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.