Second Take – Humanity shatters stereotypes

2011-11-05 08:34

The wonderful thing about ­ordinary people and their lives is how they help us shatter the stereotypes we so often use to prop up a “grand narrative”.

This week a small, and in the greater scheme of things ­unremarkable, story about a cleaner and a stray dog did just that. Two weeks ago, a part-time cleaner at a Khayelitsha school, Bukelwa

Mbulawa, and a few other colleagues saved the life of a stray dog that had been buried alive. The animal, now named Warrior, had by all accounts ­become “a nuisance” at the school and the principal had allegedly ordered two janitors to dispose of it.

Mbulawa returned to the school ­after a day’s sick leave only to be told she had been retrenched. She told a journalist she believed she had lost her job because the incident had been ­reported.

The subsequent outcry, publicity and outpouring of support for ­Mbulawa, a mother of two sons, was remarkable. Offers to compensate her flooded in via the media, one man drove to her home and gave her “a large sum of money to support my family” and a lawyer offered, free of charge, to take her case to the labour court.

So what are the grand narratives this simple story subverts? There are two that stand out quite prominently.

You need only eavesdrop on some conversations or listen to the stream of callers to local radio talk shows to pick up that one of the “stories” around dogs and animals is that some white people think black people don’t like dogs and are in fact inured to ­cruelty towards animals.

The other is that some black people believe that white people care more about animals and dogs than they do about the suffering of fellow black citizens.

Place an animal at the centre of the narrative, be it a beast to be ritually slaughtered or a stray dog, and the hornet’s nest is provoked. This loop is a convenient and lazy one that helps us polish and hone our stereotypes.

It is a conversation that contains so much of our unresolved rage, anger, guilt and an assortment of other negative feelings and emotions?– on both sides.

Did the white people, and most of them were, who offered to help Mbulawa do so only because she had saved the life of a dog?

And in so doing, did she “prove” to them that she possessed a compassion and caring that many believe is absent in black people?

What Warrior did do, and he is no doubt oblivious to this all, is create a common link to the humanity we all possess. Mbulawa is an animal lover, period.

Those who support her are animal lovers too, who were able to ­express their deeper concern and solidarity in reaching out and helping her.

And if they only did so because she saved the life of a dog, then she has shown them that whatever they might have thought before, they were wrong.

And Warrior? Oddly enough his fate seemed of little concern in the story. We take it he has been given a happy, new home.

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