Open letter to South Africa’s students‚ universities and government‚ represented by Minister in the .
Last week I left my phone in a bus while travelling to the cemetery for a burial. I have learnt very early in my life not to even attempt to fight battles I am sure to lose.
Despite a deep sense of frustration over my lost contacts and information, I wrote the phone off. I was sure that no person would pick up that brand-new phone and return it. No way, not in South Africa.
My attitude was also hardened by previous experiences of losing phones. I've never had the good fortune of seeing them again. The irony is that in my lifetime, I have picked up so many lost phones in ladies' cloakrooms and at all times succeeded in tracing the owner or a family member and safely returning the gadget.
Forlornly I asked my companion, "Why are my phones always picked up by dodgy characters?"
I spent the entire afternoon and evening dialling my number and no one answered. My last attempt was around 9pm, eight hours since I last saw the phone.
A young man answered. He had my phone. We arranged to meet. I was relieved, but that was nothing compared to the flood of emotions that would overwhelm me in the next 24 hours.
After establishing that the young man was in Mabopane, about 74kilometres from Johannesburg, I asked if he could meet me at the nearest town, 20kilometres from where he was.
He told me in no uncertain terms that this trip would cost him R60 and there was no way he could find that kind of money. I assured him that I would make this worth his while. He agreed to borrow some cash and come to meet me. We must have misunderstood each other because he assumed our appointment was for 11pm that same evening instead of 11am the next morning. He found the money and at that late hour made his way to our meeting place, while I was fast asleep at home.
The young man was determined to return the phone to its owner and I was touched by his venturing out at that late hour to return it. His determination to do this became more significant than the phone itself.
This young man went back home with the promise to borrow more money and meet me again the next morning. However, he said, if he hadn't arrived by 11.15am I must know that he couldn't find the money and I must therefore drive to the squatter camp where he lives.
And so the next morning I ventured out to corners of Gauteng that I had never been to. I took one wrong turn after another and the more I stopped to ask, the more I got lost. At midday I gave up all hope of finding the young man but drove on asking myself, "Why would he wait for me for over an hour?" I arrived at my destination a whole hour and 10 minutes late and he was there, waiting patiently.
We shook hands and he looked me straight in the eye and confessed that he was this close to selling the phone. He had already lined up three buyers and the highest bidder was offering him R2500 and he told me he had never had that kind of money in his life.
He also said he was returning this phone against the advice of friends and family who told him to sell it and make some money. He was poor, unemployed and tempted. The money from the sale of the phone would not solve his problems, but it would bring temporary respite from this life of discomfort and struggle. But, he told me, the voice that implored him to do the right thing was so much louder.
This young man's name is Themba - Hope. And with his integrity and resolve to pursue righteousness, he has renewed my hope that life is truly beautiful and that this country has not gone to the dogs. Our values have not been wholly eroded. There is hope yet. Thanks to people like Themba.