Precious Shava (40) stands at a robot intersection. A young man guides her as she hops from one Mercedes Benz to an Audi. The cars are not hers. Precious is a blind immigrant blind beggar from Zimbabwe, a growing trend of disabled foreign beggars switching from Zimbabwe to South Africa.
The man who guides her is 27 year old Clayton Nunga. Both carry expired passports. They beg in the streets of Faraday, a small town 19 kilometer from Johannesburg, South Africa´s commercial capital.
Clayton says he is a hired guide for blind beggars. “Helping Precious makes my life more bearable until I find proper work.” In Faraday there is a competition among jobless young men to get the chance to chauffer around blind beggars, he says.
From the money Precious gives him, Clayton pays his rent too. “Since I started moving around with the blind beggar woman in January, police have never bothered to ask for my passport too. It is a relief.”
Motorists slot money into their tin, some honk their bells and shout them off the lanes.
“Some days we get nothing sometimes we get up to R90 ($US6) and R120 ($US9) from passing motorists. Some people give us food or second hand clothing,” Precious says.
Clayton reveals why they choose this tiny town of Faraday. “We prefer coming to small town because Johannesburg is congested with traffic and people. There are many others begging too.”
Every morning, they catch a train at 7am in the morning to travel from Faraday to small towns in the outskirts of Johannesburg. They also beg in the train until they reach their final destination. Around 4PM they herd back home. “Clayton helps me navigate the railways steps otherwise blind as I am, the train could crush me,” says Precious.
"I was not born blind. Before I could work for I developed a growth in my eyes in 2011, when I was working on a farm in Cape Town. I went back home to Zimbabwe in 2012 when my condition worsened," narrates Precious. “The farm owner never paid for my medication.”
Back in Zimbabwe, Precious says she felt helpless when she could not pay school fees for her two boys (16 and 19 years old). “Worse I had no money to consult a doctor about my eyes. My husband died in 2002.”
“Begging around the streets of Masvingo city, Zimbabwe, was a hefty task. I could barely make enough to buy a loaf of bread.”
A year later she returned to South Africa.
"A Good Samaritan bus driver offered to give me a ride for free to come to Johannesburg. He abandoned me at the Methodist Church in Johannesburg, where I could ask for help to get treatment for my eyes."
“On arrival at the church, other blind beggars sleeping in pointed me towards the streets. Different young men offered to chauffer me around around the roads and traffic lights. In turn I would give them 10% of money from my daily begging tin.”
Shava says she later moved to a flat in Faraday. She has been living there since 2012. She shares the flat with 6 other people and they split the R2000 ($US150) rent. The flat has only one bedroom and the living room space is divided with curtains for each and every occupant to have their privacy.
“The flat offers me some peace than streets. It is unsafe at times though. Clothes can go missing.”
With the money she reaps, she buys food and sends some to her children and father back home. “I think of them without ceasing.”
"My second born son is very bright. He is in form 3 at a secondary school back home in Masvingo. He only makes straight A-Level grades. It would break my heart if I was not able to pay for his fees. He gives me hope he wants to be an optician so he can treat people´s eyes."
Help for Precious trickles in slowly. “In 2014 Precious I visited an optician in Bryanston who specializes in cartridge eye conditions. The doctor referred me back to a famous specialist in Zimbabwe, Dr. Guramatunhu, who specializes with her type of condition. I have never raised the money to afford the bus fare.”
"No one wants to be a beggar. Especially in a country that is not your own. Life forces me," she concludes.
(Picture caption: Precious and Clayton rest from the sun in Faraday town streets)
(Picture by: Kimberly Mutandiro)
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