The fundamental difference between a car and a motorcycle is that a bike is inherently unstable. What that says about the people who ride them we will leave for a future discussion, but the point being made is that if a car gets on to a wet or oily patch of road, it will slide until it regains traction and then continue.

If a motorcycle strays on to the same slippery surface, however, it will crash, usually to the detriment of the rider and always to the detriment of the bike. Therefore it is logical that bikers are far more aware of what is under their wheels than car drivers; it’s a survival mechanism.

Moreover, since their view of the world around them is restricted by the tin boxes they sit in, car drivers simply can’t see the road surface close to them.


About 16 months ago, I began to notice small, shiny round objects on the tar at road intersections in and around Cape Town, usually in the dirty area right in the middle where road grit and debris is automatically swept by the thousands of car tyres passing through (and, incidentally, where bikers pick up the vast majority of their punctures).

Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I walked out into the middle of an intersection near my home, to find three five-cent coins, two of them much the worse for being ridden over many times, the third shiny and new.

That got my attention, and within a week I had found five-cent coins (and only five-cent coins) at eight more crossings, including seven at the intersection of Bree and Wale streets in the CBD. How did they get there I wondered, and why?


It turns out that Cape Town’s homeless people have the mistaken idea that, since banks no longer issue them, five-cent coins are no longer legal tender and, when charitable drivers drop a pocketful of small change into the ever-present outstretched hands at almost every red light in Cape Town, the recipients sift out the copper-coloured coins and simply drop them in the street.

This I learned from a particularly aromatic street dweller who saw me picking up the coins in the middle of an intersection he regards as his ‘turf’ and who now addresses me, only half in jest, as ‘Mr Five-Cent’.

Now, more than a year later, I have more than a kilogram of five-cent coins in a jar, many of them as bright as the day they were minted, and I don’t know what to do with them.

Each of them was a charitable donation from a Cape Town driver to somebody who doesn’t even have a place to lay their head, and I would feel very uncomfortable simply using them to pay for my breakfast.

Obviously, I would prefer that they should benefit the city’s homeless people, but I’m open to suggestions in the comments section, or to [email protected]