This is an experiment involving a story and a hypothesis.
The Story. A public figure well known for his contemptuous attitude towards black people – let’s call him Steve - is abducted and taken deep into a sprawling squatter camp. He is led to a tiny shack made of iron sheets, cardboard and plastic, and told he must stay there for three weeks in order for him to experience what it is like to live in poverty.
He only has the clothes on his back and nothing else. He is given a loaf of bread and a can of pilchards. He is told that if he tries to escape, or make contact with the outside world, he will have his balls cut off.
The night was cold and Steve was shatting himself, which wasn’t good, because there was a long queue outside the nearest toilet. A woman from a neighbouring shack took pity on him and offered him a blanket. He crept into his hovel and tried to sleep.
Of course he had been praying to his god ever since he had been captured but there didn’t seem to be any reception in that god-forsaken place. Then, in the middle of the night, he dreamt that God was trying to tell him something. Go! Go! God seemed to be saying. Go? Yissus Christus! Was God bedonnerd, or something? What kind of advice was that? Of course he wanted to go.
On awaking in the morning, however, it suddenly became clear. God wasn’t telling him to Go! Go! No, what he was saying was Google! Google!
As Steve finished the last of his bread and pilchards he thought of the loaves and fishes parable and he realised he was feeling much stronger. He now knew that God was on his side and it made him think about his forefathers, and how they had overcome adversity.
He remembered visiting the plaas as a little kid, and Oupa saying, ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan. Give me six boys and some basic tools, and there’s nothing I can’t accomplish.
He immediately went in search of six employees. He had about six thousand to choose from, and within an hour he had his half dozen, and two dozen waiting in the wings if this lot didn’t perform. A hundred bucks a day, to be paid out at end of 3-week contract.
If he didn’t pay, they could cut his balls off. (The six boys, who were actually full-grown men, all had matric, spoke English fluently, and were both computer literate and world savvy. And one of them had a master’s degree in Musicology and was a gifted saxophonist.) He signed his autograph on the backs of their hands and told them not to wash it off.
First things first, as per God’s instructions. He called for a smart phone. No problem, the place was awash with stolen phones and no buyers. He Googled ‘toilet’, did a bit of scrolling and clicking, and soon found a neat set of instructions on how to construct a pit latrine.
One of the boys he dispatched to find a pick and shovel somewhere. And a carpenter’s hammer and a saw. A little way off stood an old Merc. It had no wheels, engine, doors, bonnet or boot, and the front seats had been stripped out. But the back seat
was still intact, the upholstery only a little torn. He told his remaining five workers to drag the wreck up close to his shack, and to clean out the rubbish. Then, while they began to demolish the shack, he climbed into his temporary office and got Googling again.
By the time the first boy returned with the tools, the shack lay in pieces and Steve was busy writing out a list of building materials. He dispatched two boys to the business address of his builder cousin, Piet, telling them to say that Steve had sent them, and to show Piet their autographs by way of bona fides. Piet must bring the goods with his bakkie and drop them off on the edge of the squatter camp. And Piet must keep his mouth shut, otherwise Steve would be minus his balls.
While the four boys got busy digging the hole, Steve Googled ‘township economic activity’, and began going through his options.
The hole was dug, a box seat was made to fit over it, and a cubicle was knocked up around it. Steve inspected the finished product and then shut himself inside and had an inaugural crap.
“Go and collect some firewood,” he told one of his boys. “And look for some mesh to make a grid to braai on.”
He instructed two of his boys to use the remaining material from the shack to build another cubicle alongside the toilet. This was going to be his shower. The fourth boy he took with him and they went in search of a spaza shop willing to extend him some credit. Again he used his balls as collateral, and was able to buy a kilo of wors and a dozin hot dog rolls.
It was midday and the fire had just been lit when a donkey pulling a cart emerged from a lane cutting through the sea of shacks. Loaded up with used shutter boards and an assortment of loose timber, the donkey cart was being followed by Steve’s two boys looking pleased with themselves.
The team immediately set to work erecting the new structure while Steve put up a cardboard sign saying STEVE’S PUB AND GRILL and started to braai the wors. All morning curious onlookers had been keeping an eye on proceedings, and now there was a tidy little crowd standing around feeling famished. At the first whiff of roasting flesh every mouth began to water. A customer stepped forward and Steve was in business.
That evening, when all the people who had been out for the day looking for work, or begging at the traffic lights, or trying to hijack a car or two, and now feeling tired and hungry, came trudging past Steve’s Pub and Grill, the fire was going and the sausage was sizzling. And now Steve was also offering beer to slake the thirst.
He told the musicologist boy to bring his saxophone to work, and also borrow a guitar for Steve. On day two he was able to add DINE TO LIVE ENTERTAINMENT to his signboard, and he created a Facebook page for Steve’s P&G, advertising a genuine township experience. In the second week it went viral, and visitors started arriving in droves. (Brought in by donkey cart, of course, which became a lucrative little enterprise in itself.)
He continued to upgrade his accommodation, adding a free electrical connection, a solar water heater for his shower (black PVC pipe on the roof), a nice Sealy Posturepedic mattress, etc, etc, etc.
As the days went by and Steve’s business flourished, he began to look more and more smug. On the last day of his involuntary encounter with poverty, he called his employees together – now there were 12 of them – and paid them their wages. In an act of pure philanthropy he told them to form a collective to run the business, because he was handing it over to them. For free!
Back in the suburbs with family and friends, he finished his story with a contemptuous smirk. “And you know what?” he said. “I’ll put my balls on a block there’ll be no trace of Steve’s Pub and Grill, two weeks from now.’
As it turned out, his balls were safe.
The Hypothesis: Having observed the behaviour of participants in online forums, it can be predicted that South Africans will respond to the above story in one of two ways.
1. Ninety-five percent of whites will say that the story proves the inherent superiority of whites, and even when you hand blacks an opportunity on a plate, they are incapable of rising to the occasion.
2. Five percent of whites and 99.999 % of blacks will say that Steve was able to rise above his situation because of his advantaged background, and that the story does not prove his racial or cultural superiority. In fact, Steve behaved irresponsibly by abandoning his workers before the business was properly up and running, thereby condemning them to failure.
Also, Steve acted like a typical white sucker by not wanting to stick around and help, even though it was so easy for him. Only a sucker would work against his own compatriots like that. Steve didn’t deserve to keep his balls.
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