White tears: The most valuable currency

I was a waitress for 10 years. As a student, I waitressed on and off to pay expenses and, as an adult, I waitressed full-time in the United Kingdom for a while to live.

I wasn’t a very good waitress, mainly because I hated having to be fake-nice to horrible people.

For six years I served at a five-star hotel in Cape Town and I would estimate that 80% of the guests I came into contact with were some of the most unpleasant individuals I have ever encountered.

The majority were rich white British people, who had cottoned on to the fact that they could stay at a luxury hotel for two months at a time and pay less than it would cost to drive the Bentley around London over the same period.

Their bills would often amount to several hundred thousand rand, and it was common for them not to tip a cent. One woman used to tip me exclusively in copies of magazines that she’d already read.

Even though our basic salaries were low, I wouldn’t have minded the meagre tips so much if the guests hadn’t been so satanic to us. “Why are you so stupid?” I remember one millionaire spitting in my face, as I tried to explain that the kitchen had run out of saffron lobster or something.

A coloured colleague of mine was informed by another guest that she should find alternative employment as a sex worker.

These kinds of extremely personal and undeserved insults were run-of-the-mill. We all cried a lot, including the male waiters.

I vowed at the time that I would never treat service staff with anything less than respect and empathy. If anything, I now err on the opposite side of things: I will smilingly accept incorrect food orders, for instance, and leave an extravagant tip for an uneaten meal. I should develop some self-respect, but I still have waitering post-traumatic stress disorder.

And so it was that I read about the #RhodesMustFall waitress furore with some ambivalence.


As the story was relayed on Facebook, two black members of the #RhodesMustFall movement wrote in the gratuity section of a bill that their white waitress would receive a tip when she returned their land.

She responded with tears; they expressed glee. Cue a social media campaign that had, at the time of writing, raised R140 000 in compensatory tips for the waitress.

The RMFers’ jibe at the waitress’s expense was silly and mean. It would be one thing if she was an heiress of the Ruperts, or a white family member of Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti.

As it is, 24-year-old Ashleigh Schultz is clearly someone with no influence over national land policy.

She was serving #RhodesMustFall leaders Wandile Dlamini and Ntokozo Qwabe, and in that situation the power is skewed in favour of the patrons rather than the waitress.

Not to tip someone serving you food is – with apologies to our more lexically sensitive readers – a dick move. To accompany not tipping with a political wisecrack is still a dick move.

My waitressing days are still raw enough for me to feel sorry for Schultz, though I would argue that it is more upsetting to have someone detail your stupidity to your face than to have someone write a piece of political commentary on a bill.

But the fact that R100 000 could be collected in a few days to make up for a white waitress being spurned by a black patron is obscene.

Despite what organisers may claim, this can no longer be ­celebrated as an outpouring of kindness. This is a message from white people to black people: we still have the financial muscle to show you who’s boss.

There were no crowdfunding drives to raise money for Cynthia Joni, the middle-aged domestic worker beaten up by a white man in Kenilworth because he believed she was a prostitute.

I didn’t see any for Muhammed Makungwa, the Malawian gardener sjambokked on his way to work in Rondebosch. I must have missed one for taxi driver Michelle Nomgcana, urinated on from the balcony of Tiger Tiger nightclub.

I know what the response to this will be: anyone can start a crowdfunding campaign. That’s not true.

You have to move in a world where online crowdfunding drives are a thing. You have to be able to appeal to people with a disposable income – ideally, a personal network. Most likely, you have to frame your bid in fluent English.

And it helps if you have a platform on which you can advertise your petition – such as the podcast on Cliff Central, which hosted the fundraising for Schultz. (That’s the same podcast, by the way, that claims “feminism is cancer”.)

A minority of the country meets these criteria. And if that minority chooses to exercise its kindness so selectively, what is it saying to the rest? At the least, that some people deserve kindness a lot more than others.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

Two dead in new ANC KwaZulu-Natal killings

A Mtubatuba councillor and a Hammarsdale ANC Youth League leader were shot yesterday near their homes

Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Engineering slips out of gear at varsity

Walter Sisulu University wants to reprioritise R178-million that it stands to give back to treasury after failing to spend it
Advertising

Press Releases

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations

Senwes launches Agri Value Chain Food Umbrella

South African farmers can now help to feed the needy by donating part of their bumper maize crop to delivery number 418668

Ethics and internal financial controls add value to the public sector

National treasury is rolling out accounting technician training programmes to upskill those who work in its finance units in public sector accounting principles