The dictionary defines the word peasant as a poor smallholder of low social status and also as an ignorant, rude, or unsophisticated person. My lived experiences, as an individual, somewhat embody both definitions, and more. I am definitely poor, of lower social status than I have promised myself all these years, I have been ignorant more times than I have been enlightened, I have been rude ALL MY LIFE, and I do not aspire to a sophistication that separates me from my people and my Africanness.
In the small town of Cala, where I grew up, the majority of citizens live on less than R10 a day. It is a poor town. And, among the people of Cala, in terms of class and income, it is ridiculous for myself to think of myself as a peasant. One might argue that it is me being spoilt and not appreciating all that I have in a world where many have nothing. I grew up in a world where poverty was (is) normal, a world where those that are poor have taught themselves that poverty is next to Godliness, and those that are not poor think that those that are poor have themselves to blame. This, a world that has beneficiaries of poverty, as if poverty itself is not bad enough. A world of rigid yet non tacit arrangements between melanin and poverty. I grew up around this poverty, a selfish creation of mankind, which has people like myself, the poor, as unwilling participants. But still, among the poorest of the poor, how dare I call myself a peasant?
What is it that I really have? Yes I live in a fancy flat in Gauteng. Yes I drive a car. Yes I have clothes on my back. Yes, I have these things. But, do I really have these things?
Well, if walls could talk, then those that shelter me everyday would tell a simple story, or better yet sing a familiar song, there’s a stranger in my house, yes, that is what they would sing. I, like many others who have a similar living arrangement, do not own this dwelling. I am a stranger helping the real owner pay off his or her bond. I am merely helping someone else own this apartment. The car belongs to the bank, and if anyone who has a car doubts that, try missing a few instalments and you will know who your car belongs to.
All I have, really, is an (the) illusion of comfort and wealth without the real thing. And that illusion is not free, I pay for it with every cent I get from the slavery of capitalism. OMG, I am a peasant who owns an illusion! The only difference between me and a traditional peasant is my Bachelor of Western Dictates on Commerce degree, and an illusion.
To have this illusion is one thing, to pay for it is another. I wake up everyday no later than 05:00 am, I go to work and get back to this apartment whose owner I have only met electronically at 18:00 pm. That means that I spend more than half of MY day working. Those who work will know that when you work, your time is not your time. By 21:00 pm I am asleep. This means that I have only 3 conscious hours to myself in a day. It is starting to seem that even the days of my life are not my own. And all this to pay for an illusion.
This scenario is a class struggle of mega proportions. The working class, although working to co create wealth, will never be wealthy in their lifetime unless under extraordinary circumstances. Wealth, for them, is extraordinary. Poverty is ordinary. Someone else enjoys their work, because they sure as hell do not enjoy it themselves. Wealth is not the natural and inevitable consequence of hard work and enterprise, because if it was I would be writing about the generational wealth I am enjoying due to my forefathers’ hardwork throughout the centuries. Instead I am writing, contemplating about wether or not I am a peasant. Wealth is a consequence of ownership. In South Africa, ownership is a consequence of the absence of melanin and class mobility. There goes my chances!
That’s not the scary part. The scary part is that we have become comfortable in our discomfort. We believe our own illusion. We are slaves to a white capitalist order, yet we believe that it is this very same order that will emancipate us. The ground we walk on houses the graves of our ancestors, yet the ground itself, the land, is not ours. How dare we bury our forefathers in their oppressor’s backyard?! We have failed them.
Are we a people in our own right or are we an extension of western imperialism? Must we, to be a civilisation in our own right, exist within the dictates of western style capitalism and all its illusions? Must our children, in order to own themselves, become outcasts in a neo colonialism order we are participants in?
We must fight for something more than just illusions. Rainbows are nice to watch, but we cannot eat them, we cannot drink them. They are illusions. I am 28 years old, and I have been walking on a rainbow for 22 years and there is still no pot of gold.
One thing is most certainly not an illusion, and that is the nexus between land and liberty.
Is this blog even mine?
Linda Sidumo is a BCom graduate, a public servant, and chairperson of the Education Access Campaign (EAC). Views expressed are strictly his own personal views and do not represent the views of any organisation or group of people.