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Why workers can survive on peanuts

By Roshila Jarosz

At around 12.20pm last Wednesday afternoon I was stunned. Actually, for a brief moment I thought my ears were deceiving me, then I realised there was no such luck. In part it was my fault — I was listening to student radio station Tuks FM (what’s an alternative rock girl to do?).

The DJ was talking about the recent strikes at Unisa. I’m forced to paraphrase as I highly doubt I’ll find a podcast to this piece of history, now regrettably engraved in my mind.

She described how workers were holding a banner that said, “We are not monkeys; don’t pay us peanuts”. Intrigued, I listened intently, surprised at the rarity of a student interested in current affairs. The next line revealed her arrière-pensée: in her opinion people could actually live on peanuts. Indeed, she wouldn’t mind because they are actually quite “nutritional”.

She’d thought long and hard about that one.

Her watertight argument went on to include an argument for strikes — because it can “change things”. But then again, now days every “Tom, Dick and Thandi” is striking instead of sitting down with their employers and chatting about it. There was also mention of bins being thrown around during strikes.

Personally, I thought that the least of her problems, unless it poses a threat of a rat infestation. Or baboons — who, being part of the primate clan, could very well steal the very peanuts on which she’s chosen to survive.

Does this lack of insight go to the very roots of society, and demonstrate a deeper malaise among some youth? They’ve inherited a democracy for which they didn’t fight. Most of the students I know are unaware of what people on the wrong side of the colour divide faced during apartheid. Disenchanted with the current dispensation, and ignorant of our past, they deeply resent “toyi-toying” workers.

Shouldn’t an educational institution take the responsibility for giving its students a broader perspective? I wonder if that DJ knew what those toyi-toying workers did during apartheid. Or what a dompas (passbook) was?

Ultimately, these are the leaders of tomorrow. Instead of creating a new monster that tramples on the rights of the poor, we could help young people move beyond political correctness. We could help them bridge the divide between rich and poor, black and white, and give them a fighting chance at a real unity.

In the words of Madiba, “I dream of the realisation of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent”. Education is key to the youth of today finding their way to this dream.

Roshila Jarosz worked as a journalist before selling out to corporate communications. In a moment of sanity/clarity, she realised she loved writing, and is now indulging in that passion once more.


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