Dashiki Dialogues: Those get-out-of-the-ghetto blues

2012-12-09 10:00

Let’s confront those old get-out-of-the-ghetto blues.

I want us to talk about what becomes of the state of our neighbourhoods when they lose some of their brightest youths.

You may want to pour a little booze and play some appropriate tunes, perhaps that grand old African-American blue sologist Gil Scott-Heron.

Now that was a scientist ­concerned with the nature of the blues.

Hold that thought, there are pressing issues to unpack.

You see, some of my lefty friends and I have been at pains to explain the negative effects of individual success on the social health of our communities.

It’s a problematic paradox.

Since we were children, all of us have been nurturing dreams of doing better than our forebears.

This means performing at school, establishing careers and moving to better parts of the world, such as the city and its well-kept suburbs in the east of Tshwane or the north of Joburg.

Some among us have made good on these dreams.

It’s a ­beautiful thing.

However, there are some who ­argue for another approach: to ­remain in the townships where role models are much needed.

The idea is that by moving to already developed places, all talented youths who grow up in Alexandra, Ga-Rankuwa, Soshanguve, Gugulethu or Mamelodi are condemning these neighbourhoods to remain in squalor.

The ­migration caused by their upward mobility represents a brain drain for their historically needy home towns.

How then, we must ask, does this talent drain affect the type of ­cultures that take form in poverty-stricken townships?

Here I’m referring to the sets of habits, attitudes and behaviours that ultimately ­determine success and people’s ­attitudes towards it.

For example, it’s uncool to be bookish in the ’hood, and failure has become normalised and acceptable.

I suspect the absence of visibly successful individuals sustains the myth that poverty begets poverty.

This thwarts self-sufficient spirits who may want to improve the ’hood.

A lot has been written about the dependency complex of the ­underprivileged who survive on government welfare assistance.

Consider that it might be connected to this ­migration of resourceful ­people who historically could have started shops and other industrial interventions in these vulnerable communities. Instead, their talents end up ­invested in the suburbs they move to.

We are all entitled to our dreams and whatever routes we choose. But Gil Scott-Heron sings it best: “You (may) think you are cool ... just ’cause they bus your kids to school.”

But the worth of our cool is in how each dashiki in the ’hood dialogues with success.

» Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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