Citizen Voices

The socio-economic issue of street begging

A very complex relationship exists between socially marginalised individuals and the students and residents of Grahamstown. How well do we understand the culture of street begging in this town? Luyanda Mahlinza discusses.

Three individuals who frequently beg on New Street. Photo credit: Luyanda Mahlinza

Three individuals who frequently beg on New Street. Photo credit: Luyanda Mahlinza

A well-known, distinct boundary exists between Rhodes University campus and the rest of town. One the one side, there is the prestige, buildings, vibrant student life and academic lifestyle.  On the adjacent section of New Street that forms part of Grahamstown’s town centre, is the retail industry, franchises and night time activity. This is a stark contrast to the witness, what with the high population of ‘street kids’ and socially marginalized individuals often begging for money and food. It seems that the development of businesses in Grahamstown, the implementation of outreach programmes placed in the town’s outer communities as well as the growth of Rhodes University is indicative of steady incline and improvement. Yet, a feature that seems to have stayed static is the very frequent presence of beggars in the streets of Grahamstown.

What needs to be questioned is the way in which this has become a norm. How have we all come to accept this very unequal relationship that confronts us on a daily basis?

What comes to mind immediately is my experience as a first year at Rhodes University. It was in this year where I, alongside many other first years in my year and quite possibly many others that followed us, received instruction on the matter. It came in the form of a “How to survive in Rhodes 101” speech by Dr. Vivian de Klerk, and suggested that we neglect the desperate needs of these street beggars when they ask us for spare change.

Pretty harsh right?

But my positive and enthusiastic mind-set chose to strip away any pessimism and assume that such a blatantly excessive and undue statement had to be founded on an idea that existing support and help exists. I had to force myself to understand that giving money to beggars causes more harm than good. Of course, we would not blindly allow the social segregation of these individuals.

To be fair, this is somewhat correct. Grahamstown does have many vehicles of assistance placed to improve and support the lives of these socially marginalized individuals.

What about Rhodes University? For a problem that exists so close in proximity to our campus, there should be a great input by Rhodes to address this prolonged issue.

Many initiatives are put in place not only by Rhodes University but by many charitable societies and the Centre for Social Development (CSD) at Rhodes. Children at the Eluxolweni Boys Shelter are also provided with psychological treatment from the Rhodes Psychology Clinic. Residences on Rhodes campus are also often urged to donate clothes and food through student volunteer programmes. There’s no denying the force applied by Rhodes to make some significant change. The effort placed is completely evident which might justify our former Dean of Students urging the dismissal of these desperate individuals. Without a doubt, let’s give credit where credit is due but, to be frank, all these efforts have in no way altered the very vivid reality that a high population of zero to low income individuals still roam the streets of Grahamstown begging and desperately yearning for a better life.

It’s clear that we, as students of Rhodes University who witness this issue in a very direct way, need to start thinking more critically and, most importantly, more honestly about some of the more real and genuine factors that contribute to the severe poverty line in this town. A very hostile and complex relationship exists between these two distinct demographics and without the application of independent thinking we will never truly understand the inequality that sprouts from the socio-economic crisis that has stayed unchanged for this long. Did we become too submissive too quickly to authoritative voices telling us how to treat and ‘handle’ these individuals? There’s a chance we have been blindly following instruction to ignore and refuse thinking our individual efforts will do more harm than good.


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