Sibongile Mafu

How the other half live

2013-08-14 13:46

Sibongile Mafu

This country has been through so much - apartheid, the forced segregation, the treatment of black people. Even in the 19 years since freedom, very few of us black people really know how the other half live.

We sometimes venture into these unusual spaces called "suburbs" for day outings and beach trips, but we haven't really occupied them for a prolonged period of time to fully understand what goes on there, until now.

Wouldn't it be eye-opening to put together a social experiment where an ordinary black family moves to an affluent, white suburb for a month? We'll give the project a catchy, alliteration-tastic title like Constantia4ACoupleOfWeeks, and blog about our daily struggles, discoveries and interactions with the locals.

They would pack their bags and leave the life they've always known in the townships, and move to an unfamiliar and dangerous new suburban world. Their bravery and selflessness should be applauded by those blacks who've always been curious about what it would be like, but dared not let their minds go there.

We'll give the household a salary of R75 000 for that month - so about R2 500 a day, which they will have to use to cover the costs of living: rent, food, transport etc. It will be tough, but they'll be up for the challenge. New budgets will be drawn and a different way of shopping for food and other amenities will be introduced - it will be a real adjustment, and one in which the family has to be fully committed.

They'll have to familiarise themselves to a world where when they call a radio station to complain about service delivery, their problems will be addressed timeously, a world where the roads are free of potholes, a world where the Pick 'n Pay is fully stocked and just seems a bit more carefully looked after.

It would be a shock to the system, but a journey this family would need to go on in order to fully understand, empathise and raise awareness about what the authentic suburban life is really like. Many people just don't know, and if it came from them, people would listen.

So for all those asking if this is an important experiment - of course it is. One needs this black family to report back to the rest of the country about what happens in this strange suburban environment. One could so easily ask the white folk who live there and suffer through it on a day to day basis, but that would be too easy and it might be a bit too painful for them to talk about the horrors of the circumstances they live in, so an outsider's perspective always works best.

The bravery shown by ordinary South Africans who choose to take it upon themselves to do something like this is truly remarkable. This is the kind of stuff that wins awards, book deals and Oprah interviews. Enlightenment comes in many fruitful forms.

This family will then exit the suburbs having a fuller, more nuanced picture of what it's really like to live in a place they will probably never live. They will empathise with those who live there, tell their friends that they know the "white struggle" and be analysts in many a radio and TV discussion on race in South Africa.

They will go back to their lives in the township, grateful for the experience but also appreciative of the very little they have, because they now know how much more they could have. Their children will grow up and look at photographs of their experiences, not remembering a single thing about the journey, but being enlightened by just having been there and inhabiting that space.

And then others will do similar social experiments, until the world eventually forgets that for many, life is not a social experiment, but an everyday, painful suburban reality.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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