It has been impossible not to be affected by, or notice the outcry over the news of a four-year-old child killed in the most gruesome manner during a car hijacking. There is no shortage of these stories in our country. They continue to shock and torture our collective conscience.
As I listened to demands for the death sentence to be returned by listeners calling in to radio stations, or the outrage on social media, I wondered if we aren’t getting tired yet. One abiding question is, what kind of human being does this sort of thing? What kind of savage drags a child to their death just to profit?
Did they steal the car to assuage hunger, or to buy the latest in branded clothes, expensive whisky or just support a girlfriend’s hair habit? And of what significant difference is it what they did it for?
We live in a deeply materially aspirational society. Brands have never been more important in our daily life. We see it in the much-reported trend of izikhothane. What of news reports of government officials buying top- of-the-range cars with public money, adding the finest gadgets?
What of publicly financed celebrations featuring international celebrities on display and with an unlimited flow of branded champagne and spirits? What of television shows with the sole purpose of showcasing the fabulous lives and material possessions of the rich and famous?
Take a drive down our highways and under those glowing gantries, there are huge cars with even larger tyres, rushing past flat bright ones with even louder engines alongside crowded mini bus taxis.
We are a people of things and we like to show them off. See our social media, from Twitter to Instagram – saturated with pictures of the things we own, drink, smoke and eat.
Is it strange or natural? Probably not. Merely a signal that the free economy of a free country and people has multiplied since the dawn of democracy, creating unprecedented wealth. Those of us who are educated have seen our incomes multiply, pulling with us our families out of poverty and out of our small township houses.
Within that remarkable wealth creation and asset accumulation are an astounding millions og unemployed, with a further many millions discouraged and thus no longer even looking for work. Of our young people who are under the age of 35, nearly ten million are not economically active and likely unemployable.
The growing and wealth-creating economy has left these millions of our energetic and aspirational young people outside – unemployed and unemployable. I wanted to imagine for a moment what that must do to their psyche as they watch our world of things and their aspirations – unreachable. Would it not turn them to savages who drag children behind cars?
In his well-known speech, “I Am An African”, former president Thabo Mbeki spoke of his countrymen in all their variety. “Perhaps the worst among these, who are my people, are those who have learnt to kill for a wage. To these the extent of death is directly proportional to their personal welfare.”
He made that speech at a seminal moment at the dawn of our democracy. All these years later, those who kill for a wage have grown in numbers; opportunities have waned while aspirations have escalated.
If you ever find yourself in Alex on a cold Saturday morning, you may be interested to look up at the skyline as you wait for warm amagwinya prepared in oil boiled on a paraffin cooker. If you look in the right direction, you will see the glare of Sandton’s fancy and modern buildings. Take a look again at your immediate surroundings, and you may be given to wonder what if this was IT for you.
There are children who live in and are going to school in Tembisa, a few minutes on the other side of the highway, who have never been to Sandton. Perhaps that is a wonderful thing, for they will never see our life and the things we accumulate daily.
What is their hope for a better tomorrow? What is their hope for a proper wage in formal and dignified work? What can they hope for to accumulate what they see on television without the savagery we so condemn? DM
Xhanti Payi is a writer short of a few best selling books and a Nobel Prize. He works as an economist, researcher and advisor to various institutions. A staunch believer in clever blacks and would-be clever blacks short of opportunity. Proper pronunciation of the click is optional.