Beggars and Choosers

Every morning a crowd gathers at intersections on all the major routes around town. Crowds of day labourers hoping for work - you can find help for any odd job you require there. Crowds of the lucky who will be piled up in a truck come 7:30 and taken off to their regular jobs. And crowds of beggars.

In the past few months the crowds have increased in number and in duration as the economy takes a dive. Where they used to melt away by mid-morning, gone off to a day's labour, now they're there all day. Scattered groups hoping someone will stop and offer them a day's work in exchange for enough cash to keep them going for another day, another week. The clever ones position themselves at trailer hire lots and builder's yards, knowing that if you're picking up bricks you're going to need someone to lay them, if you're hiring a trailer you might need a few extra hands to load it.

The beggars have increased in number too. Every traffic light, every parking lot, every shop entrance. They call out loudly for a few cents, a loaf of bread. They stand at your car window and shake a can insistently in your face. You don't want to be cold-hearted, but there really isn't a lot you can do. If you gave to everyone you might end up shaking a can too.

I have a day labourer who has helped with Virgin Earth work recently. He's an excellent worker, and he's never short on a job. He's one of the lucky ones, but also one who has chosen success. He's made enough contacts, impressed enough folk who hired him off the street corner, that his cellphone sends more work his way than he has hours to do it in. And he's worth every Rand - I'm happy to pay him.

I'm not happy to give a cent though to the guys at Checkers who hang on the palisade fences begging for money, who aren't out actively trying to earn it but instead want to sit in the shade until someone is forced to park in front of them, then bug them into giving cash or food, and then go back to sitting in the shade.

You get your beggars, you get your choosers. One group I respect - the other I'm afraid I simply don't.