Sunday, July 18, 2010

My 67 minutes of charity

The call was made to every South African to donate 67 minutes of their time towards some sort of charity in order to commemorate Nelson Mandela Day. To promote this a bunch of celebrity "wannabe bikers" would ride all the way from Johannesburg to Cape Town and get involved in some community projects on their way down to the Mother City. The last stretch would be from Franschhoek going down to the biggest black township in the Western Cape, Khayelitsha. Here they would contribute by "putting up a fence" to show their involvement and to motivate others to adopt the same attitude. So this is where my story starts....

After seeing an invitation from the Cape Town BMW Motorcycle Club to join these celebrity bikers from Franschhoek to Khayelitsha, I decided that this was the perfect opportunity for me to pledge my 67 minutes while having fun at the same time. I was a bit scared that I might have to dig sewage trenches or build schools, but putting up a fence could not ruin my motorbike attire too much and I was happy to go along. Getting a bike ride as part of the deal was an opportunity not to be wasted and a bonus. I was hoping that my wife would come along, but she had recently decided that "putting all our eggs in one basket" on a bike while we have a 3-year old son was not a good idea anymore. "What would happen to him if we don't survive a crash or something?" So to have some company I had to find another pillion fast. Besides, the more hands we had to erect the fence, the less work for me I reckoned. My new pillion, which happened to be one of my friend's "eggs", was more than willing to cruise along. She claimed that she had her "pillion training" many years ago on speed bikes, but she soon realized that there is quite a difference between a speed bike and a dual purpose semi-offroad like my 800 GS. Speed bikes are for real men with more balls than brains, while my rugged looking semi-offroad macho machine is more for real men with balls as well as brains. Being a pillion on these different types of bikes differs quite a lot, but she was a fast learner and got the feel for the more adventurous bike pretty quick. This time she only had to sit still and enjoy the scenery. But this she would only figure out a little later on the trip.

My charity actually started at around 7.25 when I collected my pillion from her house. By providing some additional biking excitement to my passenger I was for sure in for more than 67 minutes of "charity" for the day. The meeting point for the bikers (the real ones) was 8am at the N1 Engen garage. On our way there the temperature dropped to 6 deg C and I could see that I might lose my pillion if we didn't stop for coffee soon. When we arrived at the Engen meeting point we were told that we should be moving on, so no time to defrost and no time for coffee either. On our way to Franschhoek we hit temperatures of 3 deg C and at 130 km/h it can get rather chilly. We all managed to reach Franschhoek without looking like popsicles and fortunately for us there we had time for a cup of coffee and a muffin. After that we departed to meet the fancy wannabee bikers at a posh estate just outside Franschhoek.

When we arrived at the hotel the celebrities were still picking bacon from their teeth after their full English breakfast. One of them was none other than Madiba's stunt double from the movie Invictus, Morgan Freeman. It was clear that they had a good night's sleep in this 5-star hotel where the rooms could easily go for R1500 per person per night sharing. If I had known that doing charity was such an luxurious affair I would've opted for the whole week in stead of just 67 minutes, but I guess I don't have celebrity status yet and would not have qualified for the team. Of course the media was on time as well and when Mr Freeman showed his face outside for the first time I wondered if anyone were really thinking about the poor kids in Khayelistha at that moment. I also forgot about them for a while and tried to get some pictures myself without being too obvious about doing it.

At 9.30 we were ready to leave in a well structured convoy. We were told that the celebrity wannabee bikers would ride in front, then a flashy BMW with Mr Freeman as occupant behind them, and then the real bikers would follow suit. The explanation was that the wannabee bikers were scared that the real bikers would go too fast and make them nervous on the road. This was just a bunch of bullshit of course. They didn't want to mix the elite with the riffraff. So, off we went, about 40 bikers on their way to do charity work in Khayelitsha. All of us on bikes worth R100 000 or more and Mr Freeman in his R850 000 7-series BMW. What a way to get our hands dirty for charity...

Needless to say, the ride to Khayelitsha was awesome. All bike rides are usually awesome. We went from Franschhoek through Stellenbosch along the most beautiful roads and scenery. The traffic officers stopped all traffic and allowed us to cross red lights and disrespect speed limits. With the Beemer in the middle, 8 traffic officers on motorcycles in front and the 20 riffraff "bodyguards" following, I couldn't help but feel like a VIP escort for some Head of State in Africa. Presidential convoys are so typical of Africa and this one had the same pretentiousness. My pillion at this point realized that she could release her claws from my jacket and that we could actually go around corners without having to touch the tarmac with our knees. She took out the camera and started taking pictures like a chinese tourist on her first trip to the Kruger National Park. She got so carried away with the pictures that at some point I had to turn around to see if she was still on the bike.

Now this would not only have been my first time in Khayelitsha, but also my first time in a black township. I don't know why the old regime planned the black townships in such a way that it feels like once you're in you can never get out again, but I guess it added to the excitement. Khayelitsha was no different. You can drive in circles going deeper and deeper with the prospects of ever seeing your family again seemingly getting smaller and smaller. This was probably my biggest concern, how to get out once I'm in. But with a group of 40 bikes, Mr Freeman in his BMW and all the staff from the local police stations on duty alongside the roads, I was not worried at all. Today I was going to erect a fence in 67 minutes flat, and then I'm going to negotiate my way out again and feel proud of myself. I was rather disappointed when we came closer to the spot where the rest of Cape Town's media and some other high profile celebrities were already waiting. The area was cordoned off and the poor people whose lives I was about to change were nowhere to be seen. All that we found was a plot of land belonging to some charity organization with a section of a fence in the middle of nowhere, half way erected already. All that was needed was for someone to attach the upright slats with some bolts and a rachet socket. Not nearly blisters-on-your-hands kinda work at all, and nothing that would further ruin my bike jacket with the recently acquired claw marks. Only then I realized that erecting this fence which didn't really fence off anything was nothing more than a publicity stunt. With camera's clicking Mr Freeman nonchalantly walked towards the fence while someone was already holding one of the slats to be tightened. With one hand in his pocket, he lifted the rachet socket and while smiling at the camera he made a few dummy turns. This was done with a spanner that was shining brighter than the beemer he had arrived in. Nor he nor the socket spanner has ever done more than 67 second's worth of hard labour before, let alone 67 minutes of it. I was still taking pictures of Mr Freeman when somebody mentioned that the Western Cape Premier, Mrs Helen Zille, was also helping at that stage. I wouldn't even have noticed her if someone else hadn't point her out to me. Not only is she too short to pose next to Mr Freeman on the same portrait, but she was pretending to tighten some bolts lower down on the same slat somewhere around the height of his waist. I was too disgusted to take any pictures of her effort and rather went for a much needed wee in one of the temporary mobile toilets that were shipped in especially for this occasion. That was probably the only toilet in Khayelistha with running water at that time, and I am pretty sure they didn't leave it there after the theatrical procedings were done for the day. The ANC Youth League has a history of destroying toilets that were not built with solid bricks.

I looked at the spectacle of VIPs trying to look all interested in doing their bit for the community, the dozens of photographers trying to get the best shot for their morning paper, the real bikers watching the organized choas form a slight distance and the clear absence of hungry black faces benefitting anything from this exercise. I looked at my hands that have never done any hard work for anyone that I could be proud of and wondered if I was just as fake as these people with all their money and riches. There are so many people that have sacrificed their lives to help the poor and needy, and here we were with our shiny bikes and flashy cars trying to look important. I asked myself what did I contribute today, and I couldn't think of anything. Maybe I didn't contribute to this event at all today, but it stopped me for about 67 seconds to reflect on myself and what I have. Whether I was previously "advantaged" or not, whether I worked for what I have or not, I was fortunate to be there, to have what I have and to live the life I live. I was wondering what I could do to give something of myself to the poor. Not to gain anything by doing it, but to do it as a way of showing my appreciation for what I have. Who cares if this whole exercise was just a show or not, it opened my eyes. It made me think. If this was the objective and one person today was made aware of how much his support and contribution could mean to others then the objective was achieved. How many more did experience what I have experienced today. Together we can all make a difference, if we are only willing to put aside the much needed time. I am sure I will find another 67 minutes to do something more substantial than what I did today and that many others would do the same.

Happy Birthday Madiba.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations with your willingness to contribute 67 minutes Manie. It is indeed sad to hear of misguided efforts to address the complex issue of uprooting poverty. Whilst glamor attracts the spotlight I applaud the many unsung heroes working tirelessly to make South Africa a better place.