I haven’t written a blog post in months. It is a space, for many personal reasons, that is no longer a good one for me. But today I felt the words calling at my brain in an uncomfortable and relentless way so I have come back to this space, to Megan’s Head, to vent, warn, share and explain what I am feeling, post-the-near-apocalypse.
I have always felt like we were teetering on the edge of what finally happened in KZN and Gauteng. To say I was waiting for it is a bit of a stretch, but I often let my mind go to where a person living in poverty, disillusioned with false promises, would see their last straw. I wondered often what it would take. I looked at my envy at my neighbour’s new car, and imagined the envy of the poor and disenfranchised, when they saw my clothes, or shoes, or car, or house. I know the disbelief when car park attendants ask me for money and I say, quite literally, “I don’t have change.” Let that sink in.
I shared the horror and fear and shock at the images of insanity, and violence and mob mentality that went on and on for a week. I was scared. I could hardly believe my eyes, The combination of planned disruption, opportunism, desperation, daring, and boiling over of resentment, rage, helplessness, disgust, self loathing, suspicion of law and law makers was a powerful and explosive poison. The lack of proper intelligence, state security, policing, and governance was blatant and painful. The cost has been immeasurably high.
And now, today and this week, come the mop up operations. And I see the warning signals with hideous Casandra like prophetic vision. There is an attempt to go back to before. The shared singing-while-we-sweep videos, the mom and pop teams handing out bread, the ‘give what we can’ social media campaigns are all jostling for prominence. Huge (brilliant, successful and totally needed) charity machines like The Gift of the Givers, and even the smaller ones getting nappies and formula and medicine to those in dire straits have jumped in to help in a powerful way.
But people cannot go back to what was before. With the levels of unemployment what they are, with children in poverty, with households not eating, with informal settlements flooded, with desperation a daily lived experience, the rainbowism of charity and its celebration is dangerous. It placates the middle class and privileged. It returns the status quo. Charity excuses the government in the moment. Charity is the shortest of short term solutions. Charity steps in where disaster management should. It is 67 minutes in a lifetime. It is a bandaid on cancer, it is a mask on a person sleeping in a gutter. It cannot and should not be celebrated. Those with privilege are desperate to share the ‘human story’ of goodwill, and yet these moments that are just human kindness really, and should be the absolute minimum response when things go badly for someone, cannot be relied on. They are not always.
So. We need a universal minimum wage. We need proper free education and healthcare. We need free or subsidised transport as long as people are still living in Apartheid townships and informal settlements. We need land appropriation without compensation. We need dignified housing. Until the system changes we are pissing in the wind, hitching the wrong way up a one way, and sleeping with one eye open, because there are always people with much less, who need more just to stay alive. I also have to say it, and it needs to be heard. White South Africans, stop being surprised. Of course the have-nots want what you have. Why shouldn’t they? Maybe it is time to stop flaunting. Maybe it is time to start sharing, in a real and meaningful way. Charity is not what I’m talking about.
As you were.