Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. It’s a biblical verse from the gospel of Matthew I’ve always held dear.
You see, when people do good, engage in charity work, or even do as little as leave food or other goods on top of their wheelie bin on dirt day, they’ll want to crow about it. People will do the bare minimum on July 18 - Nelson Mandela’s birthday - and post about it on social media as if to validate that it happened.
If a man feeds a homeless person and no-one is around to tweet about it, did it really happen?
It’s poverty porn. Look at me! Look at all the good I’m doing. I’m a good person.
Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
So when I was invited by my bestie and former colleague Gasant Abarder to join him, actor, comedian and model South African Soli Philander, and others to #BoeberUnderTheBridge last Sunday, I was in two minds about how much I would say about it on social media.
I shared all the posts and Gasant’s interview with Pippa Hudson, but I didn’t go off telling people I’d be there to assist. And when we got there, I was nervous about taking pictures of the housing insecure who live under the bridge close to the Gallow’s Hill Traffic Department in Cape Town and sharing them to social media.
I was reticent about sharing the work I was doing to restore some of the dignity lost by life dealing these Capetonians a crappy hand.
Let me tell you about the event - it’s a continuation of Christmas Under the Bridge, where Soli and others lay out a decadent spread for the homeless around Christmas time.
What better time to do it than the 15th of Ramadan, the halfway point of the fast, which coincided this year with Passover and Easter Weekend.
As a Christian, the day is of particular significance to me. Easter Sunday we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. The 15th of Ramadan - Boeber-aand - is important to me because it is important to my bestie and the other Muslim members of my football club, Woodstock Wanderers.
So when I was asked to open proceedings with a prayer, I was particularly moved.
Gift of the Givers provided a massive pot of akhni. Aunty Moena from District Six supplied countless litres of boeber. Kelly Hendricks delivered mini bouquets of flowers.
The Fishrite Hanover Park Cricket Club’s giant-killing first team were there to assist and donated their time and effort.
There were so many people who pulled through in support, offered donations, dropped off snacks and goodie bags and party packets.
Thank you to @elle_ron @amalnotclooney @annaswan001 @fatimarazz & @ReaazAhmed for donating towards #blommeunderthebridge— Far from the Madding Crowd. (@blomnbeautiful) April 18, 2022
I finally got to meet Soli & Shaz & @LanceTheWitten & @GasantAbarder & family. ☺️👏![CDATA]>🏾
Thank you to @GiftoftheGivers & ALL involved in organizing & donating.🌸 https://t.co/Ma5NcH6OYZ pic.twitter.com/42h2qTHub7
But the most important thing they offered was their time. Just spending time hanging out with the homeless, talking to them, engaging with them, recognising our common humanity.
Some of the Capetonians I most respect were there too; former CEO of Community Chest Lorenzo Davids was there. Former cricketer and South Africa A coach Vincent Barnes was there.
Community activist Ashraf Allie was there. Businessman Reaaz Ahmed was there. Actor and stage personality Charles Tertiens was there. Businesswoman and activist Fatima Razzak was there. Mitchell’s Plain Golf Club co-chairman (and IOL columnist) Jehad Kasu was there.
It was a true celebration. And no-one was there for the clout.
I also had the pleasure of introducing these two amazing individuals to each other who follow each other’s activities/initiatives on this platform…@UrbanLo & @ReaazAhmed 🙏![CDATA]>🏾![CDATA]>🤲![CDATA]>🏾![CDATA]>🇿![CDATA]>🇦❤️❤️ https://t.co/r7cUcEm3ml pic.twitter.com/cLMa7eXFGZ— Ashraf Allie™🇿![CDATA]>🇦![CDATA]>🔴![CDATA]>🔴![CDATA]>🔴 (@ashrafallie2918) April 18, 2022
We were there because we wanted the homeless people of Cape Town to know that we saw them; we acknowledged them; we recognised their status as members of our society, and not an irritation or problem that needs to be solved.
Met some incredible people at #BoeberUnderTheBridge last night. This is Louise Mitas - she makes these doorstops out of bricks and bits of scrap material. I also met Roche Moses and his wife Rushana, who weaves these leather bracelets from offcuts he buys from Woodheads 😍 pic.twitter.com/kNG2MRGEmC— Lance Witten (@LanceTheWitten) April 18, 2022
I met Louise Mitas, who makes doorstops out of bricks and bits of scrap materials.
I met Roche Moses and his wife Rushana. Roche buys off-cuts of leather from Woodheads and weaves them into bracelets. My other bestie Kurt Echardt was so moved by Roche’s story, he bought a few bracelets himself.
Roche’s leg is broken in four places and he needs to see a specialist in order to heal fully. He’s a former footballer who’s played for some of the most prominent semi-pro teams in Cape Town. He’s now confined to a wheelchair.
I was on a high after the event. It felt so good to reconnect with the homeless people of Cape Town. I was inspired at the event to speak to those gathered about how I met and befriended Danny Oosthuizen, how he became a columnist for the Cape Argus as part of the Dignity Project, how he crept into our lives and became a part of the fabric of the country’s oldest English language newspaper and part of the lives of its readers.
He championed the rights of the housing insecure. He spoke truth to power.
And it would’ve broken his heart to learn that just days after the Boeber Under The Bridge event, law enforcement woke the residents of that community up “like dogs” according to Roche, and handed out fines to them. Punishing their poverty. Punishing their homelessness.
So Law Enforcement descended on the people living under Ebenezer Bridge this morning - the ones we were sharing Boeber with on Sunday - and proceeded to hand out fines to some of them. They woke up Roche - as he put it, 'like a dog', tapping at him with a foot through the pic.twitter.com/SE1nt0fdoA— SolisCorner (@SoliPhilander) April 19, 2022
A day later, someone dropped off a brand new wheelchair for Roche. His had been damaged in the raid. Here again was the spirit of Danny Oosthuizen at play.
We really need to invoke his spirit again. We need a revival... a revival of dignity. Another drive to share and experience our common humanity. Another chance for us to hold up a mirror and recognise our similarities, rather than divide ourselves according to our differences.
IOL is going to champion this. I am inspired to do more to highlight our stories. Roche’s story. Louise’s story. Chevonne’s story. Kurt’s story. Gasant’s story. Soli’s story.
This is how we build a more inclusive society. We take the time to meet each other, learn each other’s names, listen to each other’s stories, because maybe then we would seek understanding instead of judging.
Maybe then, we’d look the homeless in the eye instead of waving them away.
Maybe that’s how we start to build a better South Africa.
* Lance Witten is the Editor-in-Chief of IOL and one of the founding team members of the Dignity Project.