The Benefit of the Doubt:

Dear Mr President:

I have been told that I am “too critical” and negative when I write about you and the current situation, we, and it is we, as a country find ourselves in. I have been told that you are trying your best and that I should be more understanding of your situation as you have the entire country to look out for and I get that. I get that maybe you have endless nights where you can’t sleep and that you’re anxious about doing right by us, the people who voted you into power.

I thought I would explain why I am upset with you and it has nothing to do with me disliking you as many people have thought. I don’t dislike you, I don’t dislike anyone really, but I am deeply disappointed in you. I did not want to write a scathing letter because I am sure you have received many of those. Rather I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you don’t know what your employees are doing. I am basing this on your failure to address the many things that are wrong with the way black and brown people have been treated during this lockdown.

So here goes:

Do you recall, now that you have money what it was like to be vilified because you are black? Surely you must remember that because just like me, you lived through Apartheid. That trauma doesn’t leave you simply because you now have no financial problems. It sneaks up on you when you snatch a moment to yourself when you wake up at night surrounded by silence and even when you are lying in a bath thinking about the day ahead.  

Do you recall the promises you made about how you would change the country if you were allowed to do so?

I recall those days, so many black and brown people vividly recall those days because the trauma we suffered as a child and hoped we would never suffer again has visited our townships again. I thought maybe because you were too busy with meetings with “stakeholders” and economists that you have forgotten for a moment that those people with the billions in the bank are not the ones who believed in you and voted you into the position you are today.

See, I also “left the township” but I can’t forget what’s in my past nor can I forget the promises that were made and the hope you gave to people devoid of everything but hope that you can change their circumstances. Maybe you aren’t aware that people are dying, not from COVID19, but dying because they are losing hope. Hope that the people that promised to help them have discarded and abandoned them. I am not going to praise you for increasing social grants because it is less about money and more about seeing their humanity.

Did you know your employees are not treating people in townships as human but instead are killing them, humiliating them and treating them as if they are criminals? Are you aware of it? Does it hurt your heart when you read about it? Or are they simply casualties of war? Even though we aren’t at war, are we? Or is there something you aren’t telling us?

When your employees are killing people or abusing people for standing in the doorways of their tiny homes and enjoying a beer they bought, why is it not happening in the suburbs too? Have you seen your employees walk into peoples homes and trash it and destroy a few beers they are enjoying while social media is filled with videos of suburban people getting drunk on games such as egg challenges and none of your employees are knocking on their doors or smashing their bottles of liquor?

Do you know that despite your call on no evictions during lockdown that your employees have disobeyed that call and have smashed peoples houses during this lockdown and furthermore destroyed even the food they have? Maybe you don’t know about that, so I am giving you the benefit of the doubt and bringing it to your attention? Some of your employees seem to attach a level of sadism and cruelty to their duties and there seems to be more destruction to their job than protection.

Did you know that an 8-year-old child was killed by police, a young woman raped by one of your employees tasked with protecting them, the vulnerable? These are the stories that barely make the news and yet you talk about the billions and billions with not a word of warning or condemnation to your employees brutalizing black and brown bodies.

I thought I would let you know that the trauma and deliberate cruelty the people who voted for you are experiencing far outweighs the fear of the Coronavirus. What would it have cost you to simply publicly condemn these vile actions, instead you suspend a Minister in your Cabinet for breaking the law by disobeying lockdown orders? While her actions were wrong, do you honestly see the actions of your employees in the townships as right? If not, then why the deafening silence?

Did you know your employees have dumped homeless people in a field/camp without proper amenities for people with disabilities? Without considering the social distancing as prescribed by the World Health Organization. Did you know women were housed with men? Did you know one young lady was raped while in this camp? Even homeless people have a right to life, to dignity, to be free from harm. 

Do you know that companies being given “bailouts” or assistance are laying off employees anyway and or reducing their already meagre salaries? Who benefits in situations like this Mr President because it is not the workers?

Do you know how many people have wished that they could rather die from the disease than be treated like undisciplined, wild animals who need to be tamed? I am assuming you don’t know that people are being treated like this. This is of course before I even mention your corrupt employees who withhold food from hungry people or set up Jojo tanks in their own homes in the suburbs rather than give the much-needed water to the communities that have none.

 And as you are about to prepare for tonight’s talk to the nation about extending the lockdown, how much more abuse will be meted out to those who have done nothing but hope in you? Hope that you because you look like us, would have our interests at heart. As you discuss the lockdown with your stakeholders, your economists, your Ministers et al, is there one person there representing the plight of the people and the mental, emotional and psychological trauma they are suffering? Are you going to discuss the “humanitarian assistance” your employees were tasked to do?

Do we need more deaths before you will realize that your employees are not helping but harming us? As I stated before I live in the suburbs now and I see none of the brutality I hear and read about happening in the townships.

I don’t know what more to say except appeal to the boy inside who also suffered when black and brown people had no freedom and I continue to hope that maybe you did not know what was happening right under your nose.

Now you know though, so when this is done and casualties are counted, you can’t use the excuse that you never knew. 

I am giving you the benefit of the doubt that maybe, some of your employees deliberately hide these cruel deeds from you and that as you are now aware that you stand strong and become the hope that is so desperately needed right now. 

“A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

  • Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom