I stopped and spoke to her today, this is her story:
A will to survive against the bad luck sent her way, a will to provide for her children and disabled husband who have come to rely on her for their everything, is what drives her there. Some people will give generously and some will buy the packets of biscuits she sells for a meagre profit, but most will not look her in the eye and rather drive away. Understandable, it’s too hard to engage with such a sad scenario and one that represents everyone’s worst fears.
A few years ago Michelle’s husband became ill and is now confined to a wheelchair – unable to do much and certainly not able to work. They gambled everything on a move from the Free State to an easier life in the Western Cape. Responding to an ad on Gumtree for a house to rent, they were scammed of their life savings and ended up living in a car in Sea Point – Michelle, Clive and their five children – born when times were happier and more optimistic.
People complained and of course they had to move. From one cheap rented accommodation to another, in parts of the city that exposed them and their children to addicts, gangsters and prejudice.
With help from the community Clive applied for and now receives a disability grant and there are also benefits paid for the children, but it’s only just enough to keep a roof over their heads in yet another poor part of the city where Michelle fears daily for the safety of her children. Whatever Michelle makes from selling her biscuits goes towards extras like food on the table, nappies and school supplies. Some days are better than others but Michelle has also now been robbed of her cellphone – a simple luxury she cannot afford to replace.
She doesn’t want much more than to be able to provide for her children, keep them safe and ensure they finish their schooling, and feels that by selling biscuits she has raised herself above the status of ‘beggar’. So please, if you can bring yourself to do it – engage with her, say “Hi” and give her a smile – she will thrive knowing you’ve noticed her. Of course if you have anything to donate then please do. But don’t ignore her – she says that’s almost the worst thing she has to endure.