The Mail and Guardian #6Rand Challenge: A crisis of privilege

2014-10-17 06:37

The minute you have to keep defending your campaign, you need to realise that something has gone absolutely wrong. It is either the audience finds you weird, arrogant and out of touch with reality or you are so far ahead in foresight so much that your audience cannot relate to your campaign. The former is true of the Mail and Guardian’s #6Rand campaign.

As described on the M&G website, “The Mail & Guardian’s R6 challenge has been about raising awareness. One in four people in South Africa – 14-million people – do not know where their next meal is coming from”. Then one of the paper’s journalists (Sipho Kings) tried to defend the campaign to a former journalist (Nickolaus Bauer) of the paper by saying “It is not about solidarity with the hungry. It is about getting people to think. Then act from place of knowledge”. It sounds absurd does it not?

Well, the admission that it is not about solidarity is quite telling. Solidarity demands something that these arrogant and naïve middle class founders of this project cannot achieve. Aurora Levins Morales gives an important definition of solidarity. She says, “solidarity is not a matter of altruism. Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, and from the deep recognition of our most expansive self-interest. From the recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable.”

Obviously, the M&G team is not looking at solidarity – it merely wants to flirt with hunger (an everyday reality for over 12 million South Africans) and then be able to go around the world telling us how difficult it is to live on R6 a day. We already know that, everybody knows it. This is nothing but a campaign for elite privileged individuals who want to pretend that they care by talking about their experience of living on R6 as opposed to dealing with the socioeconomic and sociopolitical structures that give birth and sustenance to this hunger. This kind of campaign has the negative potential of evoking emotions of pity towards the hunger stricken people. It has potential of having this misguided pity being used to lower the hungry people to sub-humans who are lazy and not working hard enough.

Some of us have come to understand and accept that hunger is a form of structural violence, due to a combination of bad policies, lack of political will and unrelenting forces of the free market. There is some correlation between income inequality and the existence of the food insecurity; as food distribution and affordability runs through these fissures of inequality. If we accept that hunger is structural violence, you cannot then invite people to create awareness by subjecting themselves to violence – no one should be going through that.

It is no different from asking people to subject themselves to rape in order to create awareness about how vile and inhumane an act that is. How about asking people to subject their children to watch pornography in order to realise how bad it is? Should we take the urban place children to rural schools with poor sanitation and no libraries in order to ‘create awareness’ about the problem?

Hunger is probably the crudest result emanating from the over commercialisation of human life. Food is a central part of an individual’s survival. The deprivation of food is an indictment to our democracy. Surely, you cannot be hungry and claim to be free when you are reduced to digging for food in bins, begging on streetlights, undoing your pride and dignity and knocking on doors of neighbours because you cannot provide for your family. Why did the M&G not call people to find a way to survive without money and see where they will get food from? Obviously, this would be too crude for them – they just wanted an entry taste to hunger and not the reality of it.

They understand that such kind of reality does not need to be experienced to be understood as a horrific reduction of humanity when people are forced to digging in bins and/or collecting leftovers in different restaurants. They also understand that suddenly the concept of crime to feed hunger may begin to make sense to some. This would be an intolerable realisation as we want to understand crime and violence in South Africa merely on grounds of lawlessness devoid of context and embedded social phenomenon.

One of the lessons that the Mail and Guardian should be teaching some of its enthusiastic and in denial readers is that – in a country with such disparities of inequality, crass materialism and a high level of hunger a revolution is inevitable. People are not going to accept the subhuman status that they are subjected to by a confluence of players that makeup the socioeconomic architecture of South Africa forever. If anything, we should be discussing ideas of hastened land reform, investment in rural farming and manufacturing to create jobs.

The M&G makes this point in passing in the cited article. It says, “Without money, people cannot buy good food. Without land, they cannot grow food. What food they can afford is not healthy.” Frantz Fanon back in the early 1960s made this point very succinctly. He said when ordinary people (unlike the intellectual) fight the struggle for decolonisation they “take their stand from the start on broad and inclusive positions of Bread and the land: how can we obtain the land, and the bread to eat? And this obstinate point of view of the masses, which may seem shrunken and limited, is in the end the most worthwhile and the most efficient mode of procedure”. There shall come a day when people in South Africa feel the need to fight a struggle for decolonisation – as 1994 was merely a breakthrough against apartheid and not colonialism.

What the folks in the M&G newsroom are doing is what Fanon called laying claim to the truth. Fanon said, “Now, the fellah, the unemployed man, the starving native do not lay claim to the truth; they do not say that they represent the truth, for they are the truth”. It must infiltrate in the heads of elites that are sinking in privilege that they are not and shall never be the truth of those who struggle each day to survive. Where are the voices of the hungry people? Were they consulted about an idea(s) that would work in solving their problems? No, the kind of awareness to be generated by the M&G is such that people will embark on a top-down charity approach.

Many people are suddenly now discussing issues of creating vegetable gardens and so on. The provincial government in KwaZulu-Natal did not find much success with its ‘One Home. One Garden’ project, neither does the Eastern Cape government find sustainable joy with its ‘iLima’ projects in rural communities. There are reasons why these are not succeeding – people must study closely those reasons before they embark on projects that will not last; only for them to find justifiable grounds to claim that the hungry people are lazy, unappreciative and a waste of money and time.

The Mail and Guardian’s #6Rand campaign is nothing but a mid-life crisis of a few white people that are suffering from some guilt about their individual privilege. You will struggle to find a black person who can justify this campaign because black people (even those imposters like Tokyo Sexwale who went to sleep in a shack) know the meaning of hunger. Many have been hungry at some point in their lives; none are without experience of hunger directly or by association. The real solution lies in our socioeconomic architecture – we do not need to do silly acts of ‘awareness’ to figure this out. Hunger is an unconstitutional form of structural violence.

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