Little Zaid spent Eid morning with The Times, trying to wrap his tongue around the new president’s name, giving his burgeoning reading skills a fair go.-Kgalema- He tries, ‘kir-jaarmela…’- And his face lights up- ‘JAMEELA!- The new president has a girl’s name!’ Aamena, meanwhile a bundle of energy keen on four wardrobe changes thoughtfully asks, ‘So because Ramadan is over all the devils are now free?’ She’s caught me off guard, I think for a moment and then say, ‘Yes…’ ‘Oh dammit!’ she says crossly and before I can reprimand her colourful language, walks away in a huff.
Eid started off a halcyon day- the obligatory biennial hugs, the tables teeming with all things yum, the peroxided hair lapping up the attention its bearers so desperately craved, the kids hounding after anybody with a wallet, and generally a good time was had by all-until we got to the highway and were quickly reminded that the rest of the country was not sharing in our indelible cheer. Ultimately, crawling along to Pretoria in rush-hour traffic did not a merry family make.
At granddad’s house much, much later that evening, I watched the small battalion of Malawian domestic workers scurrying among us. Something about their presence reminded of the sheep-like herding of home-bound expatriates I saw at the airport in Manama, Bahrain as a thirteen-year old. The sight then detracted my thoughts from pining for my fist class seat to Karachi long enough to consider that there was something terribly wrong, something entirely untoward about herding people as though they were animals. Watching the Malawian workers on Eid night, it struck me anew that ours is indeed the most unequal society in the world and the very presence of these workers in our homes is borne of the unrelenting slant toward cushioning our lives above the masses.
Earlier that day the last of the remaining shelters for victims of the xenophobic violence was closed. A provincial government official, talking on Talk Radio 702 (a perennial companion through traffic), intimated that the shelters had been taken advantage of- He explained that some who were employed, owned their own cars and had access to other accommodation continued to use the shelters these past few weeks slurping up the handouts. At the height of the cruel Cape winter, parcels of food, clothing and blankets donated to the refugees by the local government had been found in rubbish heaps. ‘We want the UN,’ was the cry from one passionate Somali voice-‘And free passage to Europe,’ added one disillusioned observer.
The raison d’etre of Safiyyah’s recent guest, a sociologist-cum-security guard comes to mind: “I am here to understand the construction workers, because like everyone else they too, have dreams and aspirations, and I need to know why they come here, so I know how to help them.”
A 702 reporter talking from one of the defunct refugee camps described how some who, despite financial assistance from the provincial government, obstinately refused to vacate the area, and were intent on spending the night beneath stars- the men, sitting in groups drinking beer and the women getting fires stated to cook.
The only people I ever heard talk about my Lady Poverty
were rich people, or people who imagined themselves rich.
Saint Francis himself was a rich and spoiled young man.
Being born among the working people
I know that poverty is a hard old hag,
and a monster, when you’re pinched for actual necessities.
And whoever says she isn’t, is a liar.
I don’t want to be poor, it means I am pinched.
But neither do I want to be rich.
When I look at this pine-tree near the sea,
that grows out of rock, and plumes forth, plumes forth,
I see it has natural abundance.
With its roots it has a grand grip on its daily bread,
and its plumes look like green cups held up to the sun and air
and full of wine.
I want to be like that, to have a natural abundance
and plume forth, and be splendid.