Men at some time are masters of their fates...

This is my South Africa. I met a man yesterday. He works as security guard at my University. At first I was apprehensive about having to talk to him. He hovered near me and my group of friends as we exchanged goodbyes after a long day on campus. My friends managed to escape before they had to take part in any interaction with him. Social interactions with random men on the street do not rank highly on my list of favourite things to  do. We live in hard times and as much as this man is hired to protect us, you never know who you may come across. He came close and greeted me politely as I was about to get in my car and join my friends as they headed home. I decided to put aside my fears, be nice and return his kind greeting in kind. The man then proceeded to ask me about Computer Science and how much the degree would cost to study.

All lingering feelings of apprehension left my body instantly as I realised that I had stumbled across my favourite kind of person. A person with drive and a certain hunger for a better life. Just that morning I had lamented at the growing lack lustre attitude I was seeing among the people in my community. Too many of them were, to my frustration, very content with waking up in the morning to sit all day with friends and have aimless conversations, often involving drinking binges that could last just as long. Self improvement seemed a foreign concept to their lives and they were happy remaining oblivious to life outside this destructive life they had come to accept.

So my heart leapt when this security guard who was struggling confidently along with his broken English and looking on with his squint eye, who possibly in the view of society, had no business even dreaming about computer science, asked me for advice. I jumped right in and explained all the financial obligations, trying to remain sensitive to the fact that he probably had a low income due to the nature of his job. As an open distance learning institution, the fees at my university are reasonable as far as education goes in this country. I rattled on about how saving up for registration from now would probably be a good idea. I even outlined how much he might have to commit to putting aside for his studies each month so as not to be overwhelmed by bulk payments. That is when he shattered me quicker than he had managed to spark hope in my heart.

He laughed heartily and told me my saving calculations where wonderful in theory, but clearly I didn't get it. He proceeded to tell me about his life as a security guard:
-the uncertainty of employment due to employers not registering him as an employee in relevant places;
-the realities of all his living and travel expenses;
-his financial responsibility to his family back home;
-and his responsibility to a brother who had managed to secure funding to attend a conventional full time university and now needed pocket money.
All this on a salary of R3200 a month, half of what I originally thought he was getting paid. My budget was perfect in an ideal world but this man was clearly not living in any such place. I suspect he saw the look of sheer hopelessness creeping onto my face as he spoke because at the end of it all he laughed and joked that I should go home and think on my budget and come back when I had found a solution. I laughed, hollow, and wished him luck on all his endeavours.

I climbed into the car that has recently been giving us problems and realised how blessed I was regardless. A part of me felt like a silly child when thinking of the problems I had imagined were so big in my own life. We all have our cross to bare, but in that moment, that man's cross seemed to cast a shadow on mine. I drove to fetch my sister, told her about this man but clearly she was distracted by the world she often retreated to within her own head. When we got home I sat alone in my room and thought about all the ways I could help, not only this man, but the countless others in his situation. I'm still thinking now.  Perhaps it's a conversation we should be having as a community, a country, because I know any solution that comes to mind will have to be a big one.

The cycle is never ending, which is possibly the most frustrating thing about this whole situation. As long as pay remains so low that our people cannot even dare to imagine a better life for themselves, we will remain in this predicament. So for the first time since the workers strikes began a few years ago, I personally have a conviction on my views. Yes, these men and women deserve better pay. Yes, if they need fight, I support them. It's not about the individual in this case. It's about the six or seven or even more others that this one person needs to financially support. It's about the harsh reality that without better education they may never get better pay. It's about the reality that without better pay they may never be able to get better education. The bleakest of them all is the realisation that without better pay and education they may never fulfil their true calling and get a chance to work a fulfilling job.

If it were a isolated incident in society I would be happy to say let's throw grant money at it and hope it goes away, but this is our cancer. It grows ever bigger the longer we leave it untended. Employers need to begin to be held accountable. Perhaps it is like Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar: Men at some time are masters of their fates. In this situation I'm compelled to believe that the fault is in our stars.


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