Let community spirit be South Africa’s leader

2015-10-07 13:28

There’s simply no sugar-coating it: South Africa is reeling.

Race issues that are being amplified through militant rhetoric rather than addressed through rational means, a government that has made it clear it is beyond the reproach of both local and international law, and dire unemployment levels that show no signs of improving.

Power is firmly in the grip of career politicians who do little else but snipe and lob impotent salvos at one another, leaders and apparatchiks who spend their days poring over puerile tweets in the hope of gathering new ammunition for these purposes.

What once was a calling to serve the people has become nothing more than a facile pretense to trot out in the weeks preceding a municipal or general election, hollow words designed to give the electorate the impression that these office-bearers actually matter.

Of course the pay-off goes in one direction only, further fanning the flames as tyres continue to burn and there is mass divestment in basic hope.

Yet encounter everyday South Africans beyond the corridors of power or the grandstanding of Marxian arrivistes, and indeed there is hope. Not of the kind that promises material wealth or trinkets of egotistical excess, but hope in its most brilliant form: faith in one’s fellow man.

As anyone will tell you, finding rental space in Cape Town is fraught. Blink, and you will miss out. Or, as in my own case, be shafted fairly royally by a series of estate agencies, irrespective of eyes being wide open.

So it has been that in the pursuit of a fixed location at which I might hang my hat, I have gone the airbnb route, which to date has worked out quite well. That is, until very recently when events conspired to ensure that yet another move would be required.

It’s now mid-Spring, however, a season which marks the start of higher rental prices on just about everything as pasty Europeans make their annual migration to our warmer climes.

Finding accommodation in line with your budget is a task decidedly not for the faint-of-bank account, especially when your savings are intended for a first month’s rent or deposit at a more permanent place of residence.

Enter one Fatima of Fatima’s Place in Essex Road, Woodstock, a recent and unexpected addition to the airbnb catalogue.

Now let’s be clear on this. While it has been well publicised that Woodstock is undergoing a gradual process of gentrification, there are many parts, especially below Victoria Road, that continue to be blighted by inadequate incomes and abandoned buildings.

Yet, when one looks beyond the aesthetic, there is something about Essex Road and its surrounds that outsiders could not possibly have imagined: a warmth of spirit that exemplifies all that it truly means to be a community.

Fatima’s little red house is a home, in every sense. Her beautiful children laugh and play in the way children should, dinnertime conversation is of the sort that reminds you of your own parents’ eccentricities, and an enjoyment in one another’s company is ruthlessly encouraged.

Indeed, upon returning from work, a plate of delicious fare was not so much placed as thrust in front of me, as while I was under Fatima’s roof, I was part of the clan. “Sit, sit, sit!” I was instructed by the lady of the house, almost expecting to be told as a growing boy I needed my vegetables.

A short while later, in the dusk of Essex Street various games of rugby and cricket were on the go, competitive but never short of humour.

“Wanna play, uncle?” one of the younger boys asked me, not in the least bit concerned that a middle-class white man was something of an anomaly in these parts.

And why should he have been?  A neighbourhood game of cricket is far more important than such trivialities.

It struck me that Fatima’s magnificent home, her community, are a microcosm of what could be in this country. Certainly, there is much to be done in terms of infrastructure, but there is an overwhelming sense of decency that governs each and every interaction.

We were strangers to each other, but simply by coming together within an affirming, intensely amiable environment, we formed the kind of bond that I for one won’t be quick to forget. And I am certain my experience is but one of millions like it.

Our hang-ups are being emphasised by the divisive invective spewed by people who are calling the shots simply because they chose a career in politics. Whether X courts Y by backstabbing Z or whether Z tweeted something paltry about X and Y has nothing whatsoever to do with the people; it is nothing more than a playground squabble on a grander scale.

If there was an outcome to these shenanigans, then fair enough, but all that results is that ordinary people sink deeper and deeper into the quagmire, lashing out desperately as despair and rot sets in.

Perhaps the time has come to seriously consider turning our backs on these processes.

Communities such as those of lower Woodstock prove that they are self-sustaining, however poor, without any of the malicious garbage that has become the preserve of the country’s leaders.

Let’s get behind the Fatimas and others like her. They don’t need your vote, just your support. Imagine what they could do, one community at a time.

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