Koos Kombuis

There may be something in this ubuntu nonsense

2012-07-31 08:51
I'm not the kind of guy you'd catch doing charity work, visiting the sick, helping old ladies across the street, adopting stray animals, that sort of thing. I'm just not good at it. So, when this idea of donating sixty-odd minutes of my time for Madiba came up, I felt pretty guilty at first, but I reckoned that enough other people were already doing it, so why bother?
Then I remembered that I had already done this exact thing the week before, during a road trip through the Groot Karoo, before I even knew about the sixty-odd minutes I was suppose to devote to the cause.

What a relief! Okay, to be honest, the thing I did was entirely my wife's idea, I went along very reluctantly, but it was done nevertheless.
You see, we have friends who live in a township outside Colesberg, an old woman called Miriam and her son. Miriam used to be my wife's nanny in Namibia until she retired and returned to her home town.

We see her occasionally; she visits Cape Town about once a year, and every time we pass Colesberg by car, we visit her in her little shack of a house, taking along some mieliemeal and other groceries. Over the years, she had become like family.

Exiting the comfort zone
Though I really like Miriam, I must admit I usually dread these visits to that Colesberg township. Call it my liberal-minded hypocrisy, but every time I drive into a township, I become acutely aware of being more or less the only white guy around for miles. It's even worse when I drive into a township with my entire family in our diesel Kombi.

What if they hold us up at gunpoint, took my Kombi and turned it into a taxi? What if we get caught up in a service delivery protest? It's not easy leaving my privileged white comfort zone behind to find myself surrounded by the poverty-stricken, the downtrodden, the needy, the folks without smart phones or iPads, in short, the majority of South Africans.
But drive into that township we did. And yes, like before, we visited Miriam. And yes, like before, we were not raped or killed or even harassed by anyone. And yes, like every other time I had visited a township, I found myself surrounded by nothing but goodwill and friendliness. Like every previous time, my fears proved perfectly unfounded.

The mieliemeal and groceries were delivered, greetings were exchanged, everyone posed for photographs, and we left again, approximately sixty-odd minutes later, unscathed and feeling slightly more virtuous than before.

Days later, on the way back from our road trip, as we drove back via another route, we were trapped by the extreme weather conditions that engulfed the whole of the Karoo and Eastern Cape.
At first, it was great fun. My kids played in the white fairy-tale landscape, we built snow-men, took video clips, and had a roaring time. Until we unexpectedly skidded off the road in the middle of nowhere, on a nameless little mountain pass somewhere between Middelburg and Graaff-Reinet, and found ourselves stuck with the wheels of our Kombi buried deeply in snow which had turned to mud.
It was payback time. Having extended the helping hand to the downtrodden days before, we were now in dire need of a helping hand ourselves. Which arrived, miraculously and unexpectedly, almost exactly sixty-odd minutes later, in the form of two farm labourers with a tractor and a chain.
As they pulled us out of the muck, I felt something thaw within my soul. The realisation that, whenever human beings reach out to help one another, issues of politics and race disappear. In that moment, as the tractor pulled us free, and I found the wheels of my Kombi turning on to dry land again, I felt like a real South African.

So grateful

I forgot that I was white. I forgot that Miriam was black. I no longer noticed the colour of the two Samaritans who had come to our aid. I was just grateful, incredibly grateful, that we had been rescued.
There is something in this idea of sixty-odd minutes of charity during the week of Madiba's birthday, after all. Perhaps, next year, I will pick up a hitchhiker, or visit my mother, or fill a bag of unused old toys and take it down to our local police station for the destitute kids.

It won't do any harm, can it? And if everyone started doing this sort of thing, who knows? At the risk of sounding corny, South Africa might just become a slightly better place…
There might be something in this ubuntu nonsense after all!

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