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Greedy Jozi must lighten up

Having lived in Johannesburg for five years, I generally find that people from Jo’burg have a different mentality to those who are not. What I actually mean to say is that I find it easier to place my trust in somebody who is not from Johannesburg.

More often than not, I am left with a feeling that however good the interaction is between me and an indigenous Jo’burger, it is always laced with a sense of moral disparity between what I’m giving and what I get in return. Simply put, I feel as though there is no interaction that is not aimed at leading to a profit being made by one or all parties concerned. Fair assessment? Perhaps not of ­everyone.

I was in Pennington recently, a small and beautiful beach town an hour south of Durban. People in that part of the world can be irritatingly nice. I was reminded of just how depraved our relationship with money, service and kindness is when we offered to pay a man who had been sitting in a parking lot where we had parked our rental car at the beach. For some reason, the man — who looked as though he was guarding the cars and was clad in a nondescript yellow T-shirt that I assumed was a reflective vest — refused payment and instead told me and my Jo’burg contingent to go well. We were stunned, but pleased that we did not have to part with our money. That would never happen in Jo’burg; it is inconceivable, given the history of how the city came to be.

One cannot expect much more from a place that was built on the greedy principles of “come one, come all: plunder, pillage, take and stake your claim”. It bred a culture of taking as much as you can, at any cost.

I was shocked to discover that the boys who stand on street corners and collect garbage from motorists do it in exchange for money. I truly thought they did it to recycle. Or that the trolley pushers and parking attendants at Makro both expect to get a tip. Or that if you are always friendly to a security guard in your complex, he thinks he has the right to lend R1 000 from you.

Or that you must be grateful that a Metro cop did not ask for a bribe.

I understand that it’s a dog-eat-dog city and money makes it spin, but what about the value of helping others because it’s a good thing to do? It seems to have petered out with each importunate buck that was made.

That said, I will always defend Jo’burg. I don’t know why, because it is unpleasant to be relentlessly doing a “mirror, mirror, blind spot” check for takers of every kind. It’s like the childish love you have for an obese relative — you want them to be healthy, but you like going to their house because you know there will be sweets there.

But perhaps it is time to outgrow such a mentality.

It is reflective of an era that eschewed kindness as a currency. Having mined all the rewards from the earth of this great city, isn’t it time we start trading in a more abundant currency?

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Milisuthando Bongela
Milisuthando Bongela is the Mail & Guardians arts and culture editor. She is a multi award-winning writer, blogger and collaborator. She has experience in the arts having worked in fashion, music, art and film as well as a decade-long career in consulting, entrepreneurship, blogging and cultural activism. She is also directing a documentary about hair and black identity, a film she calls the report card on the rainbow nation project.

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