Possessed by possessions

Khanyisile Vilakazi

Khanyisile Vilakazi

The following scene unfolded at a popular Johannesburg nightclub that is mostly frequented by the rich, spoilt set:

"Valet, valet... Hey, I'm talking to you, dimwit! Don't you dare scratch my Lamborghini. It's money-green. I'm sure you've noticed!

"Oh, my word, what's this? This is supposed to be Catwalk and exclusive. Where's the Hennessy? Where's the Patronne? What am I supposed to drink?"

The enquirer is the young, spoilt wife of a middle-aged millionaire. She threw a tantrum because the club's bar did not stock two of the most expensive drinks.

I am glad I am not her. I am simply Khanyisile Vilakazi and my life moves at a slow pace and my needs and wants are inexpensive, to say the least.

Which automatically leads me to the touchy issue of commodities being the opium of the people.

The rich place great importance on material possessions. Some might seem to be going as far as saying they live for their shiny things. However, it is these commodities that have seemingly guided the steady decline in values in our societies over the past hundred years.

Almost every evil known to man has stemmed from capitalism or the love of money. Capitalism is a free market economy where anyone can sell anything for a profit. It is fundamentally based on economic anarchy. It has led to the exploitation of the masses and an infinite array of social injustices.

Greatest of these injustices is the gap between the rich and the poor. This is as a result of the exploitation of the working class, meaning that a handful of people thrive while the masses struggle to survive.

World Bank statistics show that more than 70percent of the world's population is living below the poverty line. The world has reverted to the cold and unjust ways of autocracy where the nobility lived in the lap of luxury and peasantry toiled from dawn till dusk, for next to nothing.

The only difference is that today the nobility laze around in country clubs, while the peasantry break their backs in factories for a minimum wage, a euphemism for peanuts.

Governments pacify the public with phrases like "sustainable economic development", "corporate social responsibility or "broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE)".

These initiatives are supposedly meant to empower people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But, do they really? Only a select few enjoy the benefits of these so-called "aids", as the promised jobs, training and bursaries either never materialise or are designed to give free advertising to a certain company, or to benefit its top people.

As an illustration, last year the government awarded an incentive of about R2million to a BEE company simply because its owner, a black billionaire, is black. It boggles the mind as to how this is supposed to benefit the ordinary man in the street.

Simply put, this means that the lives of the impoverished are never bettered, because the "milk and honey" of "the promised land" never reach the grassroots levels of the South African economy.

But capitalism goes even further. Today capitalism is defined - not by producer mentality, but by a consumer ethos - meaning that businesses have come to use - to good, profitable effect - manipulative advertising to create an insatiable demand for goods that the public, the hapless consumers, do not really need.

Today, it is not who you are, but what you have that counts. But, this prosperity is just a mirage. The majority of what we possess, the commodities, are bought on credit card debt.

US government statistics show that personal debt rate escalated to an all time high in 2007. The consumerist economy depends on people's inability to discipline their spending. Capitalism cultivates ill-discipline and greed.

This greed has advanced to such an extent that it overrides all moral conduct and human decency.

The desire for profit was the driving force behind slavery. This same desire for profit fathered prostitution, human trafficking and each day, more and more sweat shops are mushrooming in Indonesia and Haiti, and child labour is said to be the order of the day in China and Vietnam.

Each year, millions die in Africa, as countries like the DRC are ravaged by war over colton - a type of mineral that is basically equated to blood diamonds - and is used in the making of laptops and PlayStation components. These are the fruits of greed; these are the products of capitalism.

With each passing day, we experience more and more of the atrocities of capitalism and yet we do nothing to stop it. Instead, we continue to indulge in impulses of self-involvement, denialist mentality, and materialism.

With the current recession shaking the economic foundations of the world's nations, individuals need to ask one pertinent question: if who I am is what I have, then when what I have is gone, who am I?lThis is the edited version of a speech by Khanyisile Vilakazi, a 17-year-old Grade 12 pupil at Lowveld High School in Mpumalanga.

She topped the first of nine provincial eliminations of the Anglo American and Sowetan Young Communicators Awards.

Her runners-up are Asanda Masilela of Highveld Park High School and Thandekile Maseko of Rob Ferreira High School.