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Jo'Burg Days: I Always GiveThem Something

This column by Barbara Durlacher will set you thinking about whether the impulse to do good necessarily results in good being done.

Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen … how many more would she take out of her shopping trolley? Fascinated, I watched as the plump women in front of me took packets of instant soup out of her basket and placed them on the counter. Wondering why she was buying so many, I could not resist asking her what she used them for.

“Are you on diet?” I queried, thinking that if she was, it obviously wasn’t working - probably the artificial ingredients in the packet soups, as well as all the extra salt and flavouring agents, were preventing her losing weight.

“No, my dear”, she replied, “I don’t eat them myself, but I always keep something handy to give to the street kids who come knocking at my door. You see, I live in Yeoville, where we have a large number of these homeless black children existing on the street, and whenever they come knocking on my door, I always give them something.”

Quickly glancing at the till, she fished in her purse, and as she did so, I noticed a wad of large domination notes in her wallet. There did not seem to be any shortage of money, so it seemed strange that she was buying something as dry and uninteresting as packet soup to give to the black street kids.

“Do they like it?” I asked, thinking that of all things to give a beggar, instant soup was the last thing I would chose. Why not something exciting and interesting like a can of tinned fruit, some Vienna sausages or even jam; but instant soup??

“Well” she continued, “I don’t want to give them money, as I know that they will only go and buy glue to sniff or even try to get an adult to buy them liquor, but soup is quick and nutritious, and I’m sure they love it.”

With that, we gathered up our bags and smiling goodbye, moved off to our cars. Driving home, I could not help reviewing the conversation and thinking how misguided some of these ‘do-gooders’ can be. Had she ever stopped to think that of all things, instant soup is useless unless you have a pot as well as some means of heating it, and then you need a spoon or even a hunk of bread to mop up the soup; without these elementary beginnings, you might just as well throw the packet away.

Where were these homeless, illiterate, glue-dazed little starvelings to find a pot, or even a tin can, clean water (would you let one of them come into your yard to fill a tin at your tap?) and most of all fire, on which to boil up the soup …

What a strange woman and what an odd idea; she obviously meant well, but in her comfortable ‘white’ circumstances had never stopped to think that the dirty bundles of pathetic humanity she saw every time she stopped at the traffic lights on the busy main road were so abject and derelict that a mere packet of dry instant soup was hardly going to seem like a lifesaver to them.

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