I was parking the car the other day in the swanky neighbourhood next to the university ( there is no parking nearer to campus where I do not get a parking ticket, so into suburbia we go). When I got out to grab my bag from the boot, there was a black gentleman in his 50s, impeccably dressed and looking very much like someone one would like to share a whisky with. He handed me the note in the photograph and asked if I did not have any work for him.
Situations like these make me feel completely out of place. He called me "missis" ( for non-South Africans, this is similar to "madam". I think it is a sign of respect, but in my mind is more associated with the apartheid "master/madam" oppressive form than something one would say out of a general sense of social order). Missis is bad to me. I am no one's master. Call me miss, if you have to. Or just "you". I am a lot younger, a lot less experienced in the world, I should be the one of lesser rank.
I promised that I would pass his info onto someone if I would hear of someone who needed work done. And walked away. He continued up the road, which is lined with arches of old trees and enormous mansions, behind whose high gates expensive German cars gleam in the sunlight. I wonder how that must feel: being desperate for work, wandering a rich suburb where the inhabitants probably earn more in a year than you would in a lifetime.
When I got home, I read the note, and again was saddened. Why? The spelling. It is my belief that a good education, where traditional knowledge is not forced down on students, but rather where the environment is one which acknowledges different forms of learning and knowing, could change the world. And here, I blame my ancestors. If they had not been so blind and full of hatred, if they had not separated people on account of skin colour, many of the older generation could have had their minds unlocked to a fascinating world where your own thoughts matter as much as those you read in books and newspapers.
If previous generations would already have had access to a good education, perhaps the youth of today would be able to value it more. At university, I see many people who just expect their parents or the government to pay for their studies, even if they do not attend class and fail subjects. It is a privilege to learn. It is a blessing to be able to sit in classes and be taught to think for yourself.
So when I see this man, struggling to find basic manual labour in an area where money seems to grow on trees, it bothers me. When I see his terrible spelling, while he is walking through an area where a university, a primary school and numerous high schools are situated, it bothers me. When I then see students not valuing the education they are receiving, it infuriates me.
It is easy to judge the previous generations for their errors, because one tells oneself one would not have stood for injustice. One tells oneself that one would have fought for equality. One tells oneself that one could never have just accepted a black and white world instead of seeing colour. But I don't know. Depending on the ideology I was raised with and whether I would accept or reject it, I don't know if I could've been a apartheid-supporter or protester.
But I can judge the youth of now, the decisions of now, the government of now. I am not saying South Africa is going under or we are becoming like Zimbabwe or whatever, but I am saying that young people need to get their act together. They need to demand knowledge. They need to stop supporting idiots like Malema and burning down buses and classrooms. You cannot advance a society through violence and ignorance. Accept that there is much to learn, from everyone. Everyone is an expert in some region. I know language. I know music videos. But I need to call my grandmother to make jam, or ask the gardener where would the basil-plant grow best ( well, my gran with her green thumb knows that as well).
All I am saying is respect everyone you meet. Even Malema. Know that they are not stupid, they are not less than you. Know that you need to open your mind and take responsibility for your own future.