job’ in Pretoria. But I was not interested in all that. My mind was made up: this was a fellow Zimbabwean, and he needed help. Whatever his story, I owed him help by virtue of him being my fellow countryman.
Long story short, I made sure he had the exact amount he needed for a ride to Pretoria, and a little extra. He took my number, with promises of calling me when he arrived home. I wasn’t holding my breath as I handed over the money, I did not feel as if he owed me that much. It would be a good gesture, but also not really necessary. What I did feel as if he owed me, was for him to help another Zimbabwean in trouble when he can, without judgement.
I hope wherever he is, he will help someone else just because he can help. Without judgement. Without making the other person feel terrible. It doesn’t matter the motives of the person he will be helping, that is none of his business.