Johannesburg - 20th September 2018 - Day 3

There are 4.9 million whites and 58 million black people living in South Africa, and I am told that 50% of the black population are under 35 years old.  The unemployment rate is currently 27% and what was once considered standard for all whites, today ‘household help’ is becoming a luxury for many whites. To keep this beautiful place so beautifully maintained requires a team of people, and Cindy is able to provide work for Aclas, Blessmore, Stephen, Peter and her wonderful housekeeper, Lucia.  She is 49 years old and the mother of five children; it takes her an hour to get to work here each day, via taxi.  She is a hard working woman, who runs this house with a meticulous attention to detail, and works from 8.30 - 2.30 pm.  The average wage for this role is R50 an hour, and at the current rate of exchange, that equates to Aus $5 per hour. Her husband is a chef and works seven days a week. 

Cindy has an important presentation to deliver today, and en route, she drops Gerald and I at the Design Centre, where we meet our old friend Stephen at  Lupa’s for lunch.  The hake and chips I order is over cooked and oily, and Gerald is unable to eat his hamburger, which is deducted from the bill.  The two men spend the afternoon driving thorough Sandton, where Gerald’s brother once owned a home, which sold for R4.5 M.  It was subdivided, and in its place today, stand two homes, each valued at R45 M.  Stephen is married to one of my oldest friends from childhood in Chingola, a generous, thoughtful man, and a straight talking realist, who says he wishes for his children that they become ‘internationalists’ who “come home to visit - like you two do”.  When I ask him later how their afternoon was, he says “Gerald will tell you I spent the day whining about South Africa.”  But the truth is, this man opens his heart and tells the truth, he doesn’t attempt, as many other white South Africans do, to justify their existence and gild the lily. 

Whilst Gerald is being entertained by informed by Stephen, I spend two hours in a beautifully appointed day spa, having a mediocre massage and facial.  Both therapists are charming black women, but both require further training, the treatment verges on rough and ready rather than relaxing and rejuvenating, and ends with me in tears, when I cannot find my rings I have left in the locker. I’m hyper-ventilating, chanting “My Mothers rings!  My Mother’s rings!”, and I have two helpful staff attending to me, reassuring me before I find them, tucked into a small plastic bag.  I apologise profusely, embarrassed at my emotional response, but the irony is not lost on me, that I automatically assumed they had been stolen, simply because I am here in South Africa. 

Stephen and Gerald arrive and he kindly drives us, a long way out of his way, back home to Cindy.    She arrives an hour later, after a very demanding afternoon, and prepares a delicious meal of fillet steak and vegetables.  Ryan joins us and shares his second day at his new job, at 23, he is confident that he understands the business although has not yet felt the need to add his own ideas in the meetings he has attended, and can foresee that shortly, he will hold the position of Marketing Manager.  Ryan has never had a job before as here in South Africa, white kids do not flip burgers, wash cars, or deliver newspapers through high school and university, as these jobs are for the ‘unskilled’ workers.  It’s an insight into the culture of the country, a nod to ‘entitlement’, that a young man who has never managed anything, who has never even had a job before, at such a young age, believes he is sufficiently skilled to be a Marketing Manager.  I struggle in my desire to encourage his dreams versus pointing out the pitfalls, that believing oneself ready for such a position would be an unrealistic expectation in any other country I can think of, but here, privilege, power and white skin still count, and can open doors for those who are well connected.

Although more sparkling water than wine is consumed, it’s a robust discussion, and everyone has a point of view, although nobody is really listening to anyone else, and there is a lot of laughter, particularly around my Australian pronunciation of the word ‘project’, as in pro-ject not proh-ject.  I’m worried about this young man, bu uncertain if I can contribute anything to him, whether he is even interested, but I tell him I am available for coaching.  At first he’s not too keen, but his mother urges him on, and he suggests Saturday morning.   Maybe? 

It’s bed time

Sandra Groom1 Comment