earlier this week i had the privilege of going out into the streets of downtown johannesburg after work one night, with a group of people from Mes. we drove around in a convoy of vehicles and handed out blankets and soup and bread to countless homeless people camped out on the grimy side-walks under mounds of cardboard and plastic. i could hardly believe the number of men i saw lying shirtless under thin, ragged sleeping bags, their clothing, seemingly all they had, lodged under their heads as pillows.
an attractive, freckled young man, david from mozambique told me he’d been on the streets for a year. groups like Mes help to keep them fed and warm.
abraham looked like he was 45. when he started talking about his mom and dad who still live and work on a farm in mpumalanga, i asked how old he was. “32”, he said. he was one of the men lying bare-chested in the cold. he gets up at 5a.m. and walks about looking for work. he said he could do pretty much anything because “on the farm they tell you to do something, and you do it”. he said he’d learnt welding on the farm, but couldn’t get work in the city because he didn’t have a certificate to prove that he could. he’d been in johannesburg for a year. he said he told his parents that he was living in a shelter because they would be too worried, knowing he was living on the street.