Lately it seems that the number of people begging around the campus area has increased. It feels horrible to say no to someone asking for money so that they are able to feed themselves or their children while I walk with a full stomach and other privileges in my life that I can easily do without. Yes, we can help them by either buying them food or giving them some spare change, but how many times can we? Once? Maybe twice or even a third time, but we cannot help them every day.
There is a man who stands around Festival Street who takes anything that you give him and gives a bracelet in return. Recently a friend and I went to Pick ‘n Pay at Hatfield Plaza and a skinny boy dressed in dirty clothes approached us and asked my friend to buy him some bread and butter. I have been approached by two different men at two different times claiming that they needed money for their mother’s operation and would accept any donation that I was willing to give them. There is also a man who plays the guitar for change at the entrance of the Plaza and an old blind lady who sits with a cup in her hand.
All these images are heartbreaking and we can try as much as we can to give some contributions, but it is also true that many students operate on tight budgets with their funds becoming scarce by the end of the month.
It seems like there is a belief that just because we are students, we would have money. This is also proven by the behaviours of car guards that show you the finger or damage your car if you pay them one rand or in smaller change.
I find it to be undignified for them. It strips away their dignity and it chips away at their self-respect. Refusing to give them something puts us out as cold-hearted people that are happy as long as we have what we need, but obviously that is not true.
On the other hand, the safety levels around campus can be compromised. I have not heard of a beggar attacking a student for money, but we cannot rule out the possibility of it happening.
A few weeks ago I was confronted by a man asking for money for food outside The Gables on Prospect Street as I got into my car. When I said no as politely as I could and also apologised, he tried to hold my door open. I closed it and drove away as fast as I could.
Most of us students do not run businesses that we can afford to give them a job of some sort, and neither is everyone rich enough to fund their daily living, but we are nonetheless targeted as donors.
This brings about many conundrums. What can students do about the increase of beggars? Should we be feeling responsible? Must we make room for donations in our budgets? Should the university be taking measures to increase student safety in areas outside, but fairly close to campus?