Dead beat Dads and poverty

I keep getting told how advantaged I was by Apartheid. As a white male I suffer from privilege and how good it is to be a white male. I figured it made sense to tell my tale so that this one sided story could be seen to be the bs it is.

I was born in 1965 four years after the Republiek was born in a hospital in a dorp called Nelspruit. The hospital was 2 years old and was to gain great prominence as a tropical disease centre. Much great work was done at the Rob Ferreira hospital in the 70's and the 80's . Today it is yet another hospital with poor management and over worked doctors, students and nurses not getting backup.

The joke is that people were healed there before it became a butchery. This is a problem because in this country mediocrity is celebrated, corruption is strived for and unions have more power than business owners.

This story is not about crime, corruption and stupidity, but about white privilege, so let me continue. My Dad was not what you would call a pillar of the community, He was a seeker for something he never found. In the first 5 years of my life I lived in 27 towns, that doesn't include the moves in the towns, Dad went to prison when I was 5 and life became more stable, I only lived in 9 towns in the next 8 years.

Dad came into my life erratically over the next 15 years, in fact right till the day he died. He would disappear for years at a time. Every time we saw him he had a different wife, and eventually he had some step daughters. In all the years he never paid the maintenance he owed Mom.

My Mom was always looking to find the best way to make a living and this meant moving after the jobs. I recall a time my Mom worked 3 jobs to cover the rent and expenses. Mom grew more and more bitter as the years passed by.

My Primary school career started in Durban, continued in Johannesburg, then Mariental, then Okahandja and finished in Kempton Park. The longest time I spent in a single school was from Standard 3 – Standard 5.

High School started in Kempton Park, then Nelspruit and finally Edenvale. I don't remember much about these schools but know I spent about 6 years in various boarding schools. 

Mom met a man called Jurie in Marienthal and we moved to Kempton Park. Jurie ended his life bleeding in a doorway after stabbing himself in the heart.

A few years later Mom met Chris. Chris was beloved and was the reason I did not finish High school in a hostel. He bought a house for us. It was the first time in my life that we actually had a home that we were not just going to move out of. Chris bought the House in August and died of a cerebral bleed that Christmas.

The next two years were tough, Mom worked three jobs to make ends meet, but the ends were never that close that we had money for luxuries, In fact some essentials were damn nigh impossible. I was always in trouble at school because my hair was too long, my school shoes were not correct.

I was always the odd kid out because everyone was going to the movies, buying a chelsea bun and a coolie at the tuck shop. Pocket money was not something I ever saw, going to bed with a full stomach was about where the budget ended.

I am not telling this tale for sympathy. My life was not one of privilege at all.

Breakfast was not something we did in our home. If you wanted something it would be a slice of bread with jam, grabbed as you were running for the school bus. I know this sounds privileged to kids who had even less. Living in a 2 bedroomed flat with 3 others seems like heaven to those in shacks and mud huts. In my world there were only a few kids that lived in the flats, most of my pals had houses with pools. When I spent the night there and we had rice krispies or similar for breakfast

I always had seconds. To me that was a treat. Coco pops and I would be tempted to scoff the whole box but knew that Mom would beat the snot out of me if she found out.

Other kids had nannies, we had my brothers and I. We came home from school to an apricot or mixed jam sandwich (this was before the days of sliced bread) cleaned the house, did the dishes and other chores like mowing the lawn. 35 years later and I still won't buy Apricot or Mixed fruit jam, When I get to my local spar and they have garnished my favourite treat, cream donuts with apricot jam, I give them a miss.

When I was 14 I pushed trolleys at the local hyper store to make a few cents to buy a coolie and a pie. Sometimes I made enough to treat myself with a packet of Simba chips or a bar one.

My first bicycle was one that I built with spare parts I scrounged from the local dump. Pushing trolleys allowed me to buy brake pads and tubes.

When I turned 16 I got a part time job at Checkers as a cashier. I was punch drunk because suddenly I could afford a pie and a coke every time I worked. Later that year I got offered a job in a workshop on Saturdays and Sundays. I think I made something like R 20.00 a week for those two days. I was positively Rich.

They asked me to work on a Monday once and I bunked School for the first time. I ended up bunking 40 days in 3 months because of that job. I had been working for 4 weeks solid before Mom found out. The School called her to ask where I was.

I got expelled for refusing to apologise and refusing the cuts. I lost my job because Mom bitched at the boss.

A friend told me they were looking for appies at a local business. I got the job and started working. I had been 16 for 3 months. Half my wages went to Mom for boarding. My brothers followed my example and dropped out of school as soon as they could because I bought a motorbike, had loads of cash for luxuries like chocolates, Coolies and pies.

1 year later I was in the military to learn about the swart gevaar and the rooi gevaar. I was never convinced because the only black people I had ever met were my friends nannies and they seemed cool to me. If I asked they always organised me a coolie.

At 17 I was oblivious to the situation in the country. I had never considered myself privileged. I knew we were poor. Maybe not that absolute poverty I was unaware of at the time, but I was definitely the kid that had less than everyone around them

It is now almost 36 years since I started my first job. My fortunes have changed many times in those years. At one time I was a millionaire, a fat cat that could afford the nicer things in life but never bought them because I was too frightened to live. I was too frightened to spend the money because it could disappear faster than it came. My fear of loss caused me to lose it all.

Poverty is not pleasurable. Trust me I have been at both ends of the scale. I have eaten stale bread toasted over an open fire for weeks on end because paying for electricity was impossible. I have been evicted from my home. I have done menial jobs like gardening, scraping barnacles off the bottom of a yacht, washing cars and more. I was even a milk delivery man for a period.

The one thing poverty has taught me is that when there is no other alternative, a solution will be found.

I have twice started a business with nothing. The first time my wife was 6 months pregnant, I had been working for someone that failed to pay me for 3 months, I tried to recover the money via the CCMA but farm labourers had no protection. Somehow the employer convinced the CCMA to classify a carpenter as a farm labourer.

We were living in someone's back room. I walked miles to my first quote, convinced them to give me a deposit, bought materials and the absolutely essential tools to do the job.

When I completed that job, I bought a motorbike, a real heap of junk that started and ran, but just. I did another 3 jobs and then bought a VW beetle. I often wanted to give up, but there were no options. I had a baby to feed. That business grew to have 13 employees, before I shut it down and emigrated after a hijacking.

I started my current business 2 years ago, after losing everything trying to keep a business afloat. I saw the writing on the wall when my business was subjected to the ire of one of those holier than thou types. He approached all of my clients and advised them of my religious beliefs. I fought on determinedly but we never recovered.

My current business is at the juncture where I can start to expand. I am however after all my previous experience loath to employ. I am d that current labour regulations and the unions can put me in the same situation as a friend of mine. He is the figurehead of the business, The unions actually control his output and labour force. He cannot sack them for fear of more strikes, His earnings have decreased year on year.

Should I hire those that will cause this same state of affairs in my business that I have built with the sweat of my brow, the aching back and with no help from anyone? The other day I spoke to someone, He said Thanks be to God for your progress and I corrected him. God did not help me move tons of wood around my workshop, he did not help me sandpaper all the stuff I made. Why would I thank him?

My white privilege has not been apparent, nor has it made my life easier.  

Andre Wagener 2014-08-18 09:08:20 PM
Some history. Hang in there Boet and don't let anyone tell you what to do or think. They aren't qualified.
Hugo Diedericks 2014-08-18 09:13:42 PM
Best of luck! The fallacy of white privilege needs to be exposed... It's akin to saying all blacks are the same as these new BEE tenderpreneurs.... Merit and merit only should be the criteria if SA was to become great.... The alternative is mediocrity ..... That's way I left and took my kids to the US.... Kids born after 94 were told they did not qualify because of their skin colour? How stupid!
forest gump 2014-08-18 09:20:41 PM
awesome read
Nichola Smith 2014-08-18 09:42:13 PM
Oh, how normal you make me feel. Had a few chuckles. I'm female and born the same year as you. I went to 8 different schools and moved 21 times before I was 18. I went to a school in Delmas, Springs, Benoni, Boksberg, Kimberley ... some were boarding school. My stories make Spud look dull. I am also not godfearing but an animal loving, wine drinking atheist and wouldn't want it any other way. ;)
Colleen 2014-08-19 12:19:12 AM
Well said Godless! You speak for many white South Africans who lived in this country before ANC rule. No one acknowledges the poor whites who have always existed [still do!] and the fact that very many received no privilege or advantage as whites under Nationalist rule.
Thomas Freeman 2014-08-19 07:39:34 AM
Thank you for your story i.m sure it has been a blessing to many as it was to me. You are discussing life and life is hard if you are not born wealthy. Black and white suffer the same. Today it pays to be a preacher man, a (mis)ruling party politician and have tender approval connections. With all business it is dog eat dog and shark eat shark. And in SA it is particularly difficult because we are drowning in a sea of poverty and the big spenders are few and far between. You have faced life heads on, well done, most collapse into Jesus loves me and cares for me dream world and become slaves of superstition where all will be told us in the sweet bye and bye. Keep your chin up and i like cindy and hossains advice don't take things personally and i would add too seriously either.
Hennie van Deventer 2014-08-19 08:51:06 AM
If all else fails, you can always go and work for N24 as a columnist. I enjoy your writing style. Much better than most journo's on this site. It is a gift to keep the reader's attention to read all you wrote and not just scan through the text. I think most South Africans can associate with your experiences. @ Mabaso - we were all bound by those laws. You were restricted to where you lived and so were we.
Robert Sidney 2014-08-19 10:24:17 AM
On a lighter note: should you say "coolie", lol? Sorry, didn't grow up in your world, but just for my information, am I right to think of a "coolie" as a cool drink? I just want to make sure. Fantastic story man. Quite inspiring and honest. And I tend to agree with @Cindy & Michael Hossain: you should keep your beliefs out of your business.
Thanda 2014-08-19 10:25:58 AM
I wonder where my comment went. I certainly did not delete it.
Hennie de Ruyter 2014-08-19 11:05:55 AM
My grandmother had 12 children of which 7 never made it to adulthood. My mother told me of her first Coke once. She described it the way people would describe their first flight. It was in 1947 just after 3 pm in Orkney. My grandfather worked all over: he chopped trees in the Knysna forest (where he had to bury two of his small children in an unmarked grave), drove a truck between the DRC and SA in days where the tar ended 40km north of Pretoria and ended as a mine worker. There was no shoes for kids, very little warm clothing and often no enough food. But this was a generation before ours... Very well told and all the best.