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Beggars at robots

23 November 2008

On the way to church this morning we listened to the radio. They were interviewing Wayne Minnaar, the head of the Joburg Metro Police, about the problem of beggars at robots. It’s illegal, the interviewer says, so why don’t the Metro Police do something about it. It’s not so easy says Wayne Minnaar. They are homeless and have no Id. You can’t give them a ticket for begging, because what address would you put on the ticket? And you can’t put them in jail, because begging isn’t a major crime, so there’s nothing you can do.

But they are criminals says the interviewer. But anyway, says Minnaar, people give them money. Once we took a lot of them off the street to a place of safety, and gave them a lecture on the dangers of begging, and they just went straight back on the streets again. Because people give them money, and it’s not a major crime. You can’t put them in jail as if they were murderers or rapists.

This is followed by an interview with a a doctor who talks about piles. He’s not very articulate, and ums and ahs a lot, but unlike the head of the Metro Police, he has a cure. There are lots of cures for piles, and they are quick. Just give ’em an enema.

Perhaps Wayne Minnar could take a leaf out of his book.

Or perhaps he could take a leaf out of the book of the Durban Metro Police, and not bother giving tickets to homeless beggars, but rather ticket the motorists who give them money while stopped at robots.

I wonder if they’ve started doing it yet, and what the response of motorists has been?

I think it calls for a new Defiance Campaign, remember back in 1952, when people were willing to go to jail for breaking unjust laws. People would sit on park benchest for the wrong racial group, go in the wrong entrances in post offices and the like, until the government announced harsher penalties for breaking laws by way of protest. Like flogging.

So if people were willing to go to jail to protest the right to exercise Christian charity by giving money to beggars at robots, would the government enact legislation to enable them to be flogged. Perhaps the law against the Defiance Campaign is still on the stature book, and then we could go full circle.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 23 November 2008 5:04 pm

    I’m not sure it’s the best form of Christian (or any other) charity to give money to beggars at traffic lights. Wouldn’t it be more effective to give the money to a charity that organises meals or night shelters for homeless people, or helps get them back into work, off drugs, etc.?

    Or perhaps you like to cut out the “middle-man” 🙂

  2. 24 November 2008 3:45 am

    How did you come to the conclusion that giving cash to homeless people is a demonstration of “Christian” charity?

  3. 24 November 2008 4:26 am

    J.R. Miller,

    How did you come to the conclusion that giving cash to homeless people is a demonstration of “Christian” charity?

    Luke 16:19-31 for one thing, and St John Chrysostom’s homilies on that text for another.

    That doesn’t preclude it from being part of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Secular Humanist charity, or any other religion or worldview, but they can speak for themselves if they think it is important.

  4. 24 November 2008 4:47 am


    There aren’t enough of such organisations to deal with the problem. In Johannesburg there is one calle Twilight Children, but it only touches the tip of the iceberg. And of course that’s just for the children. I wrote something about street children coming to church on my LiveJournal.

  5. 24 November 2008 7:00 am

    Hi Steve, I am not sure what that specific passage says about giving money to solve problems. As a matter of fact, I don’t know of any NT passage that says money will solve problems or demonstrates Christ.

    More on topic, here is why I ask.

    Back in the early 1990’s I did some work with homeless people in Philadelphia, PA. I worked closely with the churches in the area who were very connected with this issue. We were taught that it was counterproductive to give money to street people.

    Early studies from the 90’s confirm the reasons why… (see this book ) which is quoted on this website from the Association of Gospel Rescue Mission

    “Besides not having a home to call their own, most of the 500,000 to 3 million people identified as homeless have something else in common – addiction and mental illness. According to one study, up to two-thirds of homeless adults suffer from alcoholism and at least half suffer from drug disorders. (1) In their book, A Nation In Denial, Alice Baum and Donald Burnes shatter many of the myths surrounding the root causes of homelessness, which have little to do with the economy, governmental social policies, lack of affordable housing, and so forth. According to their research at least 65-85% of all homeless adults suffer from chronic alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, or some combination of the three, often complicated by serious medical problems. At least 1/3 of the homeless suffer from severe and persistent chronic psychiatric disorders. Forty to fifty percent of these individuals are “dually diagnosed” – suffering from addiction to alcohol and/or drugs, as well.”

    This older study, and my experience, seems to reflect the same research I have heard in a recent study here in Seattle, WA near where I live.

    So I wonder, if giving cash to people with self-destructive behavior is a reflection of genuine compassion or misguided support?

    The churches I worked with said that if you really felt the need to give immediate help to someone asking for money to buy food, then go and buy them the food and give them food. This way you are helping but not supporting addictive behaviors.

    But as far as giving pocket change to people on a street corner, I don’t think that reflects the kind of love Jesus showed in the Scripture.

    So I wonder… Do we give cash to street people because it is easier than actually doing good in their lives that would require real sacrifice?

    Do we throw money at a problem because our $2 in change really will help or because it makes us feel like we have done something good?

    IMHO, it seems that it is better to give money to people who actually invest themselves in the lives of street people (like the group I linked to above) and who can really demonstrate Christ’s love OR take some homeless people into our homes and do something of lasting worth.

    What do you think?

  6. 26 November 2008 9:22 am

    Hey again. I just wanted to clarify something for you. I am hoping to hear your opinion on what I wrote. I am concerned that you may have read some judgement into the questions at the end of my post. None is intended, I am just dong some external processing and hoping to get another perspective. Maybe your country is far different than my own, and that of course could change the whole situation. Anyway, I just wanted to make sure your silence after my last post was not because you felt attacked.

  7. 26 November 2008 11:29 am


    We are talking about two different things.

    You can see the link I gave in one of the earlier comments to some of the things we have done with street kids.

    One can argue about whether giving money to a beggar is or isn’t the best way of helping him (and its usually a him — boys find their way on to the streets begging, girls end up as prostitutes).

    But the point I was making was about the attitude of the city authorities. Its similar to something I read about a couple of years ago in California, where the authorities threatened to prosecute church groups who helped illegal immigrants. And the church groups said they would go to jail rather than stop. I don’t know what happened after that.

    I’ve told you about Johannesburg and Durban. In our city, (Tshwane) we called one Sunday to take some street kids to church, and they were nowhere to be found. We found out later that the Metro Police had loaded them up on trucks, taken them out into a remote rural area, and dumped them in the veld.

    And what would Abraham have said if that was the rich man’s solution to the problem of the poor man sitting at his gate? Call the Roman army, and have them dump him in the desert somewhere — out of sight, out of mind.

  8. 26 November 2008 5:53 pm

    Oh yes, and read this.

  9. 27 November 2008 2:12 am

    Thanks for the link and for your explanation.

    We do have churches in our area that have tried to put up “tent cities” and other things to help the homeless. I agree with you that these kind of life-on-life efforts are a great demonstration of Christ’s love and it is unfortunate when governments don’t allow people to help others.

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