Dashiki Dialogues: Poverty is a crime against humanity

2012-11-03 10:27

There was a time when the sale and purchase of black people was as acceptable as Sunday luncheons in the park.

There wasn’t really much thought given to its acceptability except in a few circles.

Now, we have cultivated a similar “unbothered” set of attitudes towards the poor and homeless.

In the past, white, propertied overlords would make small talk about their latest acquisitions of fabrics or spices from India, and throw in lines about some newly bought, cute African slave boy or girl.

There may even have been some nuggets about how troublesome slaves eat more than their work is worth, in line with the myth of the “lazy savage”.

Slavery wasn’t seen as a crime against humanity, let alone an abhorrent injustice. Everyday people, whose lives weren’t disturbed by Africans’ enslavement, went about their business nonchalantly, regardless of these darkies’ plight.

So naturalised was the crime that it even affects how we see historical figures today, such as the late military genius, Abram Petrovich Gannibal. He was born in Africa and given to Russia’s then Czar, Peter the Great, as a gift.

He went on to become the Czar’s favourite slave boy and was later adopted as a son. His real family was forgotten and made unimportant.

These days, we talk with similar disdain about the poor and homeless, just as many beneficiaries of the old evil were perplexed by the reports of unhappiness among slaves demanding freedom.

Poverty is a form of slavery. The spiritual immobility and basic creative death it imposes on the human subject is generally not
unlike that of formal slavery.

It undermines human dignity in a similar way. It reduces men and women to things to be toyed with by social parasites of all sorts.

I walked past a homeless old white man on the streets of Tshwane recently along the way from my regular train ride from work.

He, along with other vagrants, was lumped on the pavement with a few of his belongings.

All of them were inebriated and unwashed. The man had his arm outstretched as two shabby youths injected some substance into his vein.

He gave them some money and they went on their way. This drug trade and the state of these people didn’t seem to bother any of the shopkeepers and passers-by.

These included the new-money people in German sedans and suits. They walked past and were only troubled when the multiracial homeless horde approached with cupped hands to ask for small change.

This can’t be okay. Our dialogues about the conditions of the less fortunate need a change of dashikis.

» Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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