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Faces of poverty and pain in land of plenty

By unknown | Mar 01, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Last week I dedicated this column to car guards, the men and women whose daily grind at the malls is so invaluable, but who are almost invisible to us.

Last week I dedicated this column to car guards, the men and women whose daily grind at the malls is so invaluable, but who are almost invisible to us.

Today I take the issue further and, pointedly, beyond the parking lots of the shopping malls.

I say pointedly - consciously - because arguably, many, if not most, South Africans have come to accept suffering, be it pain, poverty and helplessness as normal.

I see desperately unemployed job-seekers daily. You see them always. We see them all the time.

For me, though, there are two vivid images of unemployment that are etched on my mind.

The first one will not go away because it is a daily occurrence I cannot ignore.

Many commuters who travel on the busy Main Reef Road, next to Riverlea township, Johannesburg west, might be all too familiar with the perpetual morning rush-hour drama.

I pass there on my way to work each morning and I know that there are bound to be hundreds of people, all of them black, who converge on a factory - I think it manufactures mattresses - with the hope of getting work.

The numbers seem to swell each day. Men, women, young and old, expectantly wait at the company's gates and on pavements on either side of the street opposite the premises.

It appears even the owners of the factory have come to accept the situation as a permanent feature outside their building.

I have not asked whether anyone has ever eventually got a job.

But I think this company might be doing something right. Is it offering casual jobs on a daily basis, thus offering some relief to desperate breadwinners, while unwittingly attracting more unemployed people?

What I know is that tomorrow I will drive past the factory and see many more new eager faces there. It happens throughout the year - every year.

The second image is of a group of women who descend on a wood-processing factory in Industria, down the road from Sowetan's offices.

Every morning and afternoon a truck unloads wooden remnants outside the factory where the women wait with sacks.

I once saw a woman almost throw her baby, who had been strapped to her back, to the ground as the scramble for the wood began and pandemonium broke out.

There is little mutual respect as the women, obviously from squatter camps and who sell the wood scraps for cash, tear into each other.

Babies cry their little hearts out from a distance. I sigh with relief when it all ends and a semblance of humanity returns - obviously until the next time.

To me, the two pictures I have just painted are the face of unemployment, poverty and pain in the land of plenty.

This face can be changed, only if there is the will to do so - and less rhetoric.

Aren't we all entitled to the wealth and not the crumbs?

Yes, these two images will remain in my mind for as long as this abject situation prevails.


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