On Saturday, two things happened in my life that do not seem unusual at all. And yet, they highlight the enormous economic divide that exists in South Africa. What happened? I had lunch and my flat was cleaned.
Let’s start with the cleaning. I employ a domestic worker on an ad hoc basis – roughly every three weeks at the moment. She (I won’t name her for the sake of her privacy) spends about 6 hours making my home clean, neat and tidy, and in return I pay her R250. This happened on Saturday.
While my flat was being cleaned, I went to lunch with my Dad. We had a very pleasant curry lunch with a few drinks at his current favourite curry place. I paid for the meal, which ended up costing R360.
Those two transactions – each of which seems so very normal to me – are in such massive contrast to each other that I’ve been thinking about them ever since. I literally paid more for lunch than another human being earns in a day.
Let’s put that into a bit more perspective. Assuming she works 6 days a week for R250, that’s a weekly income of R1500, or roughly R6000 per month. On a R6000 salary, the idea of going out for a lunch that costs R360 is ludicrous.
In my life, a R360 lunch for two is not particularly expensive. It could easily have been a fair amount more and it wouldn’t have bothered me particularly. Yet, for my employee, the lunch I had on Saturday would have been ridiculously extravagant. It would be as unlikely for her as driving a Porsche is for me.
The economic inequality that is visible here is startling. I know a person who is economically incapable of experiencing my lifestyle. I can’t even imagine trying to make ends meet on a R6000 salary, and I’m a single man with few responsibilities. The woman who works for me is a wife and a mother to two children.
How does such massive inequality exist? Why do I allow it? Do I have a choice? Is there anything I can do to change the situation?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I really would like to find out. Any comments or suggestions are welcome.