Sibongile Mafu

You're poor so nice things can wait

2013-06-20 09:30

Sibongile Mafu

Struggle must visible and blatant. It is only visible through all the things that are invisible - possessions, resources, wealth.  Having a few nice things could confuse people into thinking that your situation is okay, and your plight is "not so bad".

You need to first acquire the bare minimum before you can enjoy the fruits and privileges of the middle-class. No DStv for you if you live in a shack. No Wi-Fi for you if you live in the township. First come flushing toilets, and then comes Wi-Fi, right?

When you're poor, it seems that those that aren't will help you start fighting for the very things you don’t have only in relation to the wonderful things the privileged have. Things that make your existence look like it has a semblance of civility.

Decent homes with running water and flushing toilets are what you fight for, day in and day out. And the middle-class will rise up to fight with you when an announcement is made about Wi-Fi being brought into your area, as they shout from their rooftops that you deserve the basics first and in a whisper think anything  after that is a luxury that will come after the bare minimum has been sorted.

We don't know when that will be, but as the poor wait for those things, they can appease themselves by watching the sunset as opposed to satellite television, as that is reserved only for those who look like they can afford it, and Wi-Fi only for those whose toilets clean themselves without having to do much.

The poor have to constantly compromise for a decent life in order to make those in charge appear as if they’re doing their jobs and when they're given shiny things they're meant to be impressed. Officials will excitedly highlight the projects they have in the pipeline, more so around election time as the very middle-class who often judge the poor for having nice things, begin to judge the officials who deliver those nice things, and neglecting the basic ones.

I remember growing up I would see, what people in the area called "Smarties houses". In an impoverished part of Port Elizabeth, there were these neighbourhoods of houses packed closely together with the only real way of separating neighbouring was the colours that helped distinguish them. These houses were small and brightly-coloured with proud satellite dishes hanging from their roofs. The satellite dishes were practically the same size as the roof.

When I was younger I didn't know how someone could live in a house so small and still have the luxury to "Believe in Magic". As I grew up I realised this was the most simplistic of comparisons, which failed to address and acknowledge why it was not alight for people to be living like this in the first place.  The problem wasn't that they had DStv; the problem was that it had come to a point when looking at these homes meant that these comparisons and judgments would arise.

Leader of the DA and Premier of the Western Cape Helen Zille has been excitedly informing us for months about the Wi-Fi broadband plan for the Western Cape.  Free Wi-Fi for areas like Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha in what is described as "the world's biggest mesh network" by the end of 2014. This sounds all big and grand and is something I'm personally impressed by, but she's received some very real backlash for it, as many basic needs in the Western Cape have yet to be yet but plans for a "luxury" like Wi-Fi are already in motion.

The point is we can have both - working things and nice things. And comparing the door doesn't add much value to the conversation. Making sure both are met is important.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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