End of the road for Jo'burg's beggars

Beggars at major intersections in Johannesburg were pulled off the streets on Thursday by the Johannesburg Metro Police in a crackdown forming part of Operation Token Days, which targets the breaking of by-laws, Johannesburg Metro Police said.

Metro police spokesperson Edna Mamoyane was travelling along William Nicol Drive when she spoke to the Mail & Guardian Online on Thursday. She said police had just caught their first beggar of the day.

“It is a young boy and he is crippled,” she said. “He looks South African, so we will talk to him and find out where he lives.
We will take him home and tell him not to beg at intersections any more.”

Loud voices, screaming and police sirens made the telephone conversation virtually impossible, until Mamoyane moved away from the scene.

“The newspaper vendors and other hawkers just told us that the boy was not crippled, he is just pretending. We will investigate whether he has been involved in smash-and-grab incidents,” she said.

Operation Token Days, which has been running since November 8, is a crackdown on crime—specifically the breaking of by-laws—in the greater Johannesburg area. The rounding-up of the beggars forms part of this operation.

“In cooperation with the SAPS [South African Police Service] we will investigate whether there is some form of organised crime behind these beggars. There might be syndicates exploiting these people,” Operation Token Days programme manager Thys Hartzer told the M&G Online.

On Thursday, metro police drove with a bus through the greater Johannesburg area, including Randburg, Sandton and Roodepoort, to round up the beggars.

“These people, who are often invalids, are endangering themselves and the motorists. If a motorist hits a beggar at an intersection, he or she will be charged with homicide, even though it might have been the beggar’s fault,” said Mamoyane.

“We probably will not use force in order to load these people into a bus, since they are all in need of help.”

Metro police will establish whether the beggars are illegal immigrants or South Africans.

“If they turn out to be illegal immigrants, they will be transferred straight to Lindela [a repatriation camp in Krugersdorp] and will be deported,” said Mamoyane.

South African beggars will be informed about the fact that begging at intersections is against Johannesburg’s by-laws. Mamoyane was unable to say which by-laws prohibit begging.

“Social services are not yet involved in the operation. Maybe in a later stage they will join us,” she said.

Hartzer said the metro police are acting against violations of the national Road Traffic Act, which prohibits people from taking up a position on the road that endangers themselves or motorists.

“We tried to get social services on board, but they have not joined us yet and frankly I don’t think they might have the answers to some of the problems that these beggars are facing.

“For example, there is a mentally disturbed man begging on an offramp of the M1. We have arrested him several times and taken him to a hospital to get help. But the hospital cannot do anything for him and say that he belongs in society,” Hartzer said.

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