Rich man, poor man

2015-02-22 15:00

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All Thomas Mulaudzi ever wanted was for his life to mimic that of mining tycoon Patrice Motsepe: Don’t stress about how to make money, stress about how to spend it.

But without an education or political connections, and with unemployment at around 25%, the 31-year-old security guard instead spends a considerable amount of time worrying about how to make ends meet.

We meet in the streets of Alexandra, Johannesburg, where a grey haze caused by coal stoves, which are used by people preparing their evening meals, lingers in the air. Sandton sparkles in the distance.

Mulaudzi’s face crinkles into cheeriness as he tells me that, after earning R1?800 a month for six years at a parking security company contracted to Greenstone Shopping Centre in Edenvale, he has finally found a security job that will pay him an “incredible” R3?150.

“Being poor is hard. I spend R500 on rent for my back yard shack here in River Park, and a further R700 on food. I use the rest to pay off my chain store [credit] cards.”

After paying for food and rent, Mulaudzi would be left with R600. He uses R57 to pay for a cellphone contract, R300 for a business management course at IQ Academy and R210 for a Markhams clothing account.

Mulaudzi doesn’t have transport costs: he walked the 4km to work at his old job and there is free company transport at his new job.

As hard as life is, Mulaudzi, who hails from Thohoyandou in Limpopo, says he is grateful he is single and has no dependents. “I don’t know how I would have coped with a wife and children.”

After a few moments, our conversation starts to reveal deep-seated anger about his failure to amount to something “respectable” in life.

“I would have loved to be a lawyer,” Mulaudzi says, forcing a wry smile.

But then he breaks down. “I ran into financial difficulties and was handed over to debt collectors, both for the phone and the clothing accounts. I made arrangements to settle the debts, and I did – but not before being blacklisted twice. There were countless days where I would go to bed without any food; I would just drink water or tea and go to bed.”

From where we are perched, the clearly visible iconic Sandton City tower reminds him South Africa is a country of inexplicable and extraordinary contradictions.

Alexandra is an impoverished, extremely dangerous, smelly and rat-infested shantytown where houses are built of corrugated iron, plywood, cardboard and sheets of plastic. Many yards are home to up to 10 shacks, which landlords lease to people like Mulaudzi.

Sandton, known as Africa’s richest square mile, is less than 2km away, but it might as well be on another planet. It is the heart of big business and home to the rich and famous with their ostentatious mansions and supersized SUVs.

Mulaudzi has conjured up a clear picture of how Motsepe – his role model – must live his life.

“He probably lives there,” he says, pointing towards Sandton. “And the divide between them and us is huge. As I sit here with you, I’m constantly worrying about what to eat when I get home. Motsepe is probably also worried, but his worry is because he is having a hard time deciding which restaurant to go to and which type of food to eat when he gets there.”

The story Mulaudzi has created for Motsepe, as representative of how the other half lives, continues. “I’m stressing about how to make money, but he has no such worries. He is stressing about how to spend it.”

Though Mulaudzi’s salary has now almost doubled, he will still not be able to afford half the material things he needs to survive, much less service his wants. “I need a proper house, with basic furniture such as beds, a stove, fridge and ablution facilities. I need clothes and food and I don’t think it’s possible to get all these with my new salary. It’s obviously better than what I earned, but it’s probably far less than what those people across the road [in Sandton] earn. You can see, I am poor, which is why I have to do any job.”

Mulaudzi’s wants include at least two cars – one to drive during the week and the other for weekend joyrides.

“Like them, I also would like to have a big house, business and travel overseas,” he says. His rusty, makeshift shack, which leaks when it rains, can hardly be described as a house. Save for a small, black-and-white TV set, fridge, cupboard and two-plate stove, Mulaudzi has nothing of value.

Although he wants to be rich, Mulaudzi doesn’t have a high regard for the rich. “Maybe I will be rich someday, but without any education and connections, it will only be through winning the lottery.”

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