Where were you #10YearsAgo?

2015-09-15 13:12

We  know that #10YearsAgo, Deputy President Zuma had just been dismissed by President Mbeki due to allegations of corruption. Out but not down, Zuma would, with the help of his 'friends', prepare for a fight to stay out of jail. Today, he is the President of the Republic and will continue to fight to stay out of jail if the DA can help it. We may not all like how he fought his battles, but you have to hand it to him, he has done well for himself and his pals.

We also know that #10YearsAgo, Helen Zille, serving as an MP and the DA's spokesperson, would be nominated for the Cape Town mayoral candidacy which she won through a coalition in 2006. Today, she serves as Premier of the Western Cape.

#10YearsAgo, Fikile Mbalula was serving as the President of the ANCYL. And today he is the Minister of Sports or Minister of Events. #10YearsAgo Malema was a skinny boy in the ANCYL's Limpopo structures, throw in a few protests and maybe tenders but today he leads his own party in parliament. Forget his undying love for the ANC and Zuma.

This shows progress for our beloved politicians, not always easy but they moved from one level to another. But is this progress the lived experience of many South Africans?

In 2013, I travelled to Libode, a small town in the Eastern Cape. On my arrival, I was struck by how things had changed since my last trip home. I hadn’t been home in over 10 years and a lot seemed to have changed except for the litter all over the place. And the municipality had stopped dumping waste on the river banks so some positive changes could be observed.

I grew up in Libode selling fruit and maize/corn at the taxi rank. My mother used to sell fruit there too and so did her mother. It seemed like the best way to earn money in the small town or else you starve.

During my time trading on the streets I met SisNontembeko. She used to sell fruit with my mother. Her mother sold fruit with my grandmother on the same streets. For almost 30 years SisNontembeko has been selling fruit for a living on those dusty streets. I got out of the taxi on my arrival and the first thing I noticed that looked familiar was her sitting on the same spot she has occupied since my birth.

I wondered if she enjoyed trading fruit or had no other way of making a living. It is not the best job in the world as the cold winter weather makes trading difficult, and there is a lot of competition so going home with a profit is not always guaranteed.

Then I remembered that grandmother, my mother, and I did not put up with the summer heat or cold winter because we enjoyed selling fruit. We did so because we had no other alternative. We all had very little education; in fact, I quit school to sell fruit there as I was tired of going to school on an empty stomach.

SisNontembeko’s life of waking up every morning, regardless of the weather conditions, go to town and hope to sell enough so that you can buy food, eat, and come back to do the same thing the following day is a story of many South Africans. I walk past them in Site C, Khayelitsha and they remind me of the life I once had.

It is very difficult to understand how SisNontembeko’s life would stay the same for almost 30 years with little or no prospects of change. And this is why I thought I should ask the question: Where were you #10YearsAgo? And where are you today? And in all the responses I got from the people I asked, there was progress.

Take Bongani Baloyi for instance, 28 years old from Gauteng. Bongani says #10YearsAgo he was busy preparing for his matriculation exam. Today, he serves as the Executive Mayor of Midvaal Municipality. His uncle exposed him to politics at a very young age by using him as a messenger delivering messages to his MK comrades in the 90s. Bongani is passionate about development and hopes to be re-elected in the next local government elections.

Then the same question was posed to Xhanti Payi. #10YearsAgo Xhanti took up an internship at ABSA after getting his qualification. Today he runs his own research and management consulting firm.

Moving up is Hlanganani Gumbi, 25 years old from KwaZulu Natal. #10YearsAgo Hlanganani was a grade 10 pupil at Northwood High in Durban. He enjoyed history, and business economics in high school. Today he is serving as the youngest member of the KwaZulu Natal provincial legislature and has previously served as a Councillor in the Ethekwini Metro. He recalls his first political action organising a protest against a racist incident that had occurred at his boarding school. He is also a Mandela Washington fellow and has had the privilege of travelling to the US, and Germany twice, Belgium, Netherlands, Taiwan, and Indonesia. He shares that one of the challenges of his job is having his credibility questioned because of his age.

Another politician who answered the question is Zakhele Mbele. #10YearsAgo, he was a 2nd year student reading for his BA degree in Economic Studies and International Relations. During this time, he was also involved in student activism as the Chairperson of the LGBT student society, ACTIVATE. 10 years later, Zakhele is a Member of Parliament for the Democratic Alliance. After varsity, honourable Mbele worked in the development sector for an NGO and later served as the Media Officer for the Western Cape Premier’s Office.

Apart from law-making or debating societal issues in our national legislature, Honourable Mbele co-owns a company that organises fine dining events for young professionals. And he points out that his progress is owed to the support of his parents, a school environment that enabled him to pursue his academic ambitions, and his willingness to work hard and make use the opportunities afforded to him.

This is perhaps why SisNontembeko’s life has not changed much. Because not all of us are exposed to the same opportunities such as the enabling school environment Mbele spoke about. Hence many South Africans find themselves in SisNontembeko’s shoes. Stuck in one place with little or no prospects of progress because we do not yet have an environment where every South African has the means to reach their full potential. Especially SisNontembeko's generation which was deprived of such an enabling environment. Of course many in the new South Africa are still denied quality education which makes it difficult for them to exploit the opportunities a constitutional democracy such as ours offer to its citizens.

So I ask that you think about where you were #10YearsAgo and where you are today. In what way has your life changed or remained the same? How about the people you grew up with?

Please use the #10YearsAgo hash tag if you have a twitter account and share. Who knows, you may inspire or be inspired by someone. I was a grade 9 dropout handing out pamphlets for Capitec Bank on the streets of Cape Town. Today, I am reading for a Master's degree.

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