This week, I really wanted to get out of town, so I decided to catch a cab to the next nearest city, Sandton. Sandton is an extremely nice area, which is home to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. What I found interesting was that this area was predominantly white. Having spent most of my time in Johannesburg, where the majority of the people are black, it was interesting to see the drastic change in demographics, specifically with regard to race and socioeconomic status.
On the way back from Sandton, I had the most interesting conversation with my cab driver, Nikimbeko. These types of conversations usually start with someone asking me, “what do you do?” When I tell them that I am a legal intern with Khulumani Support Group (KSG), and I am working on granting access to reparations for apartheid victims, the response is amazing. With Khulumani Support Group having over 100,000 members, KSG’s name is very well known. Everyone immediately begins to thank me for traveling from the United States to help change his or her life. I’m “changing lives.” I never really thought about it that way. I always considered what I was doing as just a part of the job. I guess I never realized the impact I could be having.
So, as the conversation went on, he started telling me how life has been since apartheid ended. I was expecting to hear that his life had become easier, that he was enjoying his newfound freedom. I couldn’t be more wrong. He said, “sometimes I think apartheid was better. At least we knew what to expect from white people. Now our people run the government, and life is no better.”
He told me millions of people go to sleep hungry most nights, and he is one of them. “Pigs live better than the people in this country.” He explained how most black people in South Africa live in small shacks with limited access to electricity and indoor plumbing. People are living like this; yet, everyday you hear rumors about politicians illegally accessing taxpayer dollars for personal use. “What about us? We fought for the right to have our people in office, and they only care about themselves.”
As he was explaining this to me, I couldn’t help but think of a young boy I pass everyday as I walk to gym. This boy, who cannot be more than 13 years old, stands in the middle of the street everyday with a trash bag in one hand and a cup in the other. At first, I thought he was just asking for money. As time went on, I realized that he was actually begging drivers, who were stopped at the light, to allow him to take their trash for a small donation. Can you imagine that…a child begging to take your trash? This trip has really been an eye-opening experience. How humbling do you think it must be to drop to your knees and beg, because you have no other option?