Sunday, June 1, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Previous posts have dealt in depth with the underlying reasons fomenting civil unrest in South Africa. By now, numerous talking heads on television have filled the nation's consciousness with the scope of the problem. Stories abound regarding the inability to withstand rapid cost-of-living increases. We have been thoroughly acquainted with the big picture via the media, yet the silence from the Union Buildings has been deafening. Trevor Manuel's admission, that government has failed the poor, being a rare attempt at honesty, despite the lack of concrete action. The leadership of the country has been thoroughly exposed for lack of forward planning and macro-economic anticipation.

Those that have long accused the Mbeki dynasty of afro-pessimism are now again pointing the finger of judgement. A recent Time magazine report bluntly accused the government of not getting on with the business of governing. The implication being that first class travel to international conferences take precedence over the plight of constituents. Erstwhile ANC stalwart, Andrew Feinstein, has exposed the "politics of patronage" used by the President. An account of a consummate politician that allegedly approaches any problem as a deal that needs to be done. Even biographer, Mark Gevisser, has already printed his view of the Mbeki years called "Dream Deferred"; an extraordinary publishing step during the tenure of a sitting President.

Clearly we cannot rely on this sort of representation any longer, which means civic duty once again has to be upgraded to that of nation building. Ghandi coined the phrase: "poverty is the worst kind of violence there is". With that truth ringing in our ears, is it possible to enrich the lives of those in need without just throwing money at the problem - money being in short supply for most right now? The answer has to be a resounding yes, and for a very simple reason; we are in this confrontational conundrum precisely because we have not explored alternative solutions to state funded intervention. Self reliance espoused by the Mahatma eventually managed to lift the agrarian Indian culture to a powerhouse of the new millennium, replete with high technology industries and a red hot economy.

Obviously we can't all respond on a high level, but this is the beauty of action - its all good, no matter which level it occurs at. Let's consider the humble residential home and the potential for change within it. For example, domestic workers are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. They work extended hours, commute long distances, seldom have access to funded health care and usually lack formal education. Yet they are the women who hold together most South African families, often the only bread winners. They are trusted with the homes and children of the middle class, but don't receive vocational training beyond how to operate vacuum cleaners and washing machines. The irony cannot be lost on us.

Imagine then enabling these noble women with knowledge to match the responsibilities they have already shouldered, silently accepted and successfully carried out each day. We can start with narrow self-interest, always a popular choice, and train our domestic workers in home based skills. First aid, micro-agriculture, family nutrition, basic bookkeeping, driver education, culture workshops and social etiquette being some obvious place to start. Surely the enrichment of such lives can only bring rewards for everyone concerned. A greater stake in the success of any employer's family requires increased personal rewards for the employee too. Time and labour saving services such as access to internet banking can, and should, be extended. The home could become a cost center with financial incentives for savings on domestic supplies and services for example.

Beyond the possibility of new domestic partnerships lie the knock-on effects for society at large. For one thing we can narrow the divisions in our society by taking a more active interest in each other's welfare. If nothing else it will bring a fair exchange of knowledge for services; but the fundamental advantage has to be that we will be collaborating for mutual gain and, in the process, learning what is truly in our communal interest. Best of all it will happen where we live.

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