A National Emergency?

IMG_3095 - CopyThere has been much interest in what happens after our time in Mamelodi. What are we going to do? What are we going to change? How are we going to make a difference?

For Ena and I, Mamelodi for a Month has always been about a journey and not a destination. It has been about creating a conversation rather than creating action.It has been about changing ourselves, not others.

In some ways, this frees us from the responsibility of having to start something, build something or create something. But we will forever be burdened by knowing that if we sleep in a warm bed, millions won’t.  When we go to our jobs, millions don’t. When our kids go to good schools, millions can’t.

This is no longer an academic concept for us. It is a real experience. I will forever be haunted by the wasted potential of the army of jobless in Mamelodi I meet on a daily basis. They should be welders, salespeople, accountants, teachers and so much more.

Are we really “Born to Suffer” as we saw graffitied on a nearby shack or are “Friends Few When Days are Dark” that was painted on another?

The problems with places like the Mamelodis of South Africa are too complex for any individual to influence. There are too many glass ceilings at play. Too many pieces of string to unravel. Sure, if an Early Childhood Development centre was started, that would be great, but what of the low quality schooling thereafter. What about the lack of electricity to study at night, what about the high rates of drug addiction and alcoholism that pull families apart. What about the exorbitant cost of transportation on the family budget. Even if all of these were addressed, where are all the jobs to strive for in the first place.

Surely this should be a collective National Emergency. We seem to have national key points around far more peripheral things. Do we want to have collective conversations that change contexts or are we happy for the context to define us.

If we sit back, can we really expect a mythical hero-leader to stand up and and rescue us from futures that increasing look like Nationalisation or Higher Tax Burdens to share the wealth around? How do we build stronger bridges rather than higher walls?

There is only so much we as a family can do. However, if this month of ours can inspire other people to be more proactive with the people their lives intersect with, surely more can come from it than just waiting for politicians to rise to an increasing loud call for action?


  1. John says:

    Wow, I have been folling this block for weeks and has created such an interesting conversations in the office. I love everything about the blog and how it is written. I am inspired by your actions and experiences. The most important thing that we should learn from this is never to loose HOPE! People are really having a tough time out there. Hope will never die and we should not let it. Only when we inspire others to dream for a better tomorrow shall we oneday get there. Yes it seems far fetched, but what kind of nation will we be if we have no hope for a better tomorrow? I would like to believe that “HOPE” is what gets many people amongst communities like Mamelodi up in the morning. It is what motivates them to work hard,put food on the table and pay for schooling they can not afford.

    The complexities faced by many communities, and the survival thereof should be a testement of the resiliance of South Africans. Poverty and hardship affects us all regardless of where we live. I am hoping that your experience will shed light to many that are more fortunate. Buy “fortunate”, I am refering to all of us that are reading these blogs and those that can make a diference! Again i am refering to all of us… Lets support oneanother where we can, lets share what we can and the little we have, lets encourage where we can and lets speak up where we can.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. Your family and the lives of people you are touching are in my prayers and many people out there.

    One small thing a day will go a long way if we all do it together…

    Thank you!

  2. JR says:


    This Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.

    Bullshit. That’s only to cover the rich fat asses in government. Throughout the history of SA there was a HUGE concern about the human rights of people living here, and how these rights were violated. And now ? In the “new” SA ? The ANC “fought” for these human right violations to end, but did it end ? There’s more human rights violations now than ever before.

  3. David says:

    @JR “There’s more human rights violations now than ever before.”

    Wow – I can only assume you didn’t live through Apartheid. I did. Trust me, there were far more human rights violations back then. Of course that doesn’t excuse it. Yes, there are plenty of ongoing human rights violations, let’s try tackle them, but let’s be honest about it.

    “I will forever be haunted by the wasted potential of the army of jobless in Mamelodi I meet on a daily basis. They should be welders, salespeople, accountants, teachers and so much more.”

    Exactly. How does one unlock this potential? The answer is more liberty. You talk about the negative effects of the cost of transport – BUT one of the reasons why jobs are further than they need to be from where people live, is zoning laws, that violate human rights, forcing travel distances that shouldn’t necessarily be there. Weaken zoning laws, and jobs can move closer to homes (e.g. if it could become legal for people to run small businesses from their shacks or nearby their shacks, that would encourage people to start trading services and learn entrepreneurial skills). Unpopular one, but weakening minimum wage laws for small/micro businesses would help too – e.g. a small spaza shop owner could legally hire someone at a lower cost than they can do now, whereas previously the spaza shop might rather just shut down, now it could stay open and create a job. Lower costs of production would feed into lower costs of products and lower inflation and therefore start improving everyone’s quality of life.

    Then, another unpopular point, but I think we should consider giving out more state-owned land to the previously disadvantaged. No, not selling it to the highest corporate bidder to raise quick cash to pay bonuses to middle class government employees (like DA sold prime public land to SANRAL).

    Another problem is that RDP housing conditions are way too limiting – e.g. RDP home recipients are ridiculously expected to live in the house and not rent it out. This restriction means that an RDP home owner (unlike other home owners) is forced to either live somewhere where there are no jobs, or let the house stand empty and live where there is a job. No, they should have all the rights of any other home owner! they should be allowed to rent out their homes, they in turn could live closer to where they can find employment.

  4. David says:

    “zoning laws … violate human rights … forcing travel distances that shouldn’t necessarily be there”

    Example: Without zoning laws, if I lived in a shack, I could (say) sit and make and sell things like pap, bread, sandwiches whatever and sell them to passersby. In the evening I just sleep right there, because I’m already home. No travel costs. Zoning laws violate the human right to do this – instead I am forced to travel many km’s each day, to go work elsewhere.

    Speaking of making bread, we have ridiculous laws that make it virtually illegal for a small spaza shop owner to even make bread. That is absurd. Get rid of our restrictive ‘bread laws’ and anybody could make a living selling bread. Get rid of the collusion, get rid of the subsidies that benefit the corporates and it would equalize opportunities for township micro-entrepreneurs.

  5. David says:

    Another human rights violation is that sex work is illegal. Decriminalize it, and it would create more opportunities for poor people to earn a living. Also, it would mean wasting less taxpayer money on policing this, instead and jailing sex workers, taxpayer money that is saved could instead be used for other productive things (like nutritional food programs for public schools), or spent on going after REAL crime like theft/murder.

  6. JR says:

    @David. Read your own words, understand what you wrote and it all adds up to: “There’s more human rights violations now than ever before.”

    In the Apartheids era these violations were against certain races – Now all living in SA experience human rights violations. Big difference isn’t it ?

  7. Mamo says:

    @JR Sooo, was it better that only some (read black) people got the short end of the stick? Things are not worse than before. We can all go to the same schools, we have the same set of opportunities and I must say the level of poverty seen in townships are the direct legacy of the injustices from before. So what are you saying?

  8. anonymous says:

    @ David: Without zoning laws, my neighbor could decide to start a tinsmith shop in his home and I’d have to put up with banging all day. How is this fair to me? I hear what you’re saying on lowering entry costs for start ups and it’s OK with me as long as start ups do not adversely affect their neighbors or the neighborhood. Clean start ups like software companies are ideal, but tinsmiths, pig farms, retail operations like cafes, no.

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