I had just finished my exams and I was on the bus traveling back home; and as I was looking out the window, I caught a glimpse of a small township uncomfortably congested with tiny one-to-two-bedroomed homes. It is there that it dawned upon me: this is the reality of many black South Africans. With just a few years left to finish my degree, I was forced to ask myself, “How will I use my education to improve the lives of my black people?”
I am terrified that our society becoming highly westernized, and capitalist ideas taking precedence over our day to day interactions, is ultimately taking away from our fundamental nature of “botho” or “ubuntu” as black people. We are losing our human face and looking out for our own needs, while neglecting the needs of our fellow black brothers and sisters. We are drifting further away from the principle that our grandparents taught us, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” It seems as though that when we get to the top, we forget the townships and rural areas that we grew up in; we forget that someone had to sweat and bleed—sacrificing their own wellbeing so that we may get a good education and lead better lives than they did. It should not stop there, the fruits of our success should be shared with others. We need to go back to the communities that raised us up to become who we are today and sow back into them so that they too can experience a better life.
One of the things I loved about growing in the township and visiting the rurals is this: one never felt estranged (despite how poor your own family/household was) because you knew that your more able neighbours would always be ready to assist in whichever way that they can, without expecting anything in return. My neighbour giving my grandmother sugar to make tea for visitors was never seen as a “handout” or perceived as making my grandmother “too lazy to work for her own sugar”. However, this seems to be prevalent in many black middle-class circles, where giving assistance to ‘weaker’ or ‘less fortunate’ members in society is seen as a handout; and thus creating the classic notion of, ‘our people will never progress because they do not want to work for their own things’. And nothing could be further from the truth.
…with the success and privilege we earn as the educated, black middle-class, we prioritize its utilization for buying ourselves into whiteness, rather than buying our black people out of poverty…
I believe we use such statements to relegate and run away from the responsibility we have as a black community to uplift our own. There are many things we refer to as ‘unAfrican’; things like feminism, homosexuality, etc. But I beg to differ. I will tell you what is unAfrican…
What’s unAfrican is the black middle class believing that it’s not their duty to empower and uplift other struggling black individuals. As blacks, we are becoming more unAfrican by placing more importance on our own luxurious comfort rather than using our privilege and resources to uplift our communities. We aspire to use our newly gained wealth to buy your Louis Vuitton, Versace, D&G… basically anything that will make us resemble some form of whiteness. My heart beats in trepidation because it appears to me that with the success and privilege we earn as the educated, black middle-class, we prioritize its utilization for buying ourselves into whiteness, rather than buying our black people out of poverty and economic disempowerment.
Just because you suffered to get where you are, does that mean others must suffer as well to be where you are? Do we not better our lives so that those coming after us may not live to see the struggles that we faced? Do we not fight for freedom, not just so we can become free, but so that those coming after us may enjoy the fruits of freedom we never had and ultimately not have to experience the oppression that we once experienced? Therefore, as the black-middle class, do we not work tirelessly for our economic freedom so that many other black people may not struggle to obtain the fruits that we are trying to prune into fruition?
Our black communities need us. They look to us as the minority educated black people to be the ones who liberate them from the shackles of poverty and lack of empowerment. But how can we do that? How can we uplift the black communities that we come from if the moment we gain some form of privilege we run to your Sandton’s and Clifton’s, while forgetting about the Soweto’s and Mdantsane’s that we come from?
My challenge to every black person who is educated, and who is an entrepreneur, is: as we rise higher and higher in society may we not take the spotlight by ourselves; but may we take many more of our fellow brothers and sisters to the top, that they too can shine. Let us not forget that we too did not get where we are by ourselves, but someone decided to place our full weight on their shoulders so that we may get a better view. This is a challenge to us to become the black giants which many other black people will stand upon, and become greater than we were able to become. I desire that as black people, we may once more embody all that we were and still can be; and unite in making the black nation as glorious as it could ever be. Only we can save ourselves and become that which we long to become. However, each one of us will have to actively make it our mandate to contribute in tangible ways to the uplifting of our people.
Let us not be the generation of black people who are satisfied with a few of us getting a seat on the ‘white man’s table’ while the rest of our people still gather around on the floor of the same table, scuffling for crumbs.