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Thread: Trading Privilege for Privation, Family Hits a Nerve in South Africa

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    LB
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    Trading Privilege for Privation, Family Hits a Nerve in South Africa

    I was feeling pretty ambivalent as I read this article. Many are angry at these South Africans indulging in "Poverty Pornography" and others were impressed they want to experience what their fellow Africans go through on a daily basis - feeling their intention even if misguided is noble.

    For me, what kept coming to the forefront is that as a black person, I dont know what it means to be dirt poor or homeless etc etc. But I am still able to feel for those less fortunate than me. Do I need to go live in the streets for a week and eat out of garbage cans to feel sorrow for those who are poor?

    So why does anyone of any race need to go to this extreme "to get" how others are suffering.

    What say you?
    ~ If you make the mountain any bigger you wont be able to move it later

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    LB
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    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/16/wo....html?_r=2&hp&

    MAMELODI, South Africa — Regina Matshega was gossiping with a neighbor over a fence between their shacks in the Phomolong squatter camp last month when a very unexpected sight suddenly popped into view: two ruddy-cheeked white South Africans, a man and a woman, with two towheaded toddlers running at their heels.

    “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Ms. Matshega said. “What are white people doing here? They live in the rich places. They never come this side.”

    The white couple wandered over, past the gutter overflowing with raw sewage, to say hello. They introduced themselves as Julian and Ena Hewitt, a middle-class family that lives in a gated estate in Pretoria, just six miles away. They had moved into a 100-square-foot shack with no electricity or running water next to their part-time housekeeper, Leah Nkambule, to experience what life was like in an informal settlement.

    “They said they wanted to see how we are living,” Ms. Matshega said. “Can you imagine?”

    The Hewitts moved into the shack for the month of August as an experiment in radical empathy. Could a white middle-class South African family make it on $10 a day in the kind of living conditions that millions of black South Africans endure every day? “It is one thing to know from an academic perspective what divides us,” said Mr. Hewitt, who also blogged about the experience. “But what is it like to actually live it?”


    In most countries, a family slumming it for a month would hardly be news, but in South Africa, where deep racial divides strike at the core of the nation’s identity, the Hewitts’ experiment made headlines and spurred heated debate.

    They left behind in their comfortable suburban home everything but the barest necessities that people in squatter camps could afford. A few changes of clothes, a couple of pots, some blankets and thin mattresses were allowed. With no running water, tepid bucket baths replaced hot showers. Instead of flushing toilets, they shared a pit latrine with their neighbors. They also left behind their cars, taking local minibus taxis instead. Their children, Julia, 4, and Jessica, 2, even had to leave their toys behind. They were allowed one book to share.

    “Like so many people in South Africa, we live in a bubble,” said Ena Hewitt, a real estate agent. “We wanted to get outside that bubble.”

    But stepping outside the sharp lines that define South Africa, a nation that endured decades of repressive white minority rule that brutally enforced racial division, can be a tricky business on many levels, the Hewitts soon learned.



    Ena Hewitt on how the experience of living in the settlement affected her children.

    Some people, especially residents of Mamelodi, the township that includes the squatter camp, have applauded the Hewitts for putting aside the comforts of their own life to see how the other half — or in this case, much more than half — live.

    “I think it’s a wonderful thing,” said Vusi Mahlasela, a prominent South African musician who also lives in Mamelodi. “We all need to understand each other better.”

    But their experiment also poked at some of South Africa’s sorest spots. Were they white slum tourists who had come to gawk at black poverty? Was this simply a publicity stunt, aimed at getting a book or movie deal — or worse still, a reality television show?

    And even if their motives were noble, did they inadvertently confirm what many here suspect: black poverty gets little notice until a white person experiences and highlights it?

    Some critics took to Twitter with outright nasty, even violent responses."You know what? Hope the paraffin stove falls over and you people burn in that shack. Bye!” tweeted someone going by the handle @Keratilwe.


    Others were more measured in their critique.

    “One would think that after 20 years of a democracy underpinned on the idea of diversity and inclusion, white South Africans would know what would be meaningful ways to engage black South Africans,” said Sibusiso Tshabalala, a young black businessman who wrote an opinion article about the Hewitts in which he referred to their experiment in township living as “Survivor Mamelodi.”

    Busi Dlamini, executive director of Dignity International, a rights group, said that the Hewitts’ motives were clearly noble, but that their experiment in township living was bound to be fraught given the history of South Africa.

    “It is what I call poverty pornography,” Ms. Dlamini said. “They put themselves at the center of the narrative that reinforces the centrality of whiteness in South Africa.”

    Osiame Molefe, a writer who is working on a book about race relations in South Africa, wrote in an e-mail that “the Hewitts’ empathy project is a performance of the privilege of being relatively wealthy and white.” He added: “They have sought out, won and accepted sympathy and praise for living the hardships others experience daily without receiving the commensurate plaudits.”

    Indeed, few have wrestled with these questions as painfully as the Hewitts themselves.

    “Ena and I laugh about this,” Mr. Hewitt said. “We just landed upon this massive social schism in South Africa.”

    Asked why his family decided to move to a shack rather than following the more traditional route of building a school or a playground in a township, Mr. Hewitt replied: “It’s very simple. We’re doing it for ourselves. We’re doing it to change ourselves.”

    His parents had been horrified that he decided to bring their young granddaughters to live in a township. After all, the Hewitts lived in a gated community, the kind of place where the wealthy shield themselves from South Africa’s violent crime epidemic.

    But the couple insisted that their children should learn to cross South Africa’s ever-present boundaries of race and class.

    “People might say it is irresponsible to bring children,” Mr. Hewitt said. “But I would rather say it is irresponsible to raise children in this country who can’t cross boundaries.”


    By Lydia Polgreen
    Julian Hewitt on the social differences between living in the settlement and in the suburbs of Pretoria.
    Among the most immovable legacies of apartheid are the rigid geographic boundaries that separate the races. Far-flung, overcrowded townships like Mamelodi were the only urban places black people were permitted to live. Colored, or mixed race people, were restricted to their own areas, also on the periphery of cities. People of Asian descent were required to live in monoethnic suburbs as well. The nicest suburbs were for whites.

    While well-to-do black people have moved into formerly white suburbs since apartheid ended in 1994, whites have generally not reciprocated. Indeed, even poor whites have their own slums, far from black people.

    For all their irrepressible cheer, life in a shack was not easy for the Hewitts. August is the bitterest month of South Africa’s winter, and keeping warm in an uninsulated, thin-walled structure was impossible. They all slept on a pile of mattresses on the floor, fully clothed in multiple layers. Even so, in the first week the entire family had the flu.

    Keeping everyone clean without running water was a daily challenge. Ms. Hewitt, who has a washing machine at home, tried scrubbing the children’s clothes by hand, but she struggled with the task.

    “I put the girls’ clothes up on the line to dry, but my neighbors all laughed at me,” Ms. Hewitt said. “They said, ‘Those are still dirty!’ ”

    At home, the Hewitts use a gas stove that heats quickly at the flick of a wrist. In Mamelodi, the family relied on the same kind of smelly, balky paraffin cookstove their neighbors used.

    “A simple pasta that would take me 20 minutes at home took an hour and a half,” Ms. Hewitt said.

    But the biggest surprise was how expensive it was to move around. Commuting using the local transportation that most poor people rely on ate up almost half of the family’s $300 budget for the month.

    “It was really an eye-opener,” Mr. Hewitt said. “People need to realize that if they are paying minimum wage, a huge portion of that is going to transport.”

    But the Hewitts said they would miss many aspects of their time in the township, which ended on Aug. 30.


    Mr. Hewitt says goodbye to a neighbor in the settlement.
    “There is a real sense of community, where people rely on each other and take care of each other,” Ms. Hewitt said. “That is something that we don’t have enough of back home.”

    The couple said they planned to keep up with the new friends they made. On a recent evening, Mr. Hewitt made the six-mile drive from his hilltop house back to the squatter camp to go to a lively new church the family discovered while living there.
    ~ If you make the mountain any bigger you wont be able to move it later

  3. #3
    Girl Crush Mrs. Campbell's Avatar Mrs. Campbell is offline
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    I find it silly to do. Only people hear doing such is actors/actresses...they do it to prepare for a role.
    Our Queen went to sleep, her people left to weep....in song she lives on.



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    Insurgent Alpha Unit's Avatar Alpha Unit is offline
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    Dem is asshole. Yuh ha to be ah chef to tell when food doh taste good?
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    Registered User BacchanalDiva's Avatar BacchanalDiva is offline
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    Wow. I can understand all the views stated but what's key is his comment "we did it for ourselves, we are going to change ourselves". His kids will be the better for it and if everyone can give their kids a better outlook, i think that will go further than building a park or school.
    dollbabi likes this.
    "Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses." -Plato

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    Insurgent Alpha Unit's Avatar Alpha Unit is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by BacchanalDiva View Post
    Wow. I can understand all the views stated but what's key is his comment "we did it for ourselves, we are going to change ourselves". His kids will be the better for it and if everyone can give their kids a better outlook, i think that will go further than building a park or school.
    Hmmm didn't think of it like that
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    Notchilous ladyrastafari's Avatar ladyrastafari is offline
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    its interesting in its concept.. because honestly, can you really know what somebody goes through if you never experience it yourself? do you HAVE to experience it to empathise? no.. you don't but you will be simply approximating your imagination of what it must been to live under those conditions not really fully knowing, until you have done what they do.. people always parrot that "never judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes." yet don't see it that way in reality... you can see people living on a hill toting water, washing by the river, eating that one meal of tun cornmeal or rice and butter etc... you can academically say damn that must be hard, and theorize how hard it must be, but you may not actually "know" what it is like unless you yourself have toted a heavy ass bucket on your shoulders up the hill, stopping every so often to rest, perhaps having to do that multiple times for whatever purpose.. the labor intensive washing by the river , possibly toting the clothes back and forth for multiple loads perhaps over a lil distance... eating that one meal and truly savoring it because you know you not eating anything else till the next day and probably still feeling hungry but finding ways to stave off the hunger.. like go and sleep early or sumn

    maybe these people, may spearhead some changes that could help those they have lived amongst... because let's face it , sometimes people might know of something but not know - like folks in tnt might know of the poverty and stress of living in the beetham and laventille but unless you have lived there you dont "know" what it is like to actually live under those conditions..

    not saying it will be kumbaya.. cos i can see what people saying about the whiteness being central but sometimes experience can help to foster understanding and understanding can help to attempt to alleviate the problem - take for example - a woman who has been repeatedly beaten by her man..a woman who has never been hit may not be able to understand the mindset of why the victim can't just leave and ups and go.. and she might empathise and sympathise but the connect may not be there.. whereas a counselor who herself has been a victim of domestic violence might be able to connect to the victim on a more raw, emotional level , havin been there and thus might be able to convince her to leave..

    i give them people kudos, cos south africa eh easy on the racism tip yes.. i i dunno... maybe i watch too much damn apartheid movies yes.. lol
    Never waste your time trying to explain who you are to people who are committed to misunderstanding you.

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    Taj
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    I'm wondering how the publicity came about that part I'm not happy with but to the other stuff I will give them benefit of the doubt.

    Yea life can be hard but until you don't have and simple essential needs are subject to a long hard decision you don't know what it really is like to choose between a meal or a train ride.

    Even though the law is different there isn't much integration in the society I see this as creating linkages to needy communities outside their own. What they do with it is the bigger question access to information about careers, saving, getting bright kids into better school etc. I wont act like I know what they should do but after this I hope they know they should do something much like the many ppl on the globe that exist and don't give back.

    Another thing is that it probably showed the poor aren't that way because they want to be there, there are things greater than them that keep them in situations. Its different from if black ppl would just ....
    “A sharp knife never proclaims it’s sharpness to the world…but the first to fall against it becomes it’s advocate.”

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    Registered User Poca's Avatar Poca is offline
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    I think it's dumb. They will never know and feel what it is to really be in such poverty because they know that it's not forever.
    Chen ki japé pa mòde!

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    Notchilous ladyrastafari's Avatar ladyrastafari is offline
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    so you dont think that if you had to do something from let's say the past.. you wouldnt be able to appreciate what you have now? - i bet if you had to use that belt and cloth rag sanitary napkin business, you would appreciate modern advances in feminine care cos even if it is one day you use the belt, you wouldnt forget it.. similarly if you had to spend one week sleeping on the floor, walking 10 miles to get to work, eating one meal a day, having t use water you would in your normal life not want to bathe your pet in- to brush your teeth and shower... you would understand how it feels to live like that on a long term basis...
    Never waste your time trying to explain who you are to people who are committed to misunderstanding you.

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    Registered User Poca's Avatar Poca is offline
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    I don't think that it's necessary to go back in times nor to physically put yourself in others' " situation" to appreciate what we have. Empathy is so something that we can feel for others without experiencing their trouble. Also, when a situation is not your reality, there is a mental component of it that you will never ever get, until you are face with the same or similar issue.

    I did not read the article*

    What did they do when their experiment was over? Did they become active militant for social progress? Did they get involved with those trying to change the system? Or do they only talk about their experience? Did they simply reintegrated their old life?
    Naughtyshawtie likes this.
    Chen ki japé pa mòde!

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    Registered User BacchanalDiva's Avatar BacchanalDiva is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poca! View Post
    I don't think that it's necessary to go back in times nor to physically put yourself in others' " situation" to appreciate what we have. Empathy is so something that we can feel for others without experiencing their trouble. Also, when a situation is not your reality, there is a mental component of it that you will never ever get, until you are face with the same or similar issue.

    I did not read the article*

    What did they do when their experiment was over? Did they become active militant for social progress? Did they get involved with those trying to change the system? Or do they only talk about their experience? Did they simply reintegrated their old life?
    I think you should read the article cause you're missing a big point. The man pointed out the racial divide and said that he and his wife felt it would be irresponsible to raise children that could not cross that divide. So they lived with the people as the ppl live..

    they mentioned things about the kids running around with the township kids and how despite the hardship, there is a feeling of community and oneness that is lacking in their own gated community...

    they also continued after their "experiment" to continue to go back to visit with their new friends and attend the church in the township...

    All this enables not just the man and his wife, but more importantly, their kids to see these township ppl as real ppl. When they grow up and see their black counterpart walking around the city, they will not see some foreign being deserving of their empathy, but a real person.

    If the kids grow to becoming philanthropists or activists or anything like that, they'll be better for truly knowing the ppl that they say they are helping...but even if they don't...the different mindset that they will now have is everything. Real, long term social change can't happen unless ppl relate to each other differently. If its always an us or them sort of thing divided by race and class, a school/playground/house doesn't make much difference.
    ladyrastafari likes this.
    "Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses." -Plato

    "god is the deification of a culture."
    -Dr Yosef ben-Jochannan

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    Princess of Noldorin Galadriel77 is offline
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    I find that admirable actually. Shows they have a heart for they really didn't have to go there. If they've never been poor and have a perception that doesnt readily apply to all poor ppl. then to get it or understand it isnt so bad. I admire curiousity and the guts to find answers. This may bring about change in mindset among them, generartions to come, and their circle of friends.
    ladyrastafari likes this.
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