I had a conversation yesterday, which is haunting me. It was with a white young man who must have been about five years old in 1994. He went to school at Michealhouse, which is one of those posh KZN schools that turn out the future billionaires. His family is Sandhurst based. He has black friends. He’s not a racist; at least if he is I don’t think he’s aware of it. He’s a really nice young man. I don’t believe he’s a racist. I like him. But the conversation we had really disturbed me.
We were talking about the situation in the mines. He said of the miners;
“But the idea is to improve their wages so they can improve the way they live.” I said. Seriously, I was puzzled.
“An accounting graduate only gets R6000 for his first job, how should they get R12 000.” He said. He was quite passionate.
“These aren’t graduates, these are skilled labourers who have been in the job for a long time and the mine should demonstrate their value and pay them properly”, said I.
Then he told me. “They’re rock drillers. It’s not even skilled labour, so the mines can just fire them all because anyone can do that job”.
Now I was really puzzled. Fire them? No they can’t. And CCMA notwithstanding, it’s a wage dispute. You don’t fire people for asking for more wages. Although, having said that, it remains to be seen. This is still South Africa. It’s their right to strike. Am I right? Or am I wrong? It’s starting to look like the old South Africa where people don’t have any rights because they’re black and poor? Marikana! “Ah, but” I thought “let us not go to Marikana”.
I was thinking, but I didn’t say. ‘Michealhouse, Wits and this is the extent of your thinking? I guess education in SA is worse than we thought”.
How is being a rock driller not a skilled job? Anyone could do it? I was stumped. I’m not a stupid woman, but I felt stupid because I didn’t have a response. I just looked at this guy, with my mouth open in amazement.
I thought, “Well I don’t know what goes on down a mine. Maybe rock drilling isn’t what I thought it was. Drilling sounds like a skilled job. I’ve never seen what rock drilling is, but I’m sure it’s not like drilling a hole in the wall with a Black & Dekker. We see the road drillers. That looks like a skilled job; but when you’re drilling all the way under ground in those exhausting circumstances I think you could cause untold damage if you don’t know what you’re doing. Doesn’t it involve enormous machinery? It’s a skill”.
Then he said that the miners were lying when they said they only earned R4000 a month, because they get benefits. What? “Well the maid in our office takes home R3000 and she does very well on it.” He said. I had nothing to say. By now I just wanted to end the conversation because it was really pissing me off. ‘She does well on it’?
And what the hell does he mean the miners are lying? Did he slam his head into something rough and hard? Is he disorientated? Who the hell takes to the streets in protest and risks death – in the case of Marikana meets death – for the sake of a lie? Some things are just so bamboozling to me that they confuse my mind. What do you mean they’re lying?
While I was having this conversation I was reminded of something. A long time ago when I was maybe 17yrs old I met a white South African woman at a friend’s house. I had known white South Africans all my life. They were part of the ANC. They were part of my family. I’d not met this particular brand of white South African.
So when this woman told me she was from South Africa, I proudly told her about my Dad. She was not pleased. She talked like a Nationalist Party rep. One thing she said I can never forget. She said that the pictures that we saw in the newspapers, and on TV of black people dead in the streets, people shot by police were not true. She said the journalists found people and got them to lie down and poured food colouring on them to look like blood and then photographed them and told the world the police had shot them. In other words, it was a photo shoot.
I think I was reminded of this because yesterday’s conversation raised a similar sentiment in my solar plexus to the one I felt back then. Something between bewilderment and contempt.
Where do people come up with this astounding bullshit?