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RICH? POOR? POOR! – THE (SOUTH) AFRICAN CONDITION

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UNDERSTANDING (SOUTH) AFRICAN INTER-PERSONAL POWER RELATIONS DYNAMICS, Part 1

©Simon Chilembo, 2013

In India I met a 16 year-old boy. Full of life. Looking very fit and healthy. Strong. Centre of attraction. My kinda youngster. After out-dancing him at a wedding party of a mutual friend, he kept asking, “WHO is this old guy? WHERE is he from? WHAT does he do?” I was 42 years old then. My own queries led me to know that the boy was the youngest member of a large family. Despite his very strong presence and all, he was semi-literate. How come? He doesn’t go to school. How so? He doesn’t want to; he prefers to spend his days in the gym, and he trains a lot of Karate too. Maybe you should talk to him, Simon. Sure!
“I have never seen the point of wasting my time going to school because I’ll never suffer even if I don’t become a Doctor. My family is extremely wealthy, you see. As things are already, I own more than half of the vast family estate. But I’m not entitled to use it now, until a certain age. When you come back my uncle will build you a Karate school, and I’ll tell you more things. …”
I never went back.

In South Africa, at my mother’s once vibrant shebeen at our second township home, Bronville, Welkom, a drunken loser kind of guy drinking a bottle of beer he had scrounged off some other guys earlier on lectures me, “You kaffirs come to our township here, open a shebeen, make a lot of money, and think you are hot. Shit you! Let me tell you something you don’t know, perhaps: You kaffirs will never be whites. Us coloureds are the white people of this country. And besides, my big brother in Upington is far richer than you people here. He has a fleet of taxis, bottle stores, farms, and a diamond mine. You guys are fuck’ol, you see? And they say you are from overseas. Bullshit, no kaffir can afford to holiday overseas. Only my big brother …” This is in 1996.

I necessarily had to be very hard on Luigi because he remains the most truant child ever to train Karate with me in Oslo. 11 years old when by the third year his unbecoming behaviour was so extreme I had to expel him from the club, a first and last in my 35 years of Karate teaching. One day, not long before the expulsion, after the family had been away on holiday in Tunisia, the boy comes to me and addresses me in a tone of voice and attitude that much reminded me of the extremely rude coloured guy mentioned above, “Now, you, Simon, you know, my cousin in Tunisia is a world champion in Karate! What do you say now, hah?”
I said, “But I don’t care about your cousin. I don’t know him. I don’t work with him. I care about, and relate myself only to you. What world champion are you then, Luigi? Will you ever be champion of anything?”

A German lady friend of mine, Angela, tells me that on her thirteenth birthday she asked her father to buy her a Vespa scooter for her next birthday. No problem! Big Daddy congratulated Daddy’s Girl on being smart by planning things well ahead of time. Perfect situation to go 50-50 on this. And it was very important for Angela to understand that the scooter will be hers and hers alone, and by virtue of that, she is herself going to be responsible not only for the safety of the machine, but its maintenance as well. If she agrees to these terms, then deal. Deal! “But, to be honest, I don’t have money of my own to make my 50%, Daddy. Will you give the money then?”
Big Daddy, “NO!”
Angela, “Where will I get the money then?”
Big Daddy, “Work for it!”
Angela, “Work? What??? I don’t understand …” Angela’s total confusion and subsequent outrage were as a result of her knowledge that her family was so wealthy her father could “… afford to buy a whole country in Africa!” and yet the man didn’t want to buy her a cheap scooter! What is this?
“Can I work for you then, Daddy?
Big Daddy, “Find your own job!!!”

One year later Angela was a proud owner of a Vespa. 30 years later, the scooter is still standing in one of her family garages in Stuttgart. One of her most prized possessions, she tells me.

TO BE CONTINUED …

 

Simon Chilembo
Oslo
Norway
Tel.: +47 97000488/ +27 717 454 115 (South Africa)
June 28, 2013

 

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