I am still feeling disturbed because of the poverty I saw this afternoon. I could not believe that there is so much poverty in Johannesburg in an area, which is just about 15 minutes walking from where I live. I decided to tell this story in a way that does not show the hard poverty that I saw. The aim is not to move people through words, but to share the information. Perhaps, you might have a suggestion after reading this story.
This afternoon I closed my computer as I rushed into town. I had something urgent to do there. The whole morning I was indoors. I got outside our building around 14:15 hours. Oh! The weather was superb. The sun was shining. It was not too hot to walk although it shone brightly. There was this cool breeze despite the hot sun. I stood outside our entrance and breathed in cool air through my nostrils. What a wonderful feeling to taste the cool air. At that moment, I decided that I was going to walk to and from town, which is a total of about 30-40 minutes. I felt that it would be the best way to keep fit while relaxing from my desk. So, as I strode off our building entrance when the sky was a clear blue. I enjoyed looking up into the sky from time to time to marvel at the spring sky. It’s awesome.
When I was about 10 minutes into my walk, I observed that people lay all over the lawns in Braamfontein. I was struck by the imbalance that I saw between the lawns and the people. The lawns were meticulously great. So green! Yet, the people sleeping on those green lawns caught my attention. I noticed all sorts of things within seconds. I saw hungry faces. I saw people, who have not eaten or drank water in days. I saw ill people without medical help. I saw children, who looked malnourished and sickish. I saw hopelessness in the eyes of some parents. I saw that the people were a mixture of migrants both the local and cross border migrants. I walked to the second and third set of lawns, I found a similar situation. It disturbed me to see kids crying because of hunger. What happened to the government, local municipalities, organisations, religious groups and individuals? How did we get to this level, which turns a blind eye to visible plight like those on the lawns?
I walked past them into town. Yet, when I got there, I realised that I left an important document. So, I walked back to our building the same way to collect the document. Again, I noticed people sleeping flat on the laws. Some had left and were replaced by different people. When I got to my flat, I felt sick to my stomach. The poverty, which I saw on those lawns, was too much to ignore.
Thus, I collected my document and returned to town the same way. This time around I decided to talk to a few people on the lawns. I phrased my question differently because I did not want to create anxiety while I had no solution to their problems. So, I decided that I would find out what they were doing on those lawns. The first response was that most of them were sleeping their hunger off because they ate nothing, since morning up to the time I was talking to some of them. I learnt also that most of them came to the city in search of better lives, but there are no jobs or pieces of work for them to do. When I asked why they were not selling anything to make at least some profit, I learnt that the metro police come to round-up their goods because it is against the South African government policy for small-scale businesses to earn a living on the street. Most of them wanted transportation to return to their rural homes or countries. I did not want to raise false hopes for them. So, I thanked them and proceeded to town.
It feels bad to hear bad news one cannot do anything about. When I got to town, I managed to do all I wanted to do within 5 minutes. When I looked at my watch, it was 16: 20 hours. I thought that I had at least 40 minutes to verify the information the people on the lawns told me. I decided that I was going to talk to the people selling items on the streets. I was surprised to learn deeper information about the poverty of poor people in the city. They confirmed the information those lawn people told me. While we were talking, the metro police came and started collecting goods from vendors. When I asked the woman police, she told me that the vendors know that they are not supposed to sell anything on the streets. Yet, the market stalls cannot accommodate all vendors. Besides, migrants are disadvantaged because they are unable to get investment permits. They do not have that kind of money. I saw one woman crying and rolling on the pavement with her hands behind her head. She wondered how she was going to repay the money, which she borrowed from a neighbour to buy her vegetable goods. Others simply watched as the metro police gathered their goods into a van. I observed that some men offered bribes to secure back their goods. The bribes were almost half the cost of goods. I wondered what growing cities have to offer to poor people.
I learnt that the South African government did not change the business policies after independence in 1994. They carried forward the same apartheid laws against vendors. During apartheid, I learnt that businessmen, who wanted to become rich quickly, developed monopolised businesses. They made sure that vendors never sold anything on the streets so that they would be the only ones selling goods. My informants argued that this worked to enrich businessmen in the apartheid era. They argued further that supermarkets became franchise businesses—having a chain of shops. Today, after independence, the current government has continued with this monopoly policy although it does not help small-scale business owners. The trouble is big businesses are still in the hands of the apartheid owners or their children/grandchildren. Thus, they have continued playing big monopoly games at the expense of poor people.
These people have suffered not far from where I live. Yet, I did not even know about it. It shows how self-centred we become living in Johannesburg. I plan to compile a list of organisations dealing with migrants and/or small-scale businesses so that I give out referral information.
If you have any suggestions, let me know!
@ Chipo Muponisi, unedited Post