South Africa has the ability to arouse pride but it can also make one hate it with a passion.
Though few and far between, there have been times when I have been in enough of a rage to say that I hate this place.
Only to myself, of course. I fraternise in circles that pride themselves on defending a culture of defending our culture as South Africans. And I find that, at best, we are a cantankerous bunch, perpetually cynical but not prepared to take substantial action against the subjects of our anguish. Take me, for example. The precise moment when I mentally uttered the words ‘I fucking hate this country” was after I had got off the phone with the umpteenth employee of a cellular-network service provider that had exposed me to the depth of the level of incompetence in its airconditioned, security-guarded, fluorescent-lit office park.
I was crying when I got off the phone with the man, threatening that I would write a letter to implicate him. Yet I did not. All I could say was: ‘Do you take no pride in your work? Do you not want to apply yourself to this role?” All he could do was to start each sentence with “Unfortunately, ma’am”.
My anger stems from what I perceive to be a complete lack of pride in employment, something that is far too commonplace in a country with such a high unemployment rate.
In the shops, post offices, hospitals, banks and police stations we frequent I find in the altogether sloth-like disposition a complete lack of a sense of pride. There is a slow, heavy shuffling, the sound of people dragging their feet while talking endlessly to their colleagues and simultaneously filling in forms. I have watched with interest the desperation in a sick woman’s face while nurses talked about her in a language she did not understand.
One hears heated radio debates and read article upon article about an imminent youth revolt because of unemployment. I read these articles, scouring for a voice that is out of tune with the others, a voice that admits what is really happening out there. From what I see, it does not look as though people really want jobs, or at least the jobs they have.
I empathise with the hardship of unemployment, but I do not feel sorry for everybody who does not have a job. After all, some call it ‘funemployment”.
My empathy is reduced by a general attitude of ‘somebody else has failed to give us jobs’‘. I live to see the day when somebody will hand me a job. Jobs may be the means to meals, but they are not meals in themselves.
On Monday morning I saw a child begging in Rosebank. He must have been between 10 and 12 years old. Tears rushing down his face, he was demanding attention from a woman in her car. She did not want to give him anything, but she reluctantly handed him some coins. He walked to the next car to perform again. It was heartbreaking to watch. All I could think was: here is a perfect example of somebody applying skill and knowledge to a situation. It is working. He is working.