​My friend, the Trustafarian

Robert Kiyosaki launched himself on to my bookshelf in ’97 with Rich Dad, Poor Dad, a book aimed at helping me address my issues with money.

The writer posited that I was responsible for all my current money problems and cited my upbringing and my parents’ attitude to money as the radicle of all my future money problems.

Kiyosaki positioned himself as the beacon one should aspire to; he drew comparisons with personal experience and used various examples from his circle of friends and family.

I was an immediate convert. I would adjust my learned behaviour and set myself up for future prosperity using his recipe for wealth generation.

Forgive me this transgression. I was young and our democracy was still getting its diapers changed while peddling the rainbow nation as the opiate of the day. I, like many others of my generation, had every reason to believe I was responsible for my grey-listed indigent status.

Reading Kiyosaki, I forgot the school lunch box, the socioeconomic equaliser that never fails. I forgot that as I munched through peanut butter sandwiches my white peers were enjoying choice hard cheeses and greens that would never feature in my domestic refrigerator. I forgot the difference in post-holiday compositions that featured my friends holidaying in homes reserved for just that purpose versus my tours of rural relatives’ homes.

It would be in my late 20s that I would finally see the landmines that such bargain-box philosophy plants for those of us who are taught that money is a shared thing.

I’m in a bar, mid-month and as broke as Whitney Houston on loop singing: “I have nothing, nothing, nothing.” I share the gif with a friend and we laugh. I have paid for the round and will pay for the next. My friend is also broke and I’m taking care of this because, well, that’s what you do. Right?

Going out when you’re broke means disclosing your status to those who have invited you so that they have the choice of whether to carry you or wait until you’re fluid again. This I learned from my mother, who would advance neighbours cash in the middle of the month so they could buy this or that or a bus ticket and it would take them through to payday.

I was taught to “carry” those of my friends who couldn’t carry themselves through to the next bank notification. It’s a system that keeps us all afloat.

Now I have never had my friend buy me a drink, but this means nothing because my friend is not newly broke, he’s broke all the time; you just have to look at him to know this.

Where I buy pairs of shoes to match outfits and have some variety in my wardrobe, my friend has a standard uniform with a single pair of shoes and manages without much effort to look as poor as he makes out. This is not a guy whose girlfriends visit some of the restaurants I treat myself to come month end.

I should feel somewhat superior to my chronically broke friend, but I can’t. He drives a humble Citi Golf but I still sit 4/4, he has a credit card and I don’t have that line of credit. I’m still buying Klippies and Coke in twos because, you know, we must “carry” each other.

What I haven’t mentioned is the racial difference here, but you must have already sniffed at it. Like coming to the realisation that Kiyosaki is a dick, it would take almost a decade for me to realise that my friend was hustling, that he was of a different pocket class and knew better than to announce it.

Where I was taught to share what little I had with others, my friend was taught to camouflage his wealth, to dress it down and aim for a township aesthetic to provide further proof of his poverty. Where I am educating my little brother, my friend gets emails from his family convincing him to take a break abroad, get himself together. He’ll return with little news of the trip, he’ll come back broke. I’ll buy the Klippies.

Am I still at the bar? No. I’ve moved, so has my friend. It’s been three years since we last sat together, three years almost to the day that I discovered he had a property two hours out of the city, with mountain trails and a small river running through it.

I discovered he owns his flat in the city. Unlike me, he’s not renting. He has savings from his first job and retrenchment to him means he can take his package and establish a surfboard company with his brother. He still looks poor, he still counts his change at the till, he still rolls his own cigarettes and still asks that we all chip in for petrol.

I should be angry with him, angry at the façade and the way he masquerades as a poor person when only one of us was paying back NFSAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) loans and propping up family members back home. I should be pissed off that where he could have gone halvies with me on bad brandy, he sat and watched me “carry” him although he wanted for nothing.

I’m not angry though and to be honest when I first found out I’d been hustled nganxapha bra, I mean, what’s the appropriate response? I realised that white folk treat money and resources differently to black folk. Where black people have collectives, white people have patents.

It would be negligent to look at our different attitudes to money without giving history a visit. I thought of all the men in my friend’s family, his ancestors who never required anything higher than a matric to ascend the corporate ladder. And I contemplated my own ancestors, who would need far more than that to be greeted as men.

I saw that the subjugation of my people afforded him this position and that he understood his comfort to be evidence of past crimes. The black collective is a survivalist necessity where the white patent is a residual of supreme privilege.

I believe our friendship could have survived our economic disparities had my friend not forced me to “carry” him as my ancestors once carried his.

And yes, Kiyosaki is a douche. No amount of financial tutoring can correct the imbalances created by a dehumanising regime; to place that responsibility on me, and others of my ilk, is unconscionable to say the least.

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