How often do we take the privileges of our day-to-day lives for granted, a roof over our heads, clean and accessible water, education, financial means, etc.? We can be so immersed in our own lives that we sometimes forget about the plight of others. A couple of weeks ago, I was walking on upper Long Street (a very popular tourist area in Cape Town. It’s similar to Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.) Music in my ears and in my thoughts, I barely paid attention to a rather typical scene; a young child, a boy no older than 9yrs, walking along a group of tourists, all women, asking them for some money. It’s not uncommon to see this in and around Cape Town, from children and adults alike, asking tourists or anyone they deem to be in a better financial status than them, for spare change or leftovers that they’ve carried out from a restaurant or pub. In most cases, they are ignored, or briefly acknowledged and told, “sorry, I don’t have anything to give you”, or something along those lines. Sometimes they still persist, after being told no, so you just carry on, and eventually, they will retire and move on.
I was trailing them from the intersection of Wale and Long, and while was shuffling through songs, I heard a yell. As I looked up, I saw the boy’s right arm moving down from one of the women’s neck, followed by him breaking into a bolt. The group stopped, and the woman’s whose possession had just being swiped, was yelling, “Oh my god, he grabbed my necklace!). Without hesitation, I found myself springing into action. I jogged up to the women and handed them my bag. All I remember saying was, “he took your necklace?, and “Here, hold this.” Without thinking, I had handed a group of strangers my phone, wallet, passport, portfolio and some other important documents, and took off after the kid. He was already a good distance from me, heading down on Wale Street, towards Adderley. He ran past the Taj hotel, and I motioned to one of the doormen to grab him, but he was too fast, and they didn’t react quickly enough.
I gained on him as we turned left on Adderley, where a silver convertible car must have realized something foul was amiss, and tried to cut him off as it was turning, but he dodged that too. He doubled back, almost tripped into me, and as he was catching his balance, and we locked eyes. I could see shock, fear, sadness, and an eerie determination, all at once. He hadn’t even realized that I was chasing him up to that point. He steadied himself, and scurried away past my outstretched hand. I was pretty out of breath at that point, and my yet unhealed ankle was throbbing. I saw him climb a gate that would have let him out on Church Square, so I took in a deep breath, and continued the chase.
There were two men sitting on a bench, directly across from the gate where he would have had to come from, so I asked him they had seen a kid climb down? They said no, so I climbed up, and as I hopped over, a security guard approached me. I said to myself, “Yes!” He must have grabbed the kid, and one of the bystanders on Adderley, must have told him to come around for me. However, he began with “Sir, please don’t climb my gate”. I gave him an incredulous look, and said “Seriously? It’s not like a make a bloody habit out of leaping over locked gates! I'm just looking for the kid who took something from a group of people." He nodded, said he understood, mentioned something again about climbing over the gate, and then said that he had left the kid with a shop owner. Yet when we got back on Adderley, the kid(mini Usain Bolt by his speed) was no where to be found. The security guard looked dumbfounded, and said to the shop owner, “I told you to watch him!” At this point, I had had enough, and I didn’t want the incompetence of the moment to get my emotions riled up, so I hastily limped back up to where the women were waiting. I recounted what happened, and they all responded with thanks, and no worries, and said, “that was very brave of you, you’re a hero in our eyes.” I said, “don’t let this ruin your trip. Cape Town is still a safe and beautiful place to visit, but like everywhere, you have to be mindful of your environment.
As I grabbed my bag from them and went about my way, I reflected on the moment, and thought about what I had just done, especially in light of them calling me “their hero.” It was a bit weird. I had not done it to be heroic, but rather because I witnessed what was happening, and had just wanted to be of assistance and correct the situation. (Lessons from mum. Help out when you can and always do the right thing.) Or perhaps, deep in my subconscious, I saw four Caucasian women and didn’t want their opinions on Africans and black people, being negatively impacted by this situation. It was as if I had a responsibility to show that this unfortunate incident had nothing to do with ethnicity or race, but simply a moment of desperation and opportunity for a child. I'm sure this is a shared sentiment with a lot of people of colour, especially black people, because we feel like our actions, from how we talk, dress, even what we eat, is always under a microscope. That somehow our individual actions are representative of an entire race, especially when in predominately white spaces. It’s one of those mental and societal burdens that you’d just have to be a person of colour to understand in-depth.
Honestly, if I had managed to catch the boy, all I would have asked for was the necklace back; given him some Rand if I had any on me, and let him go about his business. He did what he did out of his desperation, in my eyes anyway. The necklace, either real gold or gold plated, was simply a ticket for him, a means to an end; for a meal, for him and any family, he might have, a place to stay for a few nights, or any number of things that most of us take for granted. If he wasn’t in an unfortunate life circumstance, he probably could have a promising future in track and field, or who knows, as a doctor, teacher, a creative, or dozens of other career opportunities. He was very quick on his feet, physically and mentally. That young boy could have been most of us, simply born into less than fortunate social environments, especially in a still-developing country. However, South Africa is an anomaly in the developing world. It’s got good infrastructure, but massive social and economic inequalities, with most of the impoverished population being black South Africans, while most of the wealth is held by white South Africans, or European and American foreigners, who have made South Africa home, especially in Cape Town.
We all come from varied backgrounds, ethnically, socially, racially, and financially, but we are still connected in one way or another. I think it’s important to have and maintain an open mind, as well as be empathetic towards others. We should strive to be more grateful for what we have, whom we have in our lives and be thankful for the opportunities we have to create a life we want for ourselves. Not everyone gets that chance.
I would love to hear your thoughts below. How would you have reacted in the situation? Have a great weekend. Peace and love.