Love in the time of Corona is deep, yo. Here in Mzansi.
First it seems like one thing is happening when really many things are happening. It is like the South African hand shake where at the last moment you circle his wrist causing him to miss once before you give him some dap.
Or like the favorite greetings, “Sure” and “Sure sure.” See things are so absurd sometimes that you have to stylize the uncertainty that is always already there.
We started our school year with the usual rounds of strikes. This time it was not only students, but for a few days the faculty and staff as well. We do have our moments.
But when school buildings are burned to the ground, even something as innocuous as an HIV clinic, and people are assaulted many wonder aloud, “what type of students are these?” Well, of course that question requires a nuanced answer.
Here in KwaZulu-Natal, these are the mostly black students and Indian students, along with in lesser numbers whites and those classified as Coloured, who are attending a government sponsored, previously all white institutions. They are often the first in their family to go to tertiary institutions even though they come mostly from woefully underfunded and ill-equipped secondary and primary schools and school systems in the townships of the province or its rural areas.
While we see that they are the new emerging black middle class it is equally obvious that it is (as sociologist E. Franklin Frazier famously said of African Americans) a lumpen middle class, one paycheck (if that) from poverty.
Precariously balanced between the economic, social, and psychic needs not haven been prepared for and the expectations and even demands made by their parents and other elders in their family.
This set of obligations/expectations are now dubbed by this generation “black tax”, a system made necessary in some form or fashion ever since the settler colonialist government was victorious in its subjugation of the “natives”.
When it charged hut taxes and the like to force most black men off of their land and away even from their province in order to provide cheap labor for the mining industry the need to address this inter-generational oppression with creative uses of ubuntu is with us.
One of the results? Often students are not prepared to be students and being a student may be a secondary or even tertiary concern in the hard-scrabble lives that many live or are touched by.
What is been protested against amounts to the demand for free education. Most can not afford it and are pressed into debt which they will later juggle with their black tax and so on.
Some have shelter and food because they are students (sadly in our case many students do not even have that) and almost all are expecting to jump over the McDonald’s-type of employment prospect to a salaried position. That is more important for some than education per se.
Their real anger is towards poverty and oppression, and their apparent confusion between strategy and tactics stems from this basic fact.
The violence on both sides is appalling and in some ways represents the continuing enmity between young black rebellious people and a controlling state hostile to or unresponsive to their needs.
Love in the time of Corona; this underlying narrative of poverty and oppression is likewise muted and even averted. The fact is that though South Africa is a rich rich rich country, most of its citizens are living in poverty conditions.
The townships are the ghettos of SA and the squatter camps are living in worse conditions. No easy access to water (and then shared with score of others), no plumbing, no electricity, no roads or paved structures for pedestrians or motorists, etc., all makes the social distancing mandate something more criminal than a joke.
Again our most vulnerable are suffering and the narratives that are circulating mostly ignores this and them. Makes me wanna holla.