Friday, July 08, 2016

Wider Comparison, Wider Community

Unemployment rates are hard to measure. The informal economy carries on ticking and people support each other in non-financial ways. It does give an idea of how many people are struggling though. In South Africa, 26.7% of the 'people actively looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force' are unsuccessful. This results in lots of jobs you don't get in London. There are petrol attendants who will fill your car up, clean the windows, and check the oil. There are people at robots (traffic lights) with watches, drinks, magazines or bags to collect rubbish. Cleaning services cost in the range of R150-R250 a day (£5-£13). 72% of households (3 people on average) in the suburb of Langa earned less than R3200 (<£170) a month in the last census. There are Johannesburg street corners where men just sit, hoping someone will pick them up for work. If no one has come by mid-afternoon, they wander off.

I wrote a post called 'ignoring Cape Town' where I talked about how some people find the contrast between the people struggling and the people thriving too intense. So they move. There are lots of people in South Africa doing very well. As well as in the big Global Cities. There are artisan coffee shops, amazing restaurants, beautiful beaches and all the other pleasures available around the world. The truth is Global Citizenship isn't a choice. It isn't something we vote on. It is something we are. If you live in Sydney, Vancouver, and San Francisco you could have a lived experience very close to someone in Cape Town. Same phone, bed, television, job, language, TV shows, and hobbies. The only difference is the distance from the struggle. I don't think that distance absolves you. The world is so intertwined, we are one community.

Muizenberg near Cape Town
Life can be amazing, Life can be tough

There is still struggle in most places. Different struggle with common ingredients. In Chicago, I saw Apartheid live and well. I got a better understanding of how poverty can still exist in a wealthy country. We have an amazing ability to ignore. Aspiration normally looks up. We want to be better than yesterday. We want to move forward. We compare ourselves to our heroes. We make relative comparisons. We figure out our wealth in relative terms. Often this is done in the completely random way of using national borders. I think this ignores the reality of Global Apartheid. Borders are fairly meaningless. People can live right next to each other and go through life completely differently.

Life can be amazing, Life can be tough

We should avoid defining problems in National terms. We can learn a lot by opening our eyes to the rest of the world. Unemployment in Cape Town is also the problem of people in San Francisco. The war in Sudan is also the problem of people in South Africa. The racial divisions in Chicago are still the problem of the people in Johannesburg. We can learn from each other. We can walk together.
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