GROWING up, my parents stressed to me day in and day out that for me to achieve anything in life, I needed to be a hard worker. They pushed me to work hard at school. They forced me to work hard at home.
As an adult, I hear this gospel of hard work being preached everywhere. The equation is simple and is best explained by this quote: “to live like a king you have to work like a slave”. That is, working hard = prosperity.
This has me wondering why, if the solution is so simple, we have so many poor people wandering about. Most of my colleagues from university are not yet formally employed. What strikes me is that some of them are dirt poor and yet others are surviving.
These are two groups of people who worked hard to attain their degrees, hoping to get fantastic jobs and thus fabulous lives.
One group is sitting at home, crying every day that they do not have jobs and blaming the Government for not creating employment and praying hard for things to change. The other group has decided to fight the odds, try their hand in one business or the other, and are putting food on their tables.
In these two groups, there are those who are waiting patiently for the jobs trained for, and there are others who have decided to take whatever has fallen on their laps; thus we have qualified teachers who are vending fruits and trained psychologists working as housemaids.
I have a young brother, Dalubuhle Sibanda, who graduated with an honours degree in Environmental Studies about seven years ago. Dalu has never found a job in his field, but he has been working since he left college. He has tried more business ventures than I can remember.
I will never forget the time he ventured into mining and lost all his money in a compressor deal gone wrong, leaving him riddled with debt. I remember him coming to my restaurant (a venture I tried that also left me drowning in debt), where we would sit and plan our next move. At one point he was a bar manager, a position I feel he excelled in and there’s a time he was in South Africa trying to get a job. At no point have I known Dalu to sit and cry about his unemployment status. At no point have I seen him wait for the Government to create a job for him!
My young bother is the classic example of a “hard worker”. Why is he not living like a king? At what point in our lives does hard work pay off? For how long do we have to work like slaves before we start to live like kings?
I know of many people, who have spent their entire lives working in people’s homes. Cleaning after people while their husbands work as gardeners for the same people. In this bracket, we also have two groups. There is the group, whose children follow in their path and we see them breed generation after generation of housemaids and gardeners. We also have the group that spends all the money earned from domestic employment on educating their children. How many times have you heard the success story of lawyers and doctors who give testimonies of how their mothers educated them with monies saved from doing other people’s laundry?
Outside OK supermarket, in Gweru Zimbabwe, used to be a woman with no hands. People would crowd around her each day, and watch her give a magical show, where she would knit jerseys at lightning speed with her toes. She would sell the jerseys to the crowds who would buy out of awe and recognition of the drive she had to get herself out of poverty, against all odds. She was a pure example of the cliche; “disability is not inability”.
A few blocks away, there was a man with both hands and no legs, who sat in his wheelchair on the pavement with a tin plate, asking passers-by for donations. Again, two groups, one feeding off sympathy, and the other off their sweat.
At my aunt’s rural home, in Connemara, Matabeleland South, Zimbabwe, is an irrigation project. Villagers are allowed to plant gardens for both consumption and sale. It is up to the individual to decide what to plant, the size of the garden and what to do with the produce. We have two groups of villagers, one group wakes up daily to work in their gardens, the other waits patiently for their children and relatives in urban areas to provide them with all their needs.
Among those with gardens, some have tiny patches with a few vegetables for daily consumption and there are those with huge gardens with different types of cash crops that they sell.
This has led me to the conclusion that in life, we have two types of people. We have whiners who will tell everyone who cares to listen, their sob stories and hope that out of pity and sympathy, people will donate something to them.
In this group, lies those that will wait for their neighbours to plant gardens so they can go and ask for a few tomatoes. Here lies the Science graduate who will not stoop so low as to be seen selling bananas or teaching for that matter. He will wait for his brother who is a teacher, a profession he disdains, to send him a few dollars every month while he waits for a job that suits his “status’.
Then we have those people who will fight the odds and make ends meet, no matter what. These are the individuals who refuse to sit and wait for a break but try hard to work with what is available at the time. In this group we have the hard workers, who refuse to leave their destiny in the hands of the government, parents or siblings. People who have come to the realisation that our lives are truly, in our own hands.
With this realisation, I have come to believe that poverty is more mental than physical. We choose to stay poor or to fight hard to rise above our unfortunate circumstances. Yes, we have poor people who have worked hard, in vain, their entire lives, but the majority of hard workers do not go to bed on an empty stomach.