The donkey looked away, as if it was deliberately denying me the photo-op that I was exploiting without its permission. Its dirty-brown face looked deeply sad, as if it had lost someone special either from death or desertion.
From time to time, the donkey would steal a glance, the way toddlers look at a stranger when they are in the safety of their parents’ arms.
I was squatting and clicking away as the donkey ate a piece of styrofoam from the street. Photography has a way of numbing you from the pain of others like an anaesthetic at a dentist, and it certainly numbed me.
But after a while, it wears off.
I made sure that I took the perfect photograph. I observed the rule of thirds. In the foreground, I framed the donkey with the forward line of the parallel parking lines.
As for the backside, I framed a lifeless monument that looked more like abandoned stones than a piece of art that was designed to evoke some kind of remembrance. In the background was the clock tower of Rhodes University which was side-lit by the setting sun.
It is a hard life for the donkeys of Makhanda. The cart business has come to a dead stop and so they have been abandoned to fend for themselves.
The donkey’s pain pierced through my phone, my eye and into my heart, and I decided to leave it alone.
As I walked away, a man came running towards me, shouting at the top of his voice that he had a question for me. I stopped. The question, as it turned out, was: “Do you not have a five rand for me?”
Our country is now like a war zone of poverty, where luxury lives side by side with suffering, and the destitute have become statistics like body counts in propaganda war.
In Alexandria in the Eastern Cape, on the R72 towards Kenton-on-Sea, I had stopped to take black and white photos of an old church when a young man of working-age approached me.
His mouth smelt strongly of alcohol even though he was perfectly sober and coherent. He was wearing a khaki suit but no shoes. His hair was short but dusty and unkempt.
“UJama akamoshi mntu,” he told me. “UJama ufun’ isonka, nobisi neswekile ayotya nabantwana. Ngena apha eSpar usway’pe, usway’pele uJama,” he said.
He did not use pleasantries such as “please” and “thank you”. He did not supplicate phoney prayers like: “Inkosi yandise apho uthatha khona.”
But his melancholic voice, which echoed the pain in his heart, said it all, and that sealed the deal.
We went into the shop. He took a loaf of brown bread, a litre of amasi and a 1kg packet of brown sugar. We stood in the queue to pay. The till operater called him, and I could see that, for once, Jama felt like somebody — the till operator rang his goods. I paid by card, as instructed by Jama.
He took his groceries, and left. As I drove out of town, I saw him walk towards Nonkqubela township with his plastic bag in his hand.
Many theories have been advanced but none has given a sufficient explanation yet, about why Africans govern in such a manner that they would turn their people into beggars.
Many theories have been put forward – corruption, incompetence, patronage and others. Professor Lawrence Lessig, of Harvard Law School, argues that behaviour in the real world is regulated by four constraints – and law is only one of them. Social norms are second.
If leaders see nothing wrong with eating everything while all are hungry, and the people are okay with that, no law can regulate that terrible situation.
Greed and ignorance rear poverty. South Africa needs a change of heart, otherwise the seeds of the revolution will continue to spread, and they will be fertilised by palpable desperation, which can even be seen in the faces of donkeys.
Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency
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