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These people have got no self-respect

12 October 2012, 09:55
#South Africa, with a population of 50 million, is the most unequal nation on Earth. The top 10% of earners in South Africa take away 101 times the earnings of the bottom 10% of the population.

#Fifty percent of the population live on 8% of the national income, and the top 50% live on 92% of national income. The top 5% earners take 30 times what the bottom 5% earners take.

#According to a 2009 study, 41% of South Africans live on less than R20 a day (2.8 million live on less than R5 a day; 6.7 million live on R5-10 a day and 8.8 million live on R10-20 a day). 47% of the population, or 20.9 million people live on R20-140 a day.

#The UNDP 2010 Report indicates that 6 million people live on less than R10 a day who in turn support4 people, resulting in 30 million South Africans living on less than R10 a day. Fifteen million people rely on social grants for survival. Almost 25% of South African households have inadequate access to food.

#The Stats SA Quarterly Labour Force Survey reveals that unemployment, by the narrow definition which excludes those who have given up looking for work, is 25%. The more realistic expanded figure, which includes discouraged workers, is 36%. Among Africans of working age only 36% are absorbed into employment. Seventy two percent of the unemployed are young people. Ninety five percent of them do not have tertiary education. Unemployment among Africans was estimated to be 38% in 1995, 45% in 2005, and 50%in 2011.

#The life expectancy of a white South African is 71 years and for a black South African 48 years.

And so on and so forth.

“These people have got no self respect.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Look at how they live,” Cupcake said, gesturing towards the ghetto on the other side of the windscreen. “Put your nose out there again and tell me what you smell.”

“Human shit,” said the other guy, rolling up the driver’s window.

We were parked outside an RDP hok with a corrugated iron add-on and two wrecks in the yard.

“Not only human shit,” said Cupcake. “There are dogs and chickens and goats as well. “

“I’ve seen at least two donkey carts,” I said. “What does donkey shit smell like? Anyone know?”

“Horse shit,’ said the other guy.

“Yah, but it’s not only shit out there. There’s a whole lot of other shit going on.’

I lowered my window a bit and savoured the winter air, which was beginning to warm up as midday approached.

“Mmm,” I said. “This is a rich bouquet. I detect all manner of fragrances. Both coal smoke and wood smoke mingling with the fumes from a thousand paraffin stoves.”

“And there’s that rubbish dump smell as well,’ said the other guy. He and Cupcake had lowered their windows again. ‘The toxic stench of smouldering garbage.”

“And that blocked drain,” said Cupcake.

A standpipe stood in the middle of a dam of stagnant grey sludge.

“I smell the stink of unwashed humanity huddled in overcrowded shanties,” said the other guy.

“My nose tells me that many a simple meal is being prepared at this very moment,” I said. “Ah, smell that? Somebody is braaiing a choice piece of wors. Not bad, hey? This, my friends, is the characteristic aroma of a genuine South African township. If one could capture this unique blend of odours and put it in a can, one could make a lot of money selling it to foreign tourists.”

“Yah,” said Cupcake. “They could take it home to remind them how lucky they are they don’t have to live like this. No, I tell you, these people have got fokol self respect.”

“I suppose they actually enjoy living like this?” I tried to make my voice sound heavy with sarcasm.

“Of course not,” said Cupcake. “But they don’t need to.”

“What he means,” said the other guy, “is that they don’t need to keep voting for the ANC.”

We were sitting there waiting for the parcel that the dude from the RDP hok said would be ready now-now, my brothers. That was nearly half an hour ago in real time. Not being entirely naïve, we were aware that now-now time was a whole different philosophical concept to real time. Like the way some people think of time present and time past as being somehow present in time future, and time future being contained in time past. Knowing this about now-now time I had been intelligent enough to go across to the spaza for a six-pack. And now we were chilling nicely until the right time had run its course and elapsed sufficiently for our parcel to arrive.

“So you think it’s the ANC’s fault that all these unfortunates live like this?” I asked.

“For sure,” said Cupcake. “But not entirely. It’s also their own fault for not having seen the picture.”

“Pretty picture,” said the other guy. “But at least the government is trying to provide everyone with basic services like standpipes and chemical toilets.

“Anyone need a piss?”

Me and the other guy can spot a rhetorical question a mile off, so we didn’t bother to reply.

“I challenge one of you to go and take a leak in that public facility, and come back and report on the state of hygiene you find there.’

As he spoke the door to the green cubicle on the street corner began to open. A middle aged woman appeared. She was as shapeless as a sack of mielie meal on legs, and her legs were so waterlogged they seemed about to burst open like pork sausages on the grid. She paused, uncertain as to her next move. In one hand she clutched a Pick n Pay packet. There was only one step down but it obviously filled her with fear, because there was nothing to hold on to. She lifted a foot, hesitated, lurched, came down hard, and staggered three paces before falling on all fours into the pool of grey sludge. She had dropped the plastic bag and it spilled out a toilet roll, also into the filthy water.

“Oh my fuck!” said the other guy.

“Fuck!” snarled Cupcake. “We can’t just watch.”

Three doors flew open, and three feet found the ground. But, at the very same moment, two teenage girls appeared from nowhere and hurried towards the floundering mama. We got our appendages back in the car and closed the doors.

Ankle deep in the cold muck, the girls were scolding the woman as they helped to get her upright.

“This is what I’m talking about!” shouted Cupcake, and he seemed dangerously close to doing something violent, like pounding the other guy’s dashboard with his fist.

“Calm down,” I said. “She’s not your mother. She’s not even white.”

“Fuck you!” said Cupcake.

“Yah,” said the other guy, looking over his shoulder. “Shut the fuck up with that kind of shit.”

“He’s the one saying they’ve got no self respect,” I said.

“Don’t you get it? He’s saying they shouldn’t put up with being treated like this any more. He doesn’t really …”

An old Beemer 3-series jumped into view and came at us with aggressive intent. At the last moment it skidded to a halt, just in time to spare us the head-on crunch we were bracing ourselves for. The driver gave three blasts on his bugle and the middleman dude from the RDP hok came hurrying out.

The transaction was concluded in a gentlemanly fashion and we began to make our way from ghetto back to suburb.

“You know,” I said, “I don’t think these people are going to be able to get themselves out of this dystopian shithole without a little help.”

“Oh yeah,” said the other guy. “White man to the rescue?”

“White man got them into this; white man must help get them out.”

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