That road to hell and all the good intentions that paved it

Personal and social recollections on good deeds getting the opposite of rewards

In Summary

• Some well-meaning deeds yield results that are more punishment than reward

A client counts money after withdrawing from a bank
A client counts money after withdrawing from a bank
Image: FILE

I read somewhere recently that "small, seemingly harmless acts — even made with good intentions — can sometimes have negative repercussions".

It reminded me of the paving that is allegedly used to pave the road to Hades.

It got me thinking about the things I've done, meaning well by them but with results that were more punishment than reward.

Like the time I got swept up in the spirit of generosity and very generously contributed money to a harambee for a relative who was leaving for university in the US.

Before I go on, I must explain that I was aged 14 or 15 and had not yet begun to earn money. I had in fact gone shopping for school stationery and had some change, which I briefly forgot belonged to my father. 

On the way home, actually it was quite a detour even though I was still in the greater Westlands area, I stopped by one of my aunts and heard about the fundraiser later that evening. Patting my pockets, I discovered some cash and without a second thought, handed it over as my contribution. 

It wasn't until I was nearly home, having gone from Chiromo campus to Westlands and back to Chiromo via Church Road mainly on foot  (I was 15 and ran everywhere, I wish I still could), that it hit me. I had been generous with cash that wasn't mine. Much like our political leaders, actually. 

Not wanting to look foolish at home when I told the tale and also not wanting to piss off my dad, I dashed back to Church Road, told my aunt what had happened and reclaimed my change. My aunts thought it was hilarious, and I don't think I ever told the old guy, or I might not have lived to tell the tale. 

I think the pastor or vicar — or whatever Methodists call their priests of the Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town — might have rued the day when, four months ago, moved by compassion, love for his fellow human being and overflowing with ubuntu, he offered his CBD church to a couple of hundred refugees who had fled their townships as a result of xenophobic attacks.

He must have thought it would be temporary, but four months later, it looks like a never-ending siege. Parishioners have had to attend Sunday services elsewhere and in the church. A seething mass of humanity has taken up residence on the pews, in the aisles, on the altar, in the sacristy, in the belfry and every available nook and cranny. 

Like the story of the man who let his camel into the tent, the poor man finds himself on the outside looking in and quite impotent to do a darn thing.

The refugees refuse to be reintegrated as the authorities here would like, for fear of being attacked. They obviously can't return to their own country and no third country is interested. 

The authorities have enough trouble housing their own people and so can't in good consciousness give refugees first. If you ever needed to illustrate impasse or checkmate, this would have been perfect. And add all because someone genuinely tried to do a good thing.