Redistribution of wealth

Apologies for the silence here – I didn’t get around to writing a column for the Daily Maverick this week, and also haven’t blogged, mosly because it’s quite difficult to do these things when bloody agents have entered your home – twice in the space of two weeks – and taken all your stuff.

There’s a lovely hashtag that you’ll often encounter on Twitter – #middleclassproblems – and this is certainly one of them. It’s a middle (and upper, or course) problem to have stuff worth stealing, and also to have a public platform to use in order to complain about it. So far, though, it’s only been stuff, and stuff can be replaced. People can’t (well, individual people – people in general are sadly far too easily replaced). So yes, it could have been far worse.

But it’s nevertheless rather annoying, especially due to the time lost. Time waiting for people to install more security, time taken to replace my passport (including the time waiting for that damn baby, whose parents were in the queue ahead of me, to keep her eyes open for the photograph), and now, the time lost due to not being able to do proper work without a laptop at home.

And worst of all, for me, is that for the first time, I would seriously consider devoting resources to getting out of here, into somewhere in the 1st world. It’s a difficult thing to say, or to discuss, but at some point one simply gets tired of the uncertainty, of the waiting to become a victim.

The problem is that poverty and desperation don’t know who you are. You can be as committed to social equality as you like, and have spend X hours trying to help built this country into what it could be – and it could all be for naught. And I can’t blame the housebreakers for that – if I was in their situation, I might well be resorting to the same choices.

And this is because choice, or choices, can be quite an alien concept if you’re living hand-to-mouth. It’s a middle class problem to even be able to talk about choices, and that’s a genuinely sad thing.

To add to the sadness, it’s difficult to escape the feeling that South Africa is on some sort of precipice. Not the Night of the Long Knives sort of thing, as someone hyperventilated on a friend’s Facebook wall, but one involving a significant shift away from the liberal and democratic values the post-94 South Africa is rightly proud of.

The Malema hearings, the Mogoeng confirmation (or hopefully not), and the vote on the POI Bill are all pretty big deals, and depending on how they go, could give rise to legitimate pessimism about our immediate future.

I’ll say more about Mogoeng next week in the Daily Maverick, but in the meanwhile, please don’t rest, or depend on others to sort these problems out. Civil society retains a significant voice, but far too often, we stand on the sidelines and wait to protest decisions already made. Sometimes you can see them coming, and the time to raise your voice is now.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.