I would love to totter around in high heels the whole day, but I’ve learnt the hard way. Pretty, expensive shoes aren’t viable when chasing stories. A few years ago I turfed a pair of Nine West’s into the bin after tramping on an already squished rat and other indescribable items in a Cape Town informal settlement.
I tend to be a bit late for the start of my shift if I’ve had a particularly tough time deciding which shoes to wear. Sandals are a no-no if venturing into Blikkiesdorp. I don’t want to feel sand in between my toes unless it’s at the beach.
Recently I didn’t have any problem deciding which shoes to wear, as I knew I’d be attending a court case and then interviewing a mom with quadruplets. My new pink Converse sneakers would be perfect for comfort and speed.
Deep in thought after leaving the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court I kicked something soft. In the middle of a tweet I looked down and discovered I had tramped in a pile of faeces. From the smell I knew that it was human excrement. No amount of rubbing on a tree, the pavement or weeds would remove the stain or the stench. I was ever grateful to spot a Chinese shop and buy a pair of shoes. I threw the offending takkies into a box and decided to deal with them at home. After thinking long and hard I decided they would never be the same again and threw them in my dustbin.
After the ire of having ruined my sneakers I realised homeless people had left several piles on the pavement during the night.
The access to ablution facilities isn’t something we often have to think about. We have the creature comfort of toilets in our homes, when we go shopping and are at work. For most of us, the only dilemma we have is whether one-ply loo paper can do the job, because two-ply is getting expensive.
For the homeless living in the Mother City – newspapers, stones or grass does the job. I spoke to several vagrants who told me the pavement is their toilet, as there aren’t any ablution facilities for them. City officials lock the public toilets in the early evening. The open ones at the Cape Town Station deck are far away. If nature urgently calls in the middle of the night, then a twenty minute walk is hardly an option.
City officials, whom I spoke to, appeared to be perplexed that my foray could cause such a stench. Safety and Security as well as Health Mayoral Committee members washed their hands of commenting on my story. The uncomfortable issue has been laid at the door of the City’s Social Development department, although the general approach seems to be “get the homeless off the streets and into shelters”. In an ideal world that’s what would happen, but the harsh reality is that there are homeless people sleeping on the streets of New York, Mumbai, Rome and other world-class cities.
So, dear Councillor Smith - all I want for Christmas is a new pair of takkies and some proper ablution facilities for the homeless.
At least I know I’ve done my bit as on garbage collection day – I saw a vagrant walking down my street in slightly soiled pink Converse sneakers.
Giovanna Gerbi is an Eyewitness News reporter.