Poverty in Cape Town, South Africa

As a member of the Venda group, I have been very interested in South Africa’s economic standing and levels of poverty in its cities. In the city of Cape Town, the economic statuses of its citizens is stratified. For instance, the homes by the Waterfront are large and beautiful, but homes more inland are shanty and much smaller. There is also a noticeable population of homeless people living on the streets of the city. I was shocked to see as many homeless people as I did. With that said, I began drawing parallels between this poverty and homelessness in South Africa with what I have seen back home in the US. As a Long Island native, I chose to focus on New York City, specifically, as my comparison point.

One common trend that I have noticed among homeless and impoverished people in Cape Town is begging. Quite often, homeless people will ask you for money or food when you walk by or they will make a point to come up to you and beg. For example, one night after dinner as we were walking back to our bus, we walked passed a tattered woman, with a child on her hip, asking for money as we passed. Our bus driver was kind enough to lend her a few rand. Something like this is common to see in New York, and is something that I’ve experienced before. However, many New Yorkers will not give money to the beggars, but will give them food or leftovers.

In contrast with New York beggars, Cape Town beggars will boldly approach city goers and ask for money or donations. Once at dinner at the Waterfront (which is also a touristy place), two young girls approached my outdoor restaurant table and blatantly asked for my friends and me to donate money to help them pay for dance school. This kind of begging I have not been exposed to before and was very taken aback that the girls approached us during dinner

Next, on our free day, some friends and I took a train to a Western Cape beach. While on the train, two men walked through the car singing and begging for money or food. They walked through twice. Then about twenty minutes later, a young, unaccompanied boy walked through the car and asked anyone if they had food to spare. My friends and I felt guilty that we didn’t have any food for this little boy and wondered if his parents were also asking for food in adjacent train cars. On the Subway in New York City, both types of beggars can be seen: those who sing or perform for money or those who will approach the commuter as ask for money or food.

Finally, a commonality I’ve observed in Cape Town is the tendency of homeless people to use pathos while begging. Tourists sympathize with mothers holding children, for example, or people who are handicapped or disabled. People in New York will also try to appeal to tourists’ emotions, but are more likely to do it through the use of animals, such as dogs or rabbits.

While writing this blog post, I decided to research ways in which members of the city of Cape Town are helping the situation, and I came across an interesting opinion piece by Alexandra Seiler of CapeTownMagazine.com. In her article, Seiler explains how she believes that by giving beggars money simply perpetuates their situations and that “homeless people make enough money begging to avoid starvation, but not enough to change their situation… Giving beggars money adds fuel to the fire, and keeps them on the street.” Therefore’ Seiler suggests that Cape Town citizens should use other methods to help the homeless instead. These suggestions include: buying food, buying entry passes to homeless shelters, and donating to homeless charities and organizations. I happen to agree with Seiler on this issue. I think poverty and homelessness is a critical issue that needs to be resolved, but I also think donating to charities and giving the homeless food instead of giving money to beggars is a better use of resources.

Seiler, A. (2015). Please, Sir, have you got some change? How you can really help. CapeTownMagazine.com. Retrieved from http://www.capetownmagazine.com/social/please-sir-have-you-got-some-change-how-you-can-really-help/118_22_19113

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