Poverty porn or poverty tourism is one aspect of my time in South Africa that was difficult to understand. Before I go any further I will state that the United States also has issues with poverty porn, which plays out on television for millions of viewers on a number of “reality” shows. The US entertainment industry has exported this idea to the UK too. You’re welcome. No, really-I’m sorry.
I took a couple of tour trips into townships, two of them were with my school group on a city tour. When the bus pulled into the township children and men (unemployment rate is 26%) would come toward the bus. Some of the people smiled, but many of them flipped us off and yelled obscenities at the bus. I couldn’t feel mad at them because almost felt like we shouldn’t be there. Yes, going through the township helped me visualize the conditions, but it just felt wrong. It felt like the residents were, yet again, being exploited without their consent for the gain of the country. The people looking on our bus with distain did not know that we were students eager to learn about their country and trying to do it with a sense of respect. I think what bothered me the most on the township tour was that the tour was not given by someone who lived in the township. People deserve the right and ability to tell their own story. Especially, when it comes to people from the continent of Africa because a single African story has been so deeply woven into the fabric of the Western narrative that the majority of westerners do not realize what a fallacy it is.
Billed as a themed B&B where “you can experience staying in a Shanty within the safe environment of a private game reserve. This is the only Shanty Town in the world equipped with under-floor heating and wireless internet access! The Shanty Town is ideal for team building, braais, fancy theme parties and an experience of a lifetime.”
This past week while parked at the robot, I saw two males walking towards the car in front of me. The driver handed each of the men a loaf of bread. They proceeded to cross the road, sit on the side and eat the bread. They looked most grateful and as I sat there in my car I felt the most horrible feeling of sadness and wishing I could help too. A few days later driving in the CBD I witnessed a man desperately trying to get every drop of food out of a small container while sitting on the side of the road with crutches.
Living in South Africa, these are the things we see on a daily basis. There are millions of homeless people who battle every day just to receive a meal to sustain them. This is their life, many being born and dying on the streets.
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