Friends & Friction: Why do we find ugliness in beauty?

2015-03-31 15:00

Time changes one’s perspective, and so a road that seemed long and wide when I was young has somehow shrunk into ordinariness. Shabangu Street is on the northern boundary of the KwaThema Civic Centre in Ekurhuleni and joins Nkosi Street to the west. Hlabane and Kgaswane streets complete a quad that surrounds the centre, which I always found to have some kind of spooky beauty.

The well-manicured gardens stood out like a mole on a stunning woman’s face. There were tennis courts, which have since been vandalised (the wire fence was probably used to make a chicken run in someone’s yard). The long concrete benches that formed the grandstands have been dismantled and are now probably a “stop-nonsense” demarcating someone’s property.

When the sun was low, the surface always sparkled with bottles that had deliberately been broken on the courts by young boys who loved the sound of shattering things.

At a glance, KwaThema Civic Centre has been a victim of pure vandalism and selfishness, but if you want to be philosophical about it, black people have never felt the pride of ownership in their own country. Perhaps this explains the plundering that happens in circles of power. No one wants to think about the future, and gluttony seems to drive the thinking process.

Next to the courts is Tlakula High School. A short walk in a southerly direction takes you to KwaThema Stadium, which missed out on the 2010 World Cup bonanza.

The civic centre has been improved over the past 20 years, although it has been set back by violent protests from time to time, and it is, in a way, a symbol of what is wrong with South Africa. In the middle of the centre is what used to be called KwaThema Cinema.

One evening in the 1980s, during the height of the struggle, a memorial was held there. The security forces arrived and told everyone to leave, and as the people were coming out of the doors, the police shot and killed 23 of them.

My friends, Lucky from Sesoko Street and Rand from Didishe Street, were killed that night.

No one was ever held responsible and no one ever will be.

South Africa was founded on impunity, which is what we euphemistically call “reconciliation”. This erroneously weeded out the culture of accountability. I protested loudly when Tony Yengeni was sent to jail for negotiating a discount on a car for himself while apartheid-era killers roamed the streets.

I protested as loudly when Reverend Allan Boesak was sent to jail for channelling donor money to help Umkhonto weSizwe cadres and their families. Technically, that was fraud, but in truth, the reverend did not enrich himself.

I saw this for what it was, a systematic erosion of the heroism in our struggle, and black people wholly imbibed that false gospel.

As a result, we have lost faith in our government and ourselves. Like Shabangu Street, the good that the many government bureaucrats do is always small compared with the evil that a few do.

Many teachers wake up every morning to teach our children, but they have also been demonised.

Our health system may not be perfect, but we have nurses who heal the sick in hospitals and clinics, and they do so with dedication, but their work is unrecognised – overshadowed by the endless reports of corruption.

Perhaps that is the South African way – jaundiced and prejudiced by nature. We have the innate ability to find ugliness in beauty.

A black person who makes it is accused of corruption and of being an unfair beneficiary of black economic empowerment.

A woman who makes it in the hostile corporate world is never congratulated for using her brains. Instead, she is accused of using her hips. And a white man who builds a business is never honoured, but accused of benefiting from the advantages brought about by the colour of his skin.

Never despair, keep doing what you’re doing and do it to the best of your ability. Time will tell. And hopefully, the world will one day see that you were right.

- Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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