When Uncle Tom visited his relatives in Crossroads informal settlement in South Africa, no reporters were surprised to see us eating porridge and tomato gravy, taking the bus to town and having an alcoholic uncle (not me, mind you, it’s uncle Boetie) who walks around in a vest and scratches himself.
That is, perhaps, because practically all families in Crossroads, South Africa, eat porridge, take the bus and have an alcoholic uncle.
But when a BBC man called John Simpson saw white people living like that, with frayed electricity cables and only one small TV, and walking around with liquor bottles and in vests, he got very upset. He wrote an article (read it here) that said that white people may not have a future in South Africa. He said that us blacks are murdering white farmers and not giving white people jobs anymore and we don’t care about them.
That was very sad, considering that my Crossroads family, from cousin Amos to grandpa Fred and aunt Dolly (and even her no-good husband Boetie) have been caring a lot for white people in South Africa. Grandpa Fred worked as a gardener and kitchen boy in a white persons’s house all his life, and cousin Amos still picks grapes in the fields on Van der Merwe’s farm. (Amos said he wouldn’t dare not care about old Baas van der Merwe, because the sjambok still hangs on the wall there.) Aunt Dolly is the maid and children’s nanny for a perfectly nice white family, and if you look at how these cute little white children are done up neatly in well-ironed dresses every day, and how their mother adores aunt Dolly, you would understand why all of us in Crossroads are so surprised at that article Mr Simpson wrote. Uncle Boetie, who gets forced by aunt Dolly to go and clean offices of white people every once in a while, made the point that, indeed, he never saw a white fellow cleaner there, but that it was not him nor another black man who was keeping them out of those jobs. Interestingly, the boss who hires the cleaners is a white man called Simpson. We all laughed a lot when uncle Boetie said that.
Our family said they did see poor white beggars sometimes at traffic lights, and then they felt really sorry for them, because really, white people should not be poor. They can’t stand it like we can. (Although some of them really do seem like they can hold their liquor, said Uncle Boetie.) Then Aunt Dolly said that she once saw a report from London in England on the TV and it was about poor white people there. She said she wondered if they had a future in London, and was Mr Simpson of the BBC aware?
When I left Crossroads to go back to my own home, Uncle Boetie giggled that I should look for a country where there were no poor black people. Then aunt Dolly sent him back inside to go do dishes.