Guest Column

The duality of victimhood

2015-11-16 12:31

C Akuoma

A few weeks ago I sat across the table from a pretty 22-year-old and her bouncing, bubbly 18-month-old boy. They had come for a routine visit, nothing pressing or complicated, and as the interaction ended we returned to the fact that she was home full-time, except for times like this and social wanderings.  She left high school a couple years ago with no qualifications, had never worked and, from her portrayal of herself, had no marketable skill except perhaps for the very fact of existing.

Her mother apparently still did some domestic work now and again but was getting a bit elderly to scrub floors on arthritic kneecaps. The young lady considered it demeaning work, and though she (correctly) recognised her human right to life with dignity, she preferred her current existence to the thought of pursuing certain kinds of employment. Unfortunately though, she couldn’t provide me with a summary of the mathematics of her circumstances either: which meant that neither she nor I had any idea how her wants and needs were balanced out.
The sentiments of this article will be ridiculed, misrepresented and misunderstood. Some may wish to garland me with rubber tyres and set me alight, hailing some twisted concept of justice and righted wrongs. And for my mangled corpse, who would mourn? After all, we already live in a dystopia where we debate the purchase of a R4bn private jet while the public sector lies haemorrhaging, millions of youth ferment restlessly in a pool of unskilled apathy, and all that untapped energy erupts daily in bloody orgies of alcohol-fuelled violence.

Shock and horror

It was with shock and horror that I watched the assault of Vice Chancellor Max Price, which glorified the belief that the first response to dispute is not dialogue but violence. It was with disgust and concern that I read of the hospitalisation of Brandon Clark and intimidation of Nicky Grobler in Professor Tyrone Pretorius’s letter of November 11. It has been a busy year for our universities’ attendants, having recognised and seized their democratic right to protest in support of an idea, then transformed the concept by some bizarre alchemy into a widespread exercise in anarchy and human rights violations. Like everyone else I watched and listened as the events of the Rhodes Must Fall and then Fees Must Fall movements gathered momentum; and like everyone else my opinions were shaped by my personal and social circumstances.

I am a black female. Yes, even as a fierce proponent of a society where progress will be driven by grit, stamina, skill and bargaining power, this remains a key brick in the wall of my identity. I don’t think too hard about it or dwell on it too much because I believe it hasn’t altered my overall life path in too meaningful a way. I have my own hair, and like Lingala as much as Coldplay. I am also a professional, an athlete, a reader, a lover of music. What I am and will be is a sum total of all these things. So while I watched the student movements evolve and pondered their deeper meanings, I returned repeatedly to the taboo issues of accountability and responsibility.

At the height of the Fees Must Fall movement, one of the papers featured a picture of three students of different ethnicities. All were attractive, well dressed. One consulted an appropriately up to date phone and another brandished a poster declaring she was there to collect on the promises made to her parents in 1994. Up to that point my dialogue with individuals on all sides of the debate revolved around the pragmatic issue of numbers: how to provide affordable, quality tertiary education to those who could not otherwise afford it in a society where a small minority already staggered under the education, child and healthcare needs of the majority. But suddenly, the image of entitlement that photograph encapsulated rankled in a whole new way.

A growing problem

The imbalance of tax payers to social dependents is an urgent and growing problem to which I do not pretend in this brief essay to have a solution. Key historical causes of this dilemma have been (and continue to be) extensively discussed; no doubt many remain to be identified and addressed.  Certainly a significant part of the problem is that a growing swathe of society appears to be made up of young people with little potential (or in some cases volition) to contribute to the social welfare kitty. Fattened on a vaporous world of social media, brand names, celebrity and dubiously acquired wealth, the expectation is that somehow we all should have everything we want exactly the way we want it. Now. And for free. It’s a wonderful dream.

But Reality 101 is this. More people need to contribute to the kitty for the pot to be big enough to be more widely spread. It would also help if we spent less on pointless nonsense - the private jets, still born tenders and countless Legotlas and meetings that seem to generate nothing but more fattened politicians/bureaucrats with the moral resonance of empty gongs.

Our society needs to face up to its self-imposed short comings. Victimhood has become the essence by which we define our identities, the fabric from which our daily existence is cut. The enslavement, colonisation, marginalisation and dehumanisation of people just like me throughout history is of great significance. But so are the choices we have made since, and make every day. Does the R1.9bn “found” to cover the fees shortfall also cover the property damaged by rampaging students? Will it cover the time to re-sit exams for those students apparently so desperate for tertiary education that they prefer to pass the exam period lighting social bonfires?  

I believe the debt of making the world (with its anthology of wrongs and horrors) a better place lies heavily and equally upon all of us. Why do I owe anyone a refund? I had no part in the circumstances that led to your conception and gestation, and for that matter my own journey hasn’t been easy either; every small achievement has been bought with sweat, tears and blood.

Burden of responsibility

The beauty of victimhood is that is absolves us of the inconvenient burden of responsibility. Perhaps my brothers and sisters slashing each other over mysteriously affordable quarts of Castle on the other side of Spine Road can find some way to blame the quart for their misfortunes, before staggering across to the local ER in their blood soaked party clothes to be stitched back together for free.  

Sorry, scratch that; the quart was actually possessed by an evil spirit and cannot be held responsible for its actions.

News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.



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