of Gratitude and Equal opportunity

Anie * (not her real name) is 28. She was born in 1985. She was 9 years old when her parents voted for a New South Africa. 

I met Anie last night. She works in a late night coffee shop in Claremont. The coffee shop closes at 10 and Anie has to take a taxi to Cape Town, then a train to Khayalitsha, to arrive home at 1.30 in the morning. She has to be up again at 4.30, to get ready to be back at work by 10 a.m again.

Anie is tired. Anie has no way out. I engaged with her, just a little, or as much as is possible in a late night coffee shop, without much trade any more. Where do you come from? Where do you live, the usual banter. But then I asked her if she had had a dream. What was her teenage dream? She paused for a second, to think about what I has asked. A Teacher! She replied. I then asked her why that dream did not happen, what prevented it from happening? Her reply? money, circumstances, parental neglect, poverty. 

I asked her what High School she went to. Livingston. A decent school, drawing students from well to do suburbs like Rondebosch, Claremont, Wynberg. Anie probably had classroom friends who came from decent middle class homes, where their parents had decent jobs. Where the children probably did not really grasp concepts like Gratitude very well. Where having things came easy. Where little effort was required by the child, and much was likely done by the parents.She and her peers would have graduated in 2003. Matriculated. Many probably went to Varsity, or college, or simply found jobs. 

Anie works in a coffee shop. a franchise. a brand. She probably earns between R3000 (approx $350) and R4500 ( $500) a month, and has to make ends meet. Survive. Transport costs alone will be about 40% of her monthly income. 

So how does Anie reach her dream? Way past school leaving age, she is now part of the forgotten student population, someone who made Matric in 2003, who celebrated like so many other 17 and 18 year old’s that year. Where are these people today? Sadly, most likely just  a part of the statistics of this amazing land – just another unemployed youth, another sad number.

I asked Anie if she listens to the news on radio. She replied with a yes. Did she pick up the FNB debacle and the ensuing fracas between the ANC and the Bank? Yes. Did she care? No! For her, and most of the young people in her position, the news is abstracted, something afar, something for ”other” people. She hears about it but it has no real impact on her. She lacks the social media voice to make a noise, to talk about herself, her situation, the reality of a 28 year old in South Africa, who spends more than a quarter of her life traveling to a job that has no real future, to continue to be the girl who serves coffee late at night.

I asked about her mother. a smile. My mother is now a Teacher! She recently graduated and is now teaching. Where? I don’t know. What? I don’t know. But she left her husband, eventually, with the three children, went to school to study, and became a working professional. Sadly, her mother will also probably only earn R3500 to R5000 a month, and continue to live in Khayalitsha.

On the bright side, her younger sister also finished Matric last year, aged 17. She managed to secure a bursary, based on her Physics and Maths marks, and is now enrolled at UCT. Anie looks proud when she talks about her sister. Proud that someone in her family is going to University.

But what about Anie? Where does she go? Who does she go to for help? There are places that she can go to, but how does she find them? Like everything else in life, if she does not make the effort then she won’t find the help she needs. And when she does find the right place, she still needs to put in the effort to make it happen. There is no such thing as a free lunch. And Anie needs to know this. 

Still, so many questions, all these years later, about change and opportunity and opportunity being equal. Still so many obstacles standing in the way of success for people just like Anie. Who has failed who here? Has the system failed Anie? Or has Anie failed that last test – the one of making that extra little effort, that little bit more to cross the winning line? I suppose time will tell.

My take away from this little story? I am super privileged to lead the life I live. I am blessed beyond belief with all that I have. I have opportunity. I have a roof over my head, multiple forms of motorised transport at my disposal and more. And I am forever grateful for all that I have. 2013, a year of big things. I am going to make a difference to people like Anie. That is part of the plan. To show them the way, to lead. And then to hopefully see them make that extra effort and make that difference. No a hand out. No. But some direction.