Lessons From a Rubbish Dump
Nobody should make their home on a rubbish dump — and yet that’s where people are living. WINNIE GRAHAM explains how a group of Catholics in Oudtshoorn reached out to them.
A municipal rubbish dump is not the sort of place that usually makes news — not unless, of course, it is the scene of a crime. Who, after all, would have reason to go there? Yet a couple of months ago word spread among a group of Catholics in Oudtshoorn that a sizeable number of homeless people were living on “the dump”.
The rubbish dump in Oudtshoorn is just a few kilometres from the centre of town. Each weekday municipal trucks collect black bags filled with domestic garbage, drive to the “dump” and offload their cargo there. The area covers several hectares.
Now came the news that destitute people had made the dump their home. It seemed difficult to believe that anyone could find shelter, let alone enough to eat, in the huge scrapheap.
Moved by their plight and encouraged by their parish priest, Fr Enrico Parry of St Saviour’s cathedral, a group of good-hearted parishioners decided to help. If they couldn’t provide accommodation, at least they could distribute food hampers.
Helping the Homeless and Desperate
It was a warm autumn day the first time the Catholic group drove to the dump. A member of the parish team had visited the people there the day before and asked them to assemble at a given time.
So it was that small groups of people — some approaching on their own — assembled quietly.
“Women and children first,” one of the Catholics suggested. “Then the men will receive their hampers.”
It was a strangely silent morning. No-one pushed or shoved. All stood in line. Each person waited patiently for their turn.
Within half an hour the job was done. The homeless disappeared over the ridges to their “homes” among the garbage. We watched in silence.
Education System that Doesn’t Equip Youth
South Africa has always escaped large-scale starvation. There have always been people willing to share. Nevertheless, one cannot help wondering just why so many people in this country are jobless, homeless and hungry.
Is it that the education system in South Africa has failed to prepare young people for life so that each one is able to provide for himself?
Many drop out of school after minimal education: many leave at the end of Grade 5 for “all pay”—a sum barely sufficient to keep them in food and clothing.
Ill-equipped for the workplace, many youngsters cannot find work, or must be content with part-time “jobs”.
Even well-educated young people are leaving the country in search of a better life. Fewer and fewer employers opt to employ full-time staff, preferring “freelance workers”. In turn these young people need to make their own provision for their medical needs—and to save for their old age, since pension schemes are not necessarily a given these days.
Are there no work opportunities?
Crime is a given. In a village where I once lived, the local charge office used to lock up beggars in the cells overnight, give them a basic meal in the morning and release them on the main street—to beg from passers-by. Has the incentive to work died, or are there really no job opportunities?
Yet, for all that, the solution is not that difficult. Jesus Christ provided it when he told his disciples: “Love one another, as I love you.” If we all followed the commandment, there would be fewer hungry people in South Africa—and less crime as well.
Those Oudtshoorn Catholics who provided hampers for the homeless on the rubbish dump have led by example.