After going through the various suggestions online about how to spend our 67 minutes serving on Mandela Day, we decided at the last minute to come up with our own idea. It didn’t quite go as planned, and we didn’t interact with as many people as we had set out to, but we did engage with some interesting personalities behind the guises we pass in our daily lives, whether consciously or not.
With a box of hotdogs, a bag of oranges and some cold drinks, we hit the streets of Cape Town to meet and chat with the regular faces we see on the corners at the traffic lights, and provide a snack as they carried out their tasks hoping to garner some small change to feed their families.
We met with Paul Khwatshwa, who many in the southern suburbs may recognise by his big hat and quirky dance as he offers to collect your rubbish from your car in exchange for some coins. Paul hails from the Transkei and made his way to Cape Town in search of work. While he hasn’t been able to find regular work, he has been innovative in creating a way to offer a service at the traffic lights instead of merely begging for money. Life is tough out there for many, but when we drive past Paul later on in the day, he sees us waving and immediately strikes a pose and gives us a huge smile before dancing over to the next car at the intersection, opening his bag to receive the discarded packaging from the meals that probably didn’t require a second thought or a calculation before they were bought and consumed.
Another interesting and entertaining man we chatted to was Vuyani Notaka, better known to all of us as the Funny Money man. Vuyani also came to Cape Town in search of work and has a great love for the Mother City and her people. He explains to us that he is a registered vendor for Funny Money and he buys his sheets of paper for 25c each, which he supplies at the traffic lights in exchange for some loose change. He does the math for us, explaining that if you give him R2, he makes R1.75 profit, on R5 he makes R4.75 and we can work out the rest. It may just be small change for us, but for him it is his bread and butter and he tells us he doesn’t want to get involved in crime as others struggling without work so often do. “Half a loaf is better than no loaf” is the pearl of wisdom he leaves us with, and we walk away realising how much we take for granted every day.
We met a few others during our travel, not everyone was eager to have a chat, and others just needed an ear to receive some of their pent up venting about life but all were grateful for a small bite to eat as they did what needed to be done to survive the day. We realised we should have gone out with way more food than we did, as for every one person at an intersection, there were 5 more dependent on them waiting around the corner or under the trees, so unfortunately we couldn’t stop at every corner we had hoped to. It was an eye opening experience and one we intend to repeat, although better prepared the next time.