When I was young I used to love playing that ‘Join the dots’ game where one drew a line from 1 to 2 to 3 (you get the picture) until you could see the form of a dog or yacht or something equally simple. I loved that game. I have been thinking about it a lot lately.
I have struggled, during this past traumatic six weeks of our country’s history, with the absolute disconnect of many wealthy South Africans from some of the ‘whys’ of what we have seen. People express outrage at the terrible things that happen to women and sigh at the violent behaviour of the young men who raped and killed Annene Booysen, for example. Rightly so! We shake our heads as if we cannot imagine how that could be. “Savages” some cry.
And then we go back to our tea and pay the person who works in our home, who is a mother, or the man who works in our garden, who is a father, such a small wage – that there is no way they could afford proper child-care for the children they are raising, as if their children don’t matter as much as ours. As if we have nothing do to with it? Many men and women in the poorer working class are being paid just enough to buy food and electricity, and pay transport for themselves and their immediate family and others who they support. Transport costs are high, largely due to the criminal geographic moves the previous regime made, placing black and coloured people out of town and far from the suburbs.
Having the courage to see one’s self as part of a ‘why’ is pretty daunting, which is why most look outward in shock and horror … commiserate or complain about the perpetrators of violence and anti-social behaviour, and then continue treating some people around them as second-class citizens of the planet. I have seen people demean people who are working for them, sometimes politely and benignly, yet dangerously. I have seen how a table has treated someone serving them at a restaurant, making them feel smaller than they already do – forgetting that the man they are disrespecting is a father of a child as valuable as their own. I have heard story after story of someone working a full week for a meagre wage, not being able to afford proper childcare due to just having enough to pay for food and transport.
It seems many resourced or privileged South Africans are not joining the dots, or the ones they are joining, are not in order.
So we play our own little games in the corner of the page, wondering why our picture does not fit with what we are seeing (or trying not to see) in the world around us. It is simple – if I am paying someone who works for me little money for many hours, I am one of the many ‘whys’ of our country’s anti-social broken behaviour.
I know that ‘joining the dots’ will not change everything overnight, but at least it will help us be honest and see some of what the real picture truly looks like. And then we can choose whether to be a part of drawing a new picture …or not. But at least the choice will be made from a place of intelligent honesty, seeing and knowing that how we live affects the way others live … or die.