By Luzuko Buku
Grahamstown’s street children say that although they have developed good relationships with some students, others continuously insult and ridicule the homeless.
Although not all students are aggressive when approached by beggars, some tend to target the homeless as subjects of mockery. The concern of some is diminished by the scorn from much of the university’s population. Lindani Habhani, who begs on the streets, said that Rhodes students regularly insult him while he is asking for food or money.
“Students have told me to ask my father and called me pig for begging,” he said, describing the constant disdain that is faced by street children. The town’s homeless are as synonymous with Grahamstown as the ring of the cathedral bells. They approach students on the streets and at shops close to campus for what they call tips that they obtain from passers-by.
The hotspots for receiving tips are the doorway of Steers and at night near the clubs when students are partying. Mzwabantu Dyonashe, a 15-yearold street child from Kwandancama in Fingo Village has made friends with some of the students who give him tips. Dyonashe said, “By making friends with the students, I am avoiding the fights that we [street children] usually have for people’s tips.” He said that’s why most children will try to get to know students by name, as it is difficult to survive without getting the help of specific students.
He pointed out that the worst time to be on the streets is during university vacations as tips are rare because most of the regulars he knows have left town. Dyonashe explained that the relations he has developed have helped him get more than tips.
The problem is that many people do not seem to understand the unique situation of street children. For example, although Dyonashe is willing to go to a shelter, he is not willing to go to one in Grahamstown. He said, “I want to be in a shelter that is out of Grahamstown, I want to go to East London or Port Elizabeth where my friends won’t see me and laugh at me.”
Sadly most street children have had some unpleasant encounters with students. Not everyone seems to comprehend the plight of the homeless. Nkasiyazi Ntlanga, a BCom student, said “Though I do not insult the kids because they are too human, I cannot promote crime by giving street kids money to smoke drugs and rob people.”
Habhani obviously holds a dissimilar view to this form of pessimism that he encounters regularly. The young homeless boy simply suggests that “If students think we are going to smoke with their money, they should just buy us bread.”