Tag Archives: culture

Field Notes: Massingir PNL

In ethnographic study one of the main challenges is for the researcher to deal with his or her bias. From metanarratives to small daily events, one has to recognise and reflect on issues that can inform one’s observation and analysis. When someone says that bad behaviour occurs because people were messed up mentally through slavery, I immediately have to recognise that the irritation I feel is really a fear of guilt and a protest in what I deem to be reasonable resistance against cheap excuses. When I don’t sleep more than two hours at a time for three night running due to rats eating our stuff, I have to recognise that my view on the Park and it’s management will be influenced.

Below follows me dumping my observations and some emotions, it is not refined, it does not reflect my well considered opinion or stance, it is just a dump of things I see and things I’m tempted to think. I think I will start my reflections on lighter issues and get progressively deeper, so herewith a few observations:

Anecdote 1: One of the PNL workers, the person doing receipts and bookings asked me to give him boerewors when I passed through before my wedding. I obliged and gave him Woolies Grabouw worth R100. I left it for him. He never sent me a message or email to thank me. I then got a message from Doc saying the guy liked the boerewors and wants more. What Doc didn’t tell me is he said he wanted R200 worth and will pay me. Nevertheless, in Phalabhorwa I made effort to go to a good butchery and I bought the guy a small pack of boerewors. When we were seated at a restaurant on Sunday evening, he showed up and before greeting and chit chatting immediately asked where his wors were. When we gave him the wors he loudly threw a tantrum going on that it is too small and an insult. He wanted to pay, and this small ‘gift’ looks like a bribe he said. He wouldn’t take it, a gift offered freely and which took effort to bring from South Africa. In which culture would such behaviour be polite? No thank-you, no grace, no calm explanation. For someone with a small admin job his ego is out of control. His admin by the way is also shocking and unprofessional. Imagine this guy had a big job or leadership position… That by the way also happens more regularly than not. I asked his colleague why this guy has not been fired, to which he replied ‘witchcraft (drogas) is real’.

Anecdote 2: The manager of community affairs gave me a speech about communication, by which she really means reporting for the sake of control and showing off. Everyone wants to look good with their bosses. I pushed back on the issue emphasising the youths needs freedom to ensure ownership, she didn’t budge but danced around with words. Yet, when she and her colleague took our leader and leather products to an event in Zimbabwe, they did not bother to inform Doc or I; neither before nor after the event. Surely communication is a two-way street? If it aint, it’s called reporting.

Anecdote 3: Doc played in a top4 football final. He was a stand-out player doing well. Because he passed the ball on the floor (which is good) and did not just kick it forward in the air (like the majority of players on the field) the spectators commented that the ‘ball is too heavy for Doc’ and that the spirits surrounded him so that his team mates won’t understand his intentions. Before the game, as is common here, the coach wanted to give Doc salt to put in his socks for ‘protection’ for neutralising the ‘magic’ muti the other team put against them. I was not shocked at all, this is normative.

Anecdote 4: This area has a massive poaching problem. Killing a big rhino bull and selling it’s horn gets a group about R5m from the Chinese who want their own horns enhanced. The discrepancy in cash is staggering. The army and police are severely under-resourced, getting R2k salary a month you have to fight and risk against poachers who are themselves armed… The police end up asking transport from the poachers they are supposed to catch, like the grey Toyota double cab this morning. The policeman climbed out and asked me ‘onde esta minha coisa’ where is my thing, meaning, buy me a gift. A begging culture created by a sense of poverty. There can be no poverty without wealth and here the wealth is introduced by Chinese people who want rhino-horn. With each cash injection the community gets poorer, the good guys get poorer and the appeal of education, hard work and patience lose its value. The money is literally killing the community. The poachers get shot and the ones that get away kills the life and integrity of their villages. Crime cash can never bring true wealth; but it can buy cars and beer.

Anecdote 5: Speaking to the adult group of football players involved in the leather project, we spoke for more than an hour about the challenges of making a table. 15 minutes was used to discuss and conclude that the table would definitely be stolen, so it was not worth it. Government gave solar lights and a water pump and someone stole it. The whole town knows who did it, but nobody says anything. Now people walk 3 km to fetch water, because of one selfish stupid who stole the town’s pump. At night it is dark. Nobody replaced the lights or pump, the stolen vandalised installations stand there as monuments; of a thief and a communal culture that wont take charge of their communal good. Fear, hierarchy (chiefs) and witchcraft inform a culture that seeks non-confrontation over all else.

Anecdote 6: The main section of the table discussion centred around the notion that if it was build and left on the veranda, people would shit on it. Initially I smiled and thought it was a joke or metaphor, but each individual went on to confirm that a human being would actually climb on it and shit on it; it happens. Perhaps kids? No, adults. In the end the conclusion was that a cement table had to be built and it needed to belong to one person, a respected (feared) poacher. If government builds it or if it belongs to the community, shitting and theft is fair play. But if it belongs to an individual people will be too scared to touch it. Talk about tragedy of the commons.

Anecdote 7: Next up: water was needed for a building project. At first the young men simply said it was to far to carry. Even with the user-friendly hippo roller drum. Then the road was to bad for the drum to roll. Fetching water was impossible. Eventually, the point was made: we can’t fetch the water, it is the women’s job. Not that they were embarrassed or lazy, the women would be angry. So then surely one should ask them to carry the water for the building? Nope, they could never do that to them and burden them with such extra tasks… What to make of this? Perhaps the importance of repetitive ingrained culture and rhythms that provide a sense of security and order. If one aspect of daily culture could be contravened, what is to say all order would not be eroded. Maintaining the status quo is more attractive than disruptive pioneering. Kind of obvious who will stay behind in a globally competitive economy.

Anecdote 8: Kids here hear the word voetsek more than any other words. Nobody is friendly with the kids, nobody playes with them or asks them how they are, never mind asking them their opinion. The adults are embarrassed by the dirty little kids, perhaps they mirror the poverty in an embarrassingly real way. The go to job for villagers is seasonal orange picking in Tzaneen. Bottom of the food chain; unless you take out a rhino or elephant. There are no girls sports, no boys training football in the afternoon. The majority of the towns are unemployed and no one is taking time to occupy and develop the kids. Why? Yet the ‘cool’ men sit and drink every day. On a Monday morning, on a Sunday afternoon. Drinking and playing gambling games… Talking about what? Gossiping, talking badly about others literally takes half the time. Complex analysis of why this one or that one’s behaviour is out of order and wrong. Explaining why another person is actually bad or unfair. I know everyone gossips, but when gossips become the reinforcement of fear and paralysis it becomes something different than when two successful people gossip about each other.

Anecdote 9: The brightest young girl we took to SA last year now left school. Ten guesses why? A boyfriend. We know her father and I wondered why he would allow that? Not in the name of love, the guy that took (grab) her owns a small tuckshop in the village, which allowed him to buy a small car. A car worth $500 and a tuckshop made of mud, is all that was need to take the best and most promising young girl. She was not taken to be the wife, but the girlfriend, who would become the second wife. Shock and horror? Not so much, for her dad owns a small car and transport business, bringing supplies from South Africa. His house is the size of a South African RDP. This wealth allowed him to have three wives. So the promising young girl already has a father who is husband to three. Before the enlightened academics in fancy universities give me a speech about respecting all cultures and the traditional right and beauty of polygamy, I would just like to know, here in this village, how does it impact on this girl, her development and her future? The same happened again and again in Manica, the more a project developed a young female leader, the more attractive she became for a local man to make her pregnant (typical) or take her as a wife (best case). Should one invest in girls in such a culture? How should one confront the men? Can it change? Will it change? What I learn is that making comparisons of wealth between cultures and countries or races is a disingenuous and erroneous game played by elites for political sympathy in the public domain. If one really cared about equality and human rights, leaders should have been breaking their heads trying to crack the real issues of jealousy, witchcraft, fear and patriarchy.

Anecdote 10: A community and park leader told me he is tired of drinking. Too much 2M does not help. He will not give his life to beer. He would rather give his life for women. You must just not get caught by your wife. At least by ‘playing’ with girls, one day when you die and God asks you why, you can say to him that he made you for this, he gave you a penis and desires to do these things. But if you drank your life away, you would have no answer to God, because God made alcohol for us just to take a bit so we can deal better with life’s challenges. Again, fun for the man, where does it leave our sisters and mothers? Or are they okay with the gifts of clothes, one litre liquid-fruit or little material ‘thank you’ gifts?

Anecdote 11: Where I sit and type, I have small pleasures: little birds chirping and making the odd appearance, a fish eagle instead of a rooster greeting us in the mornings and sitting around a fire at night. Small instances of solace in nature. I never thought such small simplicities could be life-lines for my mental sanity. They are not ‘nice to have’s’ but necessities.

Our Common Goal

“Now it is our contention that true democracy can be established in South Africa and on the continent as a whole, only when white supremacy has been destroyed.”  –  Robert M Sobukwe (2010:23)

This call from the Seventies should still be our rallying cry today. Not to say we have not made radical progress, but the call to end white supremacy is still a helpful one. White supremacy, or so-called white supremacy looked different in the seventies where whites literally ran everything, had all and exclusive access and where black people were exploited and humiliated. White supremacy, or so-called white supremacy lingers on today, stubbornly in the minds of South Africans, both white and black. This is our joint disease that affects our national health. Back then the supremacy was justified by so-called biological differences, a nonsense that has been mostly debunked.

The two notions that still plague us are, the idea of cultural superiority and the idea that material wealth and education is linked to intrinsic qualities. You just need to look at a useless corrupt fat cat today, driving a Bentley and realise that theft buys fancy suits and expensive whiskey. It is not classy, it is material profanity built on theft. When the spoilt little kids of this fat cat goes to expensive private schools, how dare they look down on and make fun of struggling kids from hard-working honest parents?

In my description of an exploitative class in the paragraph above, did you imagine a white or a black person? The answer is very important. Whichever picture you had in your head, might point you to your blind spot, whereby you need to learn to see the other side.

Today, for someone living in a shack, notions of white supremacy are real when every day, you walk past a white family in a Prado, going on holiday, getting Christmas gifts, practicing public speaking, discussing books. White wealth is a legacy of white privilege which is a legacy of white oppression and exploitation. Privilege allows certain cultures to develop and flourish. Privilege allows certain cultures to be trampled on and deteriorate. This applies to ethnic cultures, but also the specific culture in a home or in a neighbourhood. Kids growing up surrounded by gangs, surrounded by rapes or violence, they grow up in a new culture. Hatred can infiltrate any culture and hurt can become a culture of rebellion. Culture is not about cutlery and clothing; it is about shared values. Shared values and ethics that put you on a productive and developmental path is a privilege.

Sobukwe speaks of the myth of race that is used to build a myth of cultural superiority linked to colour. Nobody can deny that in todays world certain cultural traits will help members of a clan and certain cultural traits will disadvantage members of a clan; any clan. I hold that our culture should serve us and we should not serve our culture. We live in radically changing times, our groups are not geographically isolated any longer and that which used to make a sub-grouping of humans stronger and safe can today make a sub grouping stupid and dangerous. We need to change.

Our most pressing challenge is that of moving away from race, moving away from ethnicity; towards a shared humanity. This is not contradictory, as long as the notions are prioritised. Sub cultures can be used in service of a unified culture. Tribes can use their tribal heritage to serve the common good. A practical example can be the coming together of Afrikaners in a church with the vision and calling to eradicate white supremacy. That will have two legs, one being the extension of opportunity to blacks and the other being the deconstruction of internal and habitual stupidities that perpetuate racism. A black man or women who becomes successful through excellence and goodness should be top priority and something whites cherish. It would be a privilege to be part of such stories.

A tricky question in the discussion on dismantling white supremacy is that of white suffering. In theory nobody should suffer. In reality, in an equal South Africa, white poverty has to grow. That will be normal and even healthy. Whites should live in shacks, as long as blacks are living in shacks. White people passionate about uplifting ‘their own’ in a context of exploitative racial oppression need to do very serious soul searching. Let blacks look after poor whites. We have a historical burden, we have restitution as prerequisite for reconciliation; or at least the two needs to be implemented in unison.

Whites and blacks need to go about dismantling so called white supremacy in two different ways. Im not going to be PC and Im not going to be rude, but every honest South African knows that blacks and whites have different nuances and narrative we need to voice and advocate in order for our country to be equal and free. Democracy is impossible without the dismantling of so-called white supremacy- it is our call in this day and age to fight towards this same, unifying goal.

It can only be achieved if we work together. Other countries have shown that it is not something that is automatically fixed over time. We need a concerted effort, a brave leadership and a sacrificial life-style in order to be counter cultural and show the world that indeed we belong firstly to a human race.

To give up, is to have failed.

To give up is to have caused the thing you were supposed to fight.