The haves and the have-nots find each other

2011-10-29 09:24

As we search for ways to bridge the gap, social entrepreneur Shaka Sisulu offers a way forward with his Cheesekids movement.

It is a conscious effort to link privileged young people to their less privileged brothers and sisters in a range of projects to impart skills, aspiration and offer a lending hand. Their tag-line is: “Love, peace and mo cheese”.

We asked him whether this movement for good can grow.

Cheese kids. Middle-class young people who can afford to eat cheese, the symbol of middle-class life back in the day. What is the potential size of your movement?

This is fast becoming a movement of people who define themselves beyond their material possessions.

Such that even those aspiring to a life of comfort recognise the inherent need to pay attention to our communities and the challenges within, and do just that.

It is becoming clear to me that the pool of people that have something to contribute and wish to do so actively on a regular basis is larger than we could have fathomed when we began.

Beyond your personal charisma, why has Cheesekids caught on as a concept of solidarity in action?

Primarily because contribution is an innate human need. We need to contribute to our society. We need to give back.

And doing so in a way that is fun and connects you with like-minded people without being loaded or overly political can make it all the more meaningful.

In your experience, do your members and potential members self-identify as middle class?

In my experience, the Cheesekids are beyond narrow class definitions. What defines them is the heart, a recognition that for them to receive a fortune someone put time and effort into them, and they’re just paying it forward.

Some label young successful people as self-involved and always on the party. In your experience, is the stereotype debunked or debunkable?

I have seen unsuccessful people who are extraordinarily self-involved and always sitting in a shebeen.

I think it’s hard in a society that screams “it’s about you, it’s about you” to not be self-involved.

And only through exposure to what others are going through does one have an appreciation of how interdependent we are.

It’s a process of maturity, a very personal journey. We start out as dependent children, then move to independence as young adults and then grow into interdependence, all the while realising just how much more bigger than us our worlds are.

Is the journey of giving back a transformational one?

Completely. The more you give, the more you are given. And the more is expected or demanded of you. And so in turn the more you give, the more you get given.

It has taught me that one can acquire and achieve more by giving than by taking. Sadly we are not taught this young and often enough.

Why is active engagement and giving important in a country with a high Gini coefficient and stark inequalities?

You could look at it in two ways: one, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link; the stronger and better off we all are the further we can take the society. Then we worry about caring for other life forms, not our stomachs or security.

And you could look at it as a doomsday clock – once a scale is tipped over, it’s harder to balance it out again.

In some countries it costs so much more to live securely with functional amenities than it would have cost for all the haves to put in a little bit more time and effort to ensure equity 50 years back.

Ultimately, we are all in it together. All of us.

 And it is the continued division of our people that will see us all lose this game of life. Together.

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