Dashiki dialogues: Black money guilt

2012-03-09 12:34

Some of my friends like to argue that everyone must suffer serious losses before we can all rebuild a real and legitimate shared future in South Africa.

In other words, for South Africa, or the world for that matter, to heal the historic wounds of racial exploitation, the privileged must walk in the shoes of the poor. Now whether they are right or not, I think the jury is still out. However, I recently felt a strange guilt while being courted by privilege. It was like enjoying the proceeds of a crime in full view of its victims.

Well, I suppose this could be a childish problem. Maybe this is something playground bullies learnt to deal with back in primary school. We all know how that lousy ilk would moer you for your ice cream, take it and enjoy it while you watch.

Because the ones I witnessed seemed to do this repeatedly, I figure they were never haunted by the faces of their tearful victims. At least not like I was when I found myself enjoying champagne and all sorts of treats on the balcony of a luxury train to Durban last week.

I experienced something disturbing as the train lumbered across the Highveld. We were passing near one of our country’s many squatter camps. This particular one was situated near a refuse dumping site, which suggested the people there lived off the waste of the more well-off citizens, literally.

My Swedish co-travellers saw this wound of our land as a photo opportunity, and I watched them jump up and take pictures obviously amazed. Being the only darkie on board, I became the ­go-to guy for all questions related to being black and poor in the land of Springboks and Madiba magic.

The whole thing felt like documenting poverty while dipping our fingers in milk and honey. Now can you spell perverse?

However, the truth is that we need to reverse the inequalities wrought upon us by our painful history of racially bias dispossession. I suppose the process is where the problem lies. For unless we follow the advice of my said friends, there’ll always be some people to whom redress has arrived and those who still languish in poverty.

But interestingly, for those black people who’ve crossed the breadline into wellness, my recent trip announced a new psychosis of sort. It appears they will be victimised by their individual attempts to escape poverty. It’s a simple human quality to empathise. How do you eat cake while your neighbour’s child cries for bread and still be the same?

So our new dialogue with bread only reveals that our cure is as diseased a dashiki as our past.

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