This is how the elderly gentleman introduces himself to me & Zuko.
He is one of the powerless.
The hopeful powerless.
Who has suffered the consequences of greedy people seeking only profit.
The consequence of good men doing nothing.
He has seen 67 winters.
The most recent one the worst of them all.
Wilson lives in Sowet-on-Sea in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape.
He has lived here since the late seventies.
With his wife Dorris.
Together they’ve built a humble life.
They’ve had three children.
Dorris stayed home to raise them, while Wilson would head out, by train, to one of the wealthy white neighborhoods of the time, to tend the garden of the Walton family.
Wilson was a young man at the height of Apartheid.
He diligently carried his pass book.
He adhered to curfews.
He bowed his head in humble humiliation.
He celebrated a new freedom, brought about by Nelson Mandela & Govan Mbeki and many men & women like them, who sacrificed inspired by the dream of a fair & just society.
One in which vulnerable people are protected.
As we stand in his house, he tells us about twenty-six years of service with the Walton-family.
About saving little bits of money to build a home from corrugated iron, making it larger & larger as each child is welcomed into their family.
About the excitement, in the late nineties, when he was told their home would be formalized.
Their roof the only corrugated iron.
With a toilet.
Comfort and amenities I never questioned and took for granted as I grew up in my own white neighborhood, while he toiled in another privileged family’s garden.
He speaks of the reluctance when, fourteen years later, they approached him with the suggestion of improving his home.
‘We built in cupboards. We lay tiles. And carpets. We scraped here & there to make our new house something wonderful. It was a dream come true. Something we never thought would happen.’
I can see the nostalgia in Wilson’s eyes.
The wrinkle of his thick white beard as he remembers the late nights working on improving their home.
‘When I retired, we took the money we saved & built a new kitchen.’
‘We were happy with what we had. I am old. We both are. They said they wanted to give our house a tile roof. New gutters. A water tank to catch the rain. We didn’t want to be ungrateful. They said it would be a week. Maybe two weeks. And when they’re done, it would be better.’
‘It was in the second week of June, when they came,’ Wilson remembers.
In terms of his lifetime, it was yesterday.
In terms of what is just and fair & right, it was another lifetime ago.
They removed the Dumezwemi-family-home’s roof.
A crude shack, reminiscent of the one in which Wilson grew-up, was to be their home for a few nights.
Then came the rain.
The first of one of the wettest winters in Nelson Mandela Bay history.
And with the rain, came the wait.
The long torturous wait.
For a roof to be replaced.
A few days gave way to weeks.
Winter gave way to Spring.
And now to Summer.
And Wilson and his wife and the three toddler grand-children entrusted to them – they still sleep in that crude shack.
The cupboards in their home destroyed.
The carpet on their once proud floors, the tiles, wasted.
The once beautifully clean, painted walls, hosts to a legion of neatly framed family photographs now bare & stained & dirty.
We stand in what was once the Dumezwemi family’s lounge.
It looks like an image from a war movie.
Wilson’s wife shows us the kitchen.
Wilson lifts & undoes a plastic sheet, desperately draped over their few belongings.
In the hope that something would be saved.
Checking its condition as he shows us the inevitable damage.
How can anyone expect someone to move from their house into a shack?
Even for a week?
How can anyone expect someone who is old & frail to wait for months on end, without any word, in the hope that perhaps a roof might be replaced?
The Dumezwemi family is not the only family in this predicament.
There are others.
Perhaps as many as fifty other families.
How can anyone expect someone not to become angry as they watch how their only belongings are slowly eroded & destroyed?
And yet, Wilson is not angry.
At least not visibly.
Which is worse.
How can we see this & think that it is okay?
A newspaper article.
A conversation on radio.
And resigned we get in our cars and drive to our homes.
And complacent we switch on our plasma screen TV’s & we escape into the world of Generations & Isidingo & 7de Laan.
And we prepare supper in our fancy kitchens.
And we wash in our luxurious bathrooms.
And we sleep in our warm comfortable beds.
And we banish from our minds the injustice.
Would I be happy & content if this was done to the Pienaar-family?
Would I stand & watch, passively, had this been my father & mother.
And the councilor pulls up his shoulders.
And the strife between our Mayor & the African National Congress’ Regional Executive Committee drags on.
Tomorrow they vote on the motion of no confidence submitted by the so-called Democratic Alliance.
Tonight Wilson & Dorris & their three grand-children sleep another night in the shack.
Hoping it won’t rain.
That something might be saved.
Hoping good men won’t do nothing.
And they kneel.
And they pray.
‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Preserve us from evil. Forgive us, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’
And God is deaf.
For strife continues amongst the deployed elect.
And we get in our cars and drive to our homes.
And we switch on our TV’s.
And we escape into the world of Generations & Isidingo & 7de Laan.
And we eat & wash & sleep.
And we banish from our minds the injustice.