I was watching a rather interesting vlog earlier. The government, it seems, is doing exactly what it was designed to do all along. Stay in power. The vlogger suggests that lockdown conditions suit political ends and that the state will use force to maintain the new status quo. And force, as the saying goes, is a crime! Not to mention, the ban on books and the curfew.
I don’t know hey. I am not a South African. Or a voter. Nor even a citizen. I am an individual who is trying to make a life in this world. Premised on the belief that nobody has any power beyond themselves, I’m pretty happy with the status quo. It is what I would have chosen.
I have deeper and more meaningful relations with my family and friends. I enjoy moments of unbridled bliss where I am so very grateful to be alive. There is this sweet and endearing “leader” called Cyril. He’s a nice enough fella. But the world looks to scary from his perspective.
He rules a land with rampant inequality. Many people find themselves without the basics like sanitation and electricity. Can you imagine living without these basic amenities? Millions of people, generations of them, did exactly that. The only difference is they were not pitied for it.
I believe that each and every one of us chooses the life we want to live. Growing up there were two men who would make a lasting impact. One was a black man known as Chappies. Chappies was weathered and worn. He looked much older than he might actually have been.
Technically, I should never have met Chappies. He was black and I was coloured. I chose “was” very deliberately. The government of the time didn’t care much for colouring outside of the lines. They wanted South Africans to be packed away very neatly in a colour-coded way. Kind of like socks.
Nevertheless, Chappies wasn’t too bothered about what some white guy thought. He was the caretaker of the block of flats across the railway line. This block of flats was my home for 16 years. Right next to my coloured primary school. It was a funny thing, school. We were all so very different.
But again, I digress. Chappies lived in the backrooms of the property. He was a grouchy old man. I spent much of my childhood teasing him and running away giggling with delight. He was like our friendly neighbourhood boogey man. And he was always complaining about us kids. I guess we irritated him some.
And then there was Mr Booysen. He was coloured. But he lived in the stairwell of my building. You would always smell him before you saw him. Us kids didn’t bother him much. He would often come begging for something to eat. My mom would dish him a plate of food, complete with knife and fork.
He would leave the cutlery neatly on the stairwell, where Mom could collect it. Mr Booysen and Chappies lived through an extraordinary time. Prohibitions. Curfews. Tricameral parliaments. Admonishments against voting. But they both lived full lives. Mr Booysen passed away some time ago. I saw Chappies as an adult years ago. I’m not sure if he is still alive.
My point about these two remarkable gentleman, is that they lived a life of their choosing. Despite the unfairness of apartheid. The racial hatred that permeated the social discourse. And the exclusion. Mr Booysen came from a well known family in the community.
It is said he left a comfortable home and 9-5 job to live an itinerant life. He drank a lot. But he never troubled anybody. Chappies was the same. Keeping to himself and doing the things of his choosing within the strictures of the times. I am grateful to have known them both.
Poverty is a social construct. At least, that’s what I believe anyway. People who are poor, don’t know they are poor. They live on the very edge. Slaying real life dragons every day. Crossing a busy highway to gather some wood. Dying by the hand of a policeman. Sometimes suffering by the same hand. Because this is what life is.
Have you ever experienced hunger. I have. It’s a horrible feeling. As a result, I have taken certain actions in my life to ensure that I never feel that feeling ever again. But what if you find yourself living in an informal settlement on the banks of a river. Certainly, no one can claim to have forced anyone else to live in this way. Force is a crime.
Of course, there are historical factors which make it more likely that one will end up in abject poverty. But the history books are replete with rags to riches stories. Tales of people who took themselves out of their birthright, who challenged the very status quo.
The other day, driving to work, I hastily shut my window as a beggar approached. He wasn’t wearing a mask and he certainly wasn’t practising social distancing. It seems like he simply adapted to the changing circumstances. Like the homeless people who “escaped” a lockdown shelter.
One woman left the shelter after becoming a rape victim. Her chances are probably better on her own. Force is a crime. Her story reminds me of this. It makes me question the concept of virginity and the heavy load we force our young women to bear. If everyone was as consumed with living, as they are with power, the world would be a better place.
Meanwhile, the beggar is continuing to live his life of lack, entirely of his own choosing. Likewise, I choose not to participate in the pity party. Life is about choices. I choose to be happy. I have carefully selected the humans I wish to share it with.
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