'A Life of Quiet Desperation'          - 23/9/2014      <--Prev : Next-->

'The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation' said Henry Thoreau and this is indeed true of Africa.
We were in Johannesburg recently where on a Thursday the trash trucks visit our area, and my heart breaks for my countrymen.

There are many different levels of desperation.... starting with the faceless shadows who search the weekly trash bins. Men in

rags, women with wee babes wrapped in tattered towels, dragging their pitiful treasures behind them in pathetic plastic bags.
The luckier ones manage to obtain a giant one-ton polypropylene sack, affixed to a makeshift trolley. Herein are carefully stored and scavenged, plastic bottles, bags and baubles worthy of recycling, a few cents here, a few rands there and also the possibility of finding a tasty snack discarded by a wealthy suburban Johannesburger.

I spoke at length with some of them, and nine out of ten were Zimbabwean, refugees from their own country and driven to this desperate state, the lowest of the low in a life too awful to even contemplate. They were not thieves or gangsters, just wretched starving men who had lost all hope of finding decent employment in an unfriendly land where unemployment is rampant, accommodation is at a premium and xenophobia is a way of life.

All of them eking out a hopeless existence, tramping the suburbs daily in their deplorably inadequate sandals manufactured from old rubber tyres and bits of wire.

Moving up a notch in the desperation stakes, I encounter the roadside vendors - that faceless plethora of folk who distribute pamphlets and sell beaded articles, mobile phone chargers, newspapers and license disc holders. Gutsy, indefatigable, brazen and annoying, they swarm like bees at each intersection, abjectly, despairingly flogging their miserable wares. Here too - the majority are Zimbabweans, attuned to every nuance and mood of the thousands of motorists who toss them off in utter disgust and loathing. 'Don't make eye contact' is the general rule of thumb, 'or you will never get rid of them'. 'Don't even open your window ' they say, 'they will rob you, rape you, murder you'

But I make a point of greeting them in the vernacular and they are always grateful for even the smallest kindness from their precious 'home'.

I then passed Ninth Avenue and Wilson Street, where it is well known that Zimbabwean workers wait patiently for odd jobs as builders, painters, garden workers, welders and plumbers. With the word that spreads quickly via the garden grapevine, the more affluent folk have come to learn that honest and willing Zimbabweans, wait on these corners for lowly paid odd jobs.

Here the mood is more upbeat, the workers are better dressed, the wait is still agonizing and interminable, but they are a patient people and willing to at least work at whatever transpires, rather than turn to a life of crime.

A thumbs up from a makiwa in a car with a Zimbo registration is small comfort but always brings a multitude of enthusiastic greetings and waves!!

One day....one day.... I pray to God, that things will be different for all those benighted wonderful folk living out their lives so far from home in 'Quiet Desperation.'