If my heart hurts watching a stray dog but remains unmoved seeing a poor woman scavenging through my rubbish bin, I lost the capacity to value our shared humanness and I need help to repair the human connection:
To appreciate the beauty of our souls
The generosity in our hearts
And show grace which comes from service
Thursdays are rubbish pick up day in my neighbourhood. From early on, poor people move through the streets canvassing rubbish bins that have been rolled out to the street. Some bounty hunters have organised pick up points where they wait for small trucks to fetch them and their bulging bags of discarded goods. While I admire their industriousness, I also feel very sad.
These are the throwaways of white people who may even feel good about having ‘given back’, their conscience assuaged while many eye the trophy hunters uncomfortably from behind their window curtains. It must startle some, I hope watching this manifestation of the proverbial ‘trickle down’ economic model, so often used as justification of our macro-economic system.
This experience brought back memories of a discussion with Julia and Leigh-Ann some years ago, which still occupies me today. Both young women were struggling to find financing for their quest to reach the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens as the first South African, women beach volleyball team.
During our meeting we discussed how to apply a forthcoming donation to the livelihood support of each in a fair fashion. Leigh Ann argued for equal share by both after I had proposed to distribute funds relative to covering each current monthly cost of living. ‘This is unacceptable’’, Leigh Ann said, because it repeats apartheid ideology’.
She then offered the following example to illustrate her point. “Imagine a big piece of land being offered as upgrade of lifestyle to a diverse group of people. Each candidate would have their current living standards upgraded by a fixed percentage. So, Julia, who lives in an up market rental apartment with her husband, would get a spacious town house and I, who lives I a township dwelling, would get an RDP house. This approach, which is ‘trickle down’ economy changes none of the apartheid induced hierarchical modes of inequality’.
Together we decided that Julia and Leigh Ann would each get an equal share of the finances made available. They will one day share their stories of how they both managed and how they made it to the Olympics.
Reverting back to Thursday morning in my neighbourhood, Leigh Ann’s argument reverberated. Rubbish entrepreneurs, demonstrating impressive proficiency were at the same time accepting throw a ways by white people as treasures and as standards for quality of life. That thought was very disquieting and as so often during similar experiences of the impact of apartheid, made me question my inherited values and belief system and propel me to further engage in transformative action.