Dashiki Dialogues – Are we entitled to our hustle?

2011-09-23 14:06

Crime is an evil that fate levels against other people. Well, that’s one way of looking at it. But more precisely, “crime” is a label we heap on actions taken against the privileges we may feel entitled to. Whether that entitlement is justified is a different story.

Alas, in the land of apartheid, mopane worms and kwaito, that neat label actually feels a tad too simplified against the historical meaning of what’s illegal.

British writer JG Ballard once made a case for acts of deviancy because they helped us to test the limits of our freedom.

Hence, I can remember a time when crime was a popular act of protest, a sexy game against the system and its beneficiaries.

I’m talking about that which thrived long before 2Pac’s Thug Life was a tattoo and a multimillion-dollar meal ticket.

Growing up, I remember understanding, quite naturally, that the wealth of others was connected to the poverty I saw all around me.

So every now and then, one of the hip, middle-aged men in our neighbourhood – the type with old scars and shiny shoes – would arrive brandishing something smuggled from the homes of others.

The block would turn into a jumble sale of sorts. But occasionally, there’d be a disapproving commotion. That was mostly when the items on sale were apparently not liberated from others but from people like us.

The men with shiny shoes would then be put right for breaking the code.

The world has changed a lot since then. “Us” and “them” is not as clear cut. But the old wealth and poverty disparities are still there. That’s why I’m not convinced that the old code has been dispensed with.

I’m tempted to argue that if it wasn’t for one of the greatest crimes against humanity, apartheid, talents like Mark Shuttleworth wouldn’t have found the armpit of privilege to nurture them.

That may be some criminally twisted logic, but you can’t knock it without qualification. I mean, what do you think Arthur Mafokate had witnessed when he wrote “Ama-gents aya phanda (The guys are just hustling/making a plan)”?

People are entitled to their hustle if they can get away with it.

Sometimes the odds are stacked up so high against you, it would be criminally stupid not to take your chances.

Besides, if you get on your knees and it feels like God’s away on business, you’ll need more than a Technicolor dashiki for your dialogue with the world.

» Follow me on Twitter: @Percy_Mabandu

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