23 December 2011

Johannesburg 2011

I haven't spent time in Johannesburg since I was a small child and my maternal grandparents lived near Zoo Lake in the 1970's. So this last seven days was a revelation. I already knew that the city had sprawled across the grasslands, so that Gauteng is city and suburb from edge to edge. I was prepared for the disappearance of the  the charming 50's one acre spreads of my memory. I expected the crowded two-storey complexes, with those odd concrete window reveals that signify 'Tuscan' style in South Africa and nowhere else. But I did not anticipate how the people who live in multimillion rand mansions in Sandton scurry between their gated complexes and the shopping malls in their late model Range Rovers. Nor how they seem to be oblivious to their fear being related to how horrible many are to the little people who eke out a living serving them.

It's not that hard people. We are all human. We all calibrate our happiness and expectations by the society around us. We resent huge differences in privilege. We group ourselves into easily recognisable groups, form tribes, and make war at every perceived slight.

But we all melt at the smallest kindness. Do you want to be in the Asshole Tribe when the hungry and angry finally lose it?

Be selfish, because that is innate in every organism. But be kind when it doesn't cost you much, because that is  human, and will save us all.

A disclaimer, in case my lovely hosts think this diatribe is aimed at them. The ugliness of that little world was all the more obvious because the home I was staying in was a haven to where some of the complex staff felt comfortable enough to discuss the casual nastiness handed out in the course of their employ. And lest anyone think it's only the rich and the wealthy who are horrid, I heard some horrific stories of corruption targeting the poorest of the poor by public services employees too.

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