I have been in South Africa now for a couple of months. Each morning we pile into ‘charity’ our beat up old car, and head 6 minutes down the road to the Fusion Centre. I’ll explain why we don’t walk another time….. maybe! On the way to work though, we go through three cross roads with traffic lights. Two of these are the ‘work place’ for people who scrape together a living by selling newspapers, handing out fliers or just begging from the drivers of vehicles waiting at the red lights. We have got to know some of them and if its safe we’ll stop and give a couple of apples and hear how they are. But here’s the thing that strikes me, these guys regularly walk between lanes of fast moving traffic putting their lives at risk in the face of oncoming traffic, and its OK by everyone.
There’s another bunch of men, three groups in fact, that sit on the edge of the road, waiting for building contractors to come along and hire them for the day, the week, two weeks. Its been special to sit with Derrick over the last few weeks and hear his heart for his country and how through his own Garden Centre business he is wanting to make a difference in his country by working to a new set of values. He made a comment last week that has haunted me ever since. Regarding the guys waiting for work on the street curbs, they get picked up and taken to the building site, and are treated like dirt. The industry relies on their labour, its cheaper to hire casual staff than to employ staff on a permanent basis. The men need the work and they put up with the abuse because they know that they are only there for a few days.
How much is a life worth? I went to collect two of our Day Trip team from the other side of Cape Town yesterday in Charity; I have a hunch that in the UK I would have been pulled over and at least fined because the risk to those in the car and other vehicles would be deemed unacceptable. How much is a life worth when it is OK for the poor to stand in the face of on coming traffic to sell a bag of fruit, or for 5 year olds to run begging between cars pulling away at the traffic lights? or for those who cant afford other transport to pile into the back of an old, open backed truck that is driven at high speed regardless?
Some say, yes but this is Africa, its normal you just have to get used to it. I know from my travels that it isn’t just Africa, its South America and India, Asia and even its parts of Europe. In fact, you don’t have to look very far at all to find that a type of apartheid exists in our communities, in that based on accident of birth worth is attributed to life and society marks out the ‘worthies’ and the ‘not worthies’. And God forbid I ever get used to it, because its not OK.