CEOs and other business leaders reportedly raised R31million to help the homeless. This they did by sleeping out, on the cordoned off Nelson Mandela bridge, exposed to the elements – not. When this fundraising effort first caught my attention, I without much thought declared it an insult to the homeless and a farce. I saw some justification for the effort by way of a quote attributed to one of the organisers; something along the lines of this being an opportunity for the top of the pile to experience life of the bottom of the pile. The sleep-out hardly achieves this but that is hardly the point or is it?
Those who support the sleep-out argue that the homeless need all the help they can get. A caller on Radio2000 impatiently asked, shouting actually, “if these guys did not do this, who was going to do it?” I presume the caller was referring to the fundraising and not the sleep-out but I can’t be sure. Here is the thing, the fortunate and well to do should give and should help, where possible, the less fortunate, no question. Any effort to help make this here country better for more than the CEOs should be applauded. Generosity however, does not buy anyone the privilege to denigrate those that stand to benefit – or not – from such generosity.
Marvin rings my bell from time to time and with as much dignity as he can muster, he asks for R10 so that he can be allowed into the shelter for the night. He is homeless. On nights that he can’t raise the entrance fee to the shelter or maybe choose to buy food with the money or a drink; he sleeps on the street, literally. He does so without a windbreaker, beanie, wifi, fire or security. This is Marvin’s reality, being homeless. The CEOs and those that organised Wi-Fi, fire and catering are not homeless. Reasons for being homeless are varied mainly, the homeless are destitute. These are the people who do not know where their next meal will come from. The sleep-out was fully catered.
I write this from the comfort of my living room. What right then do I have to speak on behalf of the homeless? None at all. I do however have the privilege to speak my mind when the privileged buy their way out of common decency. This is not an attempt to spend the night and time with the homeless, to understand their circumstances or plight. It is almost like that dwarf-throwing thing in the US and Canada. Those who supported it argued that the dwarfs got paid good money for it. Those against it argued “these are human beings”. Would people react differently to this sleep-out effort, I wonder if CEOs did it merely for the experience and raised no money for any cause? Without the R31million, would this be just a “let’s see how the other side live?” No it wouldn’t because what happened on the Nelson Mandela bridge resembles more an open air concert than an experience on the streets, with nothing to your name. I’m told not to forget the R31million. Yes, the R31million is there and much more and it should be given abundantly to help the less fortunate.
The CEOs are some of the smartest people I know. Surely 5 minutes of thought about this would have dissuaded participation? No, instead the sleep-out happened for the second time and seems set to continue and probably get bigger. No surprise there, the Americans voted for George W twice. Money can and does buy pretty much anything. The Sunday newspapers will have the pictures of the well-meaning CEOs out in the cold, for a good cause. They would not have been cold, hungry or unsafe – the stuff the homeless face every day and night. The same CEO’s could have agreed to raise the money over a conference call, on a golf course, through a gala dinner or even at Polo. They chose to make their giving more meaningful I guess. “Not only will I raise lots of money for you, I will share your daily experience, for one night. Wait, ok not really your experience but imagine what R31million can get you – whole new shelter or may be extend two others.” Privilege is truly a nice thing. Like the goose down K-Way jacket, it insulates you from the ravages of poverty. Like that liqueur it numbs you and allows you not to see or hear the call: “I am human too”. Privilege should not however protect you from the obligation to be considerate. There is no worse form of violence a human being can be subjected to than poverty; I would rather you did not make a spectacle of it. Put differently, just because another is caught in the pouring rain, it doesn’t make it right for you to piss on him on some “he’s wet anyway and besides, I am giving him a set of fresh clothes anyways”. You are privileged, you have 2 and a half houses and good shoes. Just drive in your lane.