Begging to survive

Like most places in the city, a spot to beg in a specific area is much coveted simply because of what you can earn there. Beggars in our city, and if they are to be believed, earn on average between R60-R100 a day, depending on where they station themselves.
The most coveted area that brings in the big bucks is Sanctuary and Chatterton Road, where the beggars haul in over R100 a day.
The controversial topic of the increasing number of beggars and street children that frequent Pietermaritzburg’s streets often finds its way into conversations and sparks a great deal of debate.
While many succumb to compassion and empty their small change into the hands of the destitute, others stand firm by the belief that giving them money keeps them on the street.
Many are of the belief that begging is just an excuse for easy pay, and to feed drug and alcohol addictions, while a small minority question the availability of employment and shelters in Pietermaritzburg and its surrounds.
Four beggars share their stories and how they ended up living on the streets.
With a sleeping child on her lap, a fifty-year old lady sits on a crate outside a stall at the Debi place market every day.  After her daughter abandoned her new-born child, she was left as the sole provider for her grand-daughter. She said after her husband passed away a few years ago, she struggled to make ends meet on her meagre state grant of R500.
“The money I get from begging goes towards my rent. Sometimes people are kind and give us food items. R500 is too little to provide for my grandchild and myself,” she explained.
Sandile Sithole, 17, has for the past two years held a permanent spot at the Chief Albert Luthuli Road traffic light where he collects approximately R60 a day that  he uses to buy food, and on the rare occasion cigarettes. He said the majority of the beggars smoked, as it helps to suppress hunger.
He receives two meals a week from a shelter in Loop Street. Sithole’s parents died when he was a child. He then stayed with family members in Ashdown until two years ago when he was forced to fend for himself.  He has completed his education up to grade nine and says he is willing to do any kind of work. He carries a black plastic bag around his neck, offering to relieve commuters of their car rubbish for any short change.
A beggar at Sanctuary Road, retold his heartfelt life story of how his parents died when he was a young child, leaving him and his brother orphaned. After being passed along from one family member to another, he was eventually adopted, only to be left destitute a second time when his foster mother died. He said he had lost contact with his mentally challenged younger brother who the last he knew of, was placed in a children’s home somewhere in Pietermaritzburg.
On a good day he earns up to R150 which he uses to buy food. He bathes and washes his clothes in the nearby river.  One day he aspires to be a businessman and says he will never give up on his dreams, as they are what “drives him to get through every day.”
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Jade le Roux

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