Are we a product of of our Environment or our Choices?

On 22 August 2017 , the former statistician-general Pali Lehohla released the latest report of Poverty Trends in South Africa.
This depressing report got me thinking about how our environment can lead to a never ending cycle of poverty. The report reveals that the victims of poverty in South Africa are children aged 17 years and younger, black Africans, females, those with little or no education and people in rural areas. And the most affected provinces are the Eastern Cape and Limpopo.

While poverty is highest amongst children (aged 0–17), poverty levels tend to drop as they reach productive/working age and only starts to increase again from the age of 55 on wards. This is the cycle I have  seen in my own family, whereby, one person worked until they were old and then they become (do I dare say) a “burden”? to their children. I say the word “burden” with caution because, as black people we have been raised to believe black tax is  a way of life. I will not go deep on this topic today , but I will say that we need to reverse this and leave our children a legacy and not be the reason they can’ t gift their children their passive income streams. 

Now back to the environment we grow up in. Children and the  elderly are the two most vulnerable groups in this country. Elderly people often need medical attention and their pension is only enough to afford them basic food for the month. To add salt to the wound, some of them are guardians to a number of grandchildren. The 0-17 age group need a good education for them to be able to break the cycle of poverty.
In 2015, Living Conditions Survey data revealed that over 13 million children living in South Africa would not have healthy childhood development due to poverty. This is a disadvantage that cannot be denied, it lessens the chances of that child successfully competing with their peers for a bursary, for a spot in institutions of higher learning and eventually for employment at a later stage.

As someone who grew up in Soshanguve, a township 30 kilometres away from Pretoria CBD, I was exposed to child-led households and struggling pensioners raising their grandchildren. Many of the young people would later become (nyaope – also known as Whoongaa is a cocktail of dagga, heroin, Anti-retro-viral drugs, rat poison and acid),  addicts because of their hopeless situation, lack of knowledge or because of wrong influences in their lives. The people who survive in such circumstances are either strong willed or they  find hope in someone who believes in them in the community, school or church.

I’m not from a rich family but we managed to get by. My parents were dedicated to encouraging us to get the education they never had, but we still lived hand to mouth. We never really had enough for holidays or savings for the future. They did their best with the little they had. I went to primary and high school in the township, and it is easy to believe you’re very smart when you are one of the best performing learners in a public school. But reality hits you when you arrive at an institution like University of Pretoria . And  you realise you were good in high school, but here, you are just average. Then you wonder, what are the chances of someone who struggled through public high school graduating from University?This can either force you to work harder just to prove to yourself that you deserve to be there, or it can cause you to doubt yourself and lead to you dropping out. 

The evidence suggests breaking out of poverty when you have this kind of background is a tall order, but not impossible. It is easier to believe the lie that you will never make it out of a place like Soshanguve, it is easier to start abusing alcohol, smoking nyaope and stealing from your parents. If it is not nyaope you are into, it could be the serious kind of crime like high-jacking. You may not be drinking or smoking all day, you don’t work for anyone either, but you own a (Vrrr Pha) Golf GTI, you probably still live in your mother’s house which you have revamped, but you are out at night hustling. She (your mother) complains you are out at night and it is not safe but she doesn’t dare ask you what is it that you do, because deep down she knows she is a beneficiary of the hustle. She (your mother) prays you come back alive every time you leave. She justifies your life choices by saying that at least you take care of her and your siblings which is more than what she could say about your father. This is the daily reality of many young people and their families.

If they say I was dealt cards and the choices were poverty or crime or drug addiction would it be an excuse?
It is unfortunate that economic conditions, the quality of education and environment we find ourselves in, may be the reason some people will never break out of the cycle. The people who go and vandalize infrastructure, burn buses during a protest action due to a power outage, are the same uneducated unemployed youth. He burns the clinic that he will need tomorrow over something that can be fixed today. A lot of them have the same mindset they feel cheated by life and they no longer have a conscience. They rob and steal from their own blood, they are in survival mode nothing else matters except the habits they are feeding. They are angry at God, their parents, the government and most of all they are angry at themselves.
But why do we give the government and other people so much power over our lives? Should the government be our Messiah?

There are many people who grow up in similar or even worse conditions, but grow up to be respectable citizens in society despite their upbringing. Yes it takes discipline, someone who believes in you, a praying mother or grandmother, strict parents for some, and self-determination for others. For some of us it was a combination of things and believing God has a bigger purpose for your life.
What if there is no one who believes or prays for you? Is that the end for you?
I don’t have the answer but when I discussed this with Sweet-One I was reminded of one important fact, and that is, we all have one thing in common and that is choice. Make the right one.

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Tumi Tjale
1st Mar 2018 15:21

Tjoooo Pru ! Now you’ve touched on the topic that is very close to my heart. As a matter of fact, I’m going to share your blog on my website touching on the very same topic. I have taken a decision to stand up and do something about this situation. I have embarked on a project called “Re a kgathala” (meaning We Care). It is not enough but it is something. Hopefully you and others will join me once the project kick starts. I will keep you informed.

Thank you for this !