Real work ahead for ‘new movers’

2011-11-01 00:00

THE picture on the front page of the Star newspaper on Friday said it all.

A group of 13 people — eight white males, three white women, one Asian-looking man, a single black male holding an iPad clicking away and others snapping away on their cellphones — watching a group of marchers, all of them young black males, pass the swanky Hyatt Hotel in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

The only thing separating the singing, stick-wielding marchers wearing hats and caps from the 13 onlookers in business attire is a well-manicured hedge.

The picture was a snapshot of the distribution of opportunities in South Africa. White males are still at the top of the food chain and women are virtually invisible. They were probably inside the hotel making beds and serving food they could never ever afford.

That in a nutshell is what makes South Africa both an interesting country and a ticking time bomb.

Poverty and marginalisation have a distinct colour. It is black. On Thursday and Friday, they had a distinct odour coming from sweaty armpits of young men whose energies could have been used more productively.

Unfortunately, in our country the marketers have created the impression that the black man with an iPad in a sea of whiteness is the norm. We celebrate him in ads and in magazines as that fellow who has made it.

Unlike the unwashed youngsters, he is on the other side of the hedge because he has worked hard, we are told. For that reason, he deserves his expensive whisky, the age of which he brags about.

In our media, where ghetto life is dangerously glamourised, he is more likely to be shown driving his expensive German sedan to a local car wash where Julius Malema's marchers — this time in their everyday role as car washers — admire him and wish they were him.

As a beneficiary of one of the products of the 1994 project, employment equity, I could have been the guy with the iPad. I make no apologies for that.

There tends to be a misguided view that only the wretched of the Earth can qualify to be black. We are the "new movers" that this newspaper is celebrating on these very pages. And to celebrate them is worth the space.

The trouble comes when we new movers start thinking of ourselves as the norm rather than the exception in terms of the opportunities our country offers.

It is one thing to enjoy our fine whisky and our credit card lives, but unless we lead the charge in alliance with, and sometimes on behalf of, the economic freedom marchers, we risk being swept along with the tidal wave that will surely come unless South Africa becomes a fairer place for all.

It cannot be sustainable that some are able to sip expensive alcohol while in some communities, like the one where one of my relatives lives, it is common to open doors and fry onions so that the smell goes into the neighbours' houses, causing them to salivate silly. Unknown to the neighbours, the onion fryers will have their pap with water for their supper, but they just wanted to create the impression that they were having something much better than they really were.

Until this week, that is how the poor chose to deal with their poverty. They have, until now, been reduced to being ashamed of their poverty and less angry about the opportunities that they and their children have never, and will never, have.

South Africa needs an army of new movers every year, not fewer. The current state where blacks who have access to an iPad are seen as a case of chance, luck or white benevolence is unsustainable.

A better South Africa will happen not when those on the nice side of the hedge at the top hotel feel worse off, but when the children of the chambermaids and porters stop feeling the only chance of spending time at these posh addresses is when they visit their poorly paid parents.

• Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is the executive editor of City Press.

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