Dashiki Dialogues: Have we become anti-poor?

2012-08-11 14:51

Lately I find myself witnessing incidents that leave me ­wondering if South Africa is increasingly becoming anti-poor.

We might well be growing intolerant of those who find themselves less fortunate in our society. Look at how we generally treat homeless people, those who scrape a living together on our roads, their once-blonde beards turned red with dirt.

These are people from whom we turn our eyes as they confront our comforts with crusty cupped hands to beg.

They include the elderly, too, who may no longer be able to fend for themselves.

The incidents that inform my pen come from living between Gauteng’s two main cities.

I sleep and wake in our national administrative capital, Tshwane, and make my living in Jozi.

Allow me to also count my frequent sojourns in the other main cities as sufficient learning experiences to inform my fears.

A few months ago, I found myself confronted with a disturbing image of a middle-aged woman crying hysterically on the streets of the capital city.

Clearly old enough to be my mother, she was cursing a group of metro police officers for trashing her trading goods.

The officers were apparently on a raid to get hawkers off the streets. In the process she lost her source of income, money that perhaps keeps her children from starving.

At another time, I saw police officers beating up prostitutes in the shadows of the union buildings.

They may have been doing their jobs to keep the streets “clean”. Just as those unfortunate women may claim to have been trying to eat.

Then there was a group of homeless boys who were being flushed out of their makeshift home in a bush along my route to work.

Where are they to sleep?

Perhaps the devil is in the bylaws passed by municipalities.

They may be unsympathetic to the have-nots.

Our bylaws may be premised on all citizens being young, able-bodied, wealthy and productive.

So we have designed bus stops with no benches to deter vagrants, thereby disregarding the needs of the elderly and disabled who use these facilities.

Young men are harassed by police for walking about in our suburbs like potential criminals, not unemployed youth looking for work.

I’m reminded of the words of slain US president John F Kennedy. Making a case for pro-poor politics, he pointed out:?“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

It’s a dialogue we need to bring into our privileged lives, lest we find ourselves in unsavoury dashikis. –

Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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