Zama Ndlovu

What is your snow?

2012-08-08 08:44

Zama Ndlovu

It all started with a little bit of cynicism. I told a colleague that it was snowing in Boksburg to which he replied “So hell has finally frozen over”. I laughed. We all did. Snow is a yearly event in some parts of South Africa, although it’s uncommon for it to snow in Gauteng. Until the late morning, we thought it would be the usual “mass e-mails” type of day with photos from obscure parts of the country that no one had ever heard of.

By midday, we were depressed. News that the snow had spread to Rosebank, Melrose, Sandton, Morningside, Randburg and all the neighbourhoods most of the team lives in had reached the project, and everyone was doleful.

See, we are working in the Tshwane CBD, on a top secret assignment I’d have to kill you if I told you about. Everyone knew how unlikely it was for it to snow in Johannesburg, and since Tshwane is not the epitome of cool, hip and happening, what were the chances that there’d be snow left by the time the clouds had moved this far North?

'Life is meant to be fun'

Then, in the middle of a meeting just after 13:00, another colleague asked me what I thought about something which I’m sure was important but which I’ve completely forgotten, I replied “I think it’s snowing outside”. It was. Grown important adults instantly turned into excited 10-year-olds, rushed to the window and eventually downstairs to stand outside taking photos of tiny flakes with their fancy smartphones.

Minutes later, as I watched snowflakes kiss the cheeks of my titillated colleagues, I remembered a conversation I had had with a friend just that morning. “Life is meant to be fun, every breath is meant to tickle”, I had said. Smokers stood in the snow, and for once, drew no judgement as everyone else carried on playing with ungloved hands in the snow. As I stood outside with friends, co-workers and complete stranger, I shared just that moment with them and most of the province.

Of course there’s a completely different side to this coin. Thousands if not millions of South Africans did not have the luxury to live childhood fantasies for even a few seconds yesterday. They had no warm offices or homes to return to once the novelty of snow had worn off and winter chills had kicked in.

So I started to ask myself what their snow would be, the event that is unlikely but probable; the event that would melt the strong walls around their hearts that have long blocked optimism from entry.

My snow

Mbhazima Shilowa’s snow might have been the Gautrain. Every time I spy one of those gold and blue carriages, my cheeks warm up at what they did yesterday in the snow. But something else also happens; I feel a sense of pride, for just a second. We did this. In Africa. Then my socialist ideologies kick in and I remember how this train is an elitist expenditure that has not resolved the working class issues around transport.

My snow is a Smartie nation, where different types lives side by side, rather than being neatly segregated like the colours of a rainbow. My snow is an African city that embraces modern African art, on its streets, cafes and malls, and not just in neat corners like Newtown. My snow is a city built around people, and not industry and big business, a city in which I can walk to work on pavements large enough for people and bikes.

My snow is living in neighbourhoods in which the sounds of laughing children are part of the soundtrack rather than a novelty. My snow is an equitable education system that encourages kids to think, solve problems and wonder, rather than simply regurgitating old answers to problems long solved. My snow is a nation whose people are limited only by their imagination, and not by circumstance. Maybe 3G networks which don’t just net, but work as well. Unlikely but probable.

Yesterday I was a grateful spectator in nature’s show, maybe a freak accident of global warming, maybe a sign that the world is coming to an end in December, or maybe just some once in a while snow.

But it got me thinking that maybe it’s time to start making our own snow, charting our own paths, marvelling at our own achievements.

What is your snow?
- Zama Ndlovu is a management consultant, managing director of Youth Lab, writer, activist, and anything else you'd like her to be. Follow her on Twitter: @JoziGoddess

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