Returning home from friends, an occasion or the beach or just from outside reminded of my place in society and just how much people who looked like me mattered or rather didn’t matter. The place we called home was 6 by 9 meters in size, sporting one bedroom that traded places with a lounge area, a kitchen that doubled as a bedroom, accommodating two bunk beds for my brother and me, which was exactly six inches away from the only tap in the house. The 1 by 3-meter bathroom was separated from the kitchen by a singly wall, and this accommodated a commode and shower. No house built for black people came fitted with a geyser for hot water, nor a stove for cooking meals. Those were considered luxury items by the Apartheid regime that black people didn’t deserve. The subconscious argument was, “don’t allow them to get used to nice things. It makes them lazy.”

The house was semi-detached with a single wall separating us from our equally poor neighbours, a generous Muslim family that we considered to be our own family. The indescribable horrors of grinding poverty have a way of bonding people for a lifetime because of common shared experiences that I later in my life learned was something the rich sorely lacked. Besides the constant cold in Winter, the empty tummies and the general lack of things other kids took for granted, it was in my view constant worry about the future, a type of emotional and psychological torture that eats at your soul and you can never shake that pathology of worrying, fussing over things that may never happen and the embedded fear of foreboding. Ranked right next to that was the lack of money forces you to stay right where you are, offering no respite from any of the lack of life-sustaining things needed to live. It forced you to face your old and new enemies because you were trapped, the system’s cruellest component by far is the feeling of being trapped by your circumstances which eventually translates into a subconscious feeling of destiny, or “fate trapped me here because I needed to learn some arcane life lessons?”

The circumstances of systemic poverty force you to lapse into periods of excessive dreaming, delusion and magical fantasies to escape. It is not uncommon for poor people to express grandiose feelings that are actualised in them playing the lottery and spending their last hard-earned monies of games of chance, believing that fate will deal them a better hand just this once and that they even deserve it. A caged beast is one that slowly but surely dies from inside the moment the prison door shuts behind it. Hope is at once the brightest companion but your deadliest enemy because it has no limitations. This coupled with the magical thinking so endemic to the modern-day interpretation of religions emasculates the poor spiritually, mentally and finally, physically. So the cheapness of life quickly translates into gang memberships, the use of untested street drugs and unprotected sex. In a twisted way, the poor paradoxically become the biggest risk-takers in our highly stratified society and with it comes the highest levels of violence and mortalities.

It isn’t so much that poor people are uniformly uneducated, they are more undereducated that completely unprepared for “the real world” so they view hustling and excessive borrowing as normal social mores and acceptable behaviours. They earn less than their middle-class peers because poverty is first a systemically imposed set of circumstance which quickly transforms itself into a pathology that becomes a mental disease, a plague that no amount of scratching or anti-histamines can provide relief from. That disease is evident in every single interaction with normal people sans my childhood. 

I don’t have a big appetite, my tastes are simple and I don’t trust the systems of credit because I’ve seen how it has ruined and brought shame to countless neighbours and friends from my neck of the woods. The part that not even Goldilocks dare venture into, where there are only wolves, each predating on each other with a singular viciousness so utterly lacking in humanity, we may as well describe it as a “slow-motion” mass murder…….….Part iv to follow