A homeless man washes himself on a field in District Six. File Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency
I wish all my Muslim friends Ramadaan Kareem. May it be a blessed time for you and your families.

The above dovetails neatly into my theme for this week - poverty. It is a reality that is engaged with at varying levels, and not all acts of charity are necessarily acts of kindness.

My house has devolved into a fortress to repel those who come knocking for my charity.

I wrestle with my conscience about how much is enough. Which beggar should I send away empty-handed?

Fasting during the holy month of Ramadaan is a deliberate act of self-denial that makes me understand what a person really means when he says he is hungry.

A sign outside a local high school states that the school is part of the alleviation of poverty programme practised by the provincial government.

All this deals with poverty as manifested in a physical way: hunger, emaciation, illness, disease.

Poverty should be a national imperative addressed directly by national government and filtered down to the provincial and civic arenas. To be poor is not only about not having. To be poor is to be stigmatised and side-lined, sometimes overtly, more often covertly. Napoleon Bonaparte said: “Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”

Bill Gates marks the Industrial Revolution as the beginning of the spreading of wealth, but never evenly. Celebrated author John Steinbeck, in Grapes of Wrath, says: When you are in trouble, go to the poor. They are the only ones who will help - the only ones.”

What I am underlining is the wider implication of being poor. Not only physically, but spiritually. To lose your way, your sense of self-worth, is poverty. To be denied the dignity of being human is poverty of the worst kind. It has many names. Like racism. Xenophobia. Religious intolerance.

We are experiencing such an intense season of emotions. The Christians have just come out of the rigours of Lent, our Muslim friends are preparing to enter the season of fasting with all its spiritual and human resonances. And the country is preparing for a seminal election.

It is crunch-time. That the ANC will win is a given. But can the issues I touched on be factored into the national ethos? Can we formulate a national ethic that addresses the poor in the same way columnist Danny Oosthuizen pleads for the homeless? Can there not be a non-party-aligned effort to outlaw hunger, need, want, deprivation. Can we not build a nation together? The well-known Tin-Pan Alley songs says blandly: “The rich get rich and the poor get children.”

Is that perhaps where we should start?

* Literally Yours is a weekly column from Cape Argus reader Alex Tabisher. He can be contacted on email by [email protected]

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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