Fathers’ Rights…

May 25, 2010

I am helping a young man apply for his passport. It has been a little more tricky because this particular young man has lived in different institutions for most of his life and, because of human trafficking, Home Affairs make it a bit more difficult for a minor to apply for a passport. At first I was really happy about this, even though it was extra trouble for us, because I think being more stringent and minimizing the chances of young people being trafficked is a good thing.

So yesterday, after being told on the first visit the legal court appointed guardian has to sign if the young person is not under the parents’ care, I took the young man’s grandma (she is his legal guardian though he does not live with her) and him to Home Affairs. They took the papers, did everything that needed to be done, and we were on our way. This morning I got a call from someone at Home Affairs saying that they need the letter from the court (an official document) saying that his grandmother is his legal guardian, or both parents signatures. I was annoyed that they and not told us that when we were there.

I asked about just getting his mother’s signature, because the father is, and has been uninvolved for the child’s entire life. The lady told me that because the father signed the birth certificate, he also has to sign consent for a passport. “Even if he has never been involved in the kid’s life, and doesn’t even know what the kid looks like?!” I asked, kind of aggravated at the concept. The lady said yes. I said it was a bit ridiculous, in my opinion, and she told me that it was because of new laws the government has made to “protect fathers’ rights”. I laughed and said, “I do not believe fathers who make babies and don’t look after them have any rights as a father.”

The lady, maybe sharing my sentiment but more just wanting to get off the phone said, “Yeah, well they do now.”

I wanted to shout and scream. I wanted to tell the lady that having a penis and the ability to make babies does not make a person a father, or even a “real man” for that matter. I wanted to tell her with rights comes responsibility. I wanted to tell her her stupid rules were…well, stupid. But I realized I would just be shooting the messenger and she really has nothing to do with this bigger picture that makes me so angry. So, I had to vent somewhere!


Lessons of Indulgence Learned Through T-Pain, Me & Clinton, and Some Random Kids

May 23, 2010

About six weeks back I took Clinton to apply for his South African ID Book. Last Thursday he got the text message from Home Affairs saying that his ID Book was ready for collection. He was pumped. I picked him up from school on Friday and we went straight to Home Affairs. Sure enough, after not too long of a wait, Clinton was the proud holder of an official South African Identification Document Book! We decided to go to Steers for some celebratory lunch.

For those of you who don’t know, Steers is really no big deal. I mean, it’s just a fast food restaurant, though I realize it is a tad bit more expensive than McDonalds. But our reasons for going there were not special, and mostly just a matter of convenience because that particular Steers was on our way home. But yeah, I mean, fast food or not, I guess Steers is still a luxury in a country where the masses live in poverty. But still, really no big deal.

So, we pulled up to Steers and got out of the car. On the way in three little boys approached us with outstretched hands asking for “Fufty cents for some bread.” I smiled at the spokesperson of the group, “Sorry buddy. Not today,” and Clinton and I went on in to order our meal. It came to just over a hundred rand (about 13$ U.S.). Wow! Steers is more expensive than McDonalds! We got the food, sat down at a table, and began to eat. Both Clinton and I immediately got sucked in to the television that hung high above our heads. MTV Cribs was on and they were touring T-Pain’s house, “Yeah, yeah! And this right here, this is studio A. I got three studios: A, B and C.” Three studios?!?! I mean, what on earth does T-Pain need three studios for?! Would one not be enough?

Throughout the Cribs tour, Clinton and I continuously shook our heads in disbelief, looked at each other with the “can you believe that junk?!” face, and then rolled our eyes as we turned our heads back to the screen, as T-Pain showed us his cars, his kitchen (that is bigger than my whole flat), his three studios, his game room, his pool, his bedroom, his club (yes, in his house), and so on and so forth. We could not believe this guy, and the likes of him! I mean, wasting all that money on all that stuff!! I mean, the whole of Khayelitsha could live in T-Pain’s bedroom! The nerve! “How can someone live like that knowing there are people living in absolute poverty?!” I complained.

And then something happened. In between the rolling of eyes, sounds of exasperation, and comments of how ridiculous T-Pain’s spending habits are, I looked out the large Steers windows and made eye contact with the three little boys who were still standing just outside, the ones who had asked for only “fufty cents”. They were watching Clinton and I scarf down a hundred-rand-meal with the exact same reaction as Clinton and I had to T-Pain’s overindulgent estate and lifestyle. To them, our spending was just as ridiculous as T-Pain’s was to us. As Clinton and I sat, eating and judging T-Pain with our good-Lord-why-do-you-need-a-flat-screen-TV-in-your-shower’s, the three little boys outside were looking in on us wondering why we could afford to eat such an “expensive meal” without even being able to spare them fifty cents. Maybe thinking, “Don’t they know a chip roll is less than ten rand?!”

And I realized, I may not have six cars, two pools, three studios and a lounge the size of the small town I come from, but my lifestyle, as humble as it may seem to me, can look just as luxurious to others who have less, as T-Pain’s does to me. I don’t have to feel guilty or sorry for it. Maybe just aware. And I have to take the responsibility that comes with the level of lifestyle I live. The whole, “the more you have the more is expected of you” kind of thing. And not judging others is probably a good lesson to learn to. We’re no better than T-Pain, though for a minute, Clinton and I had convinced ourselves we were.


My South Africa

April 10, 2010

My friend Lindsay had to go to home affairs yesterday to sort out some paperwork for her newborn baby. Right when she left she called me to share a funny experience. It was too classic not to pass on…

Like may institutions in South Africa, as you enter Home Affairs you have to go through a big medal detector, after you have handed over your wallet, cell phone, keys, loose coins, and bags to the security guard, and before you risk a possible search and or “wanding” by the next security guard. It’s pretty standard practice. Everyone is used to it by now.

So my friend Lindsay was waiting in line for her opportunity to walk through the plastic-gateway-to-where-ever, but the line was being held up by the gentleman in front of her. He was scruffy, unkempt, possibly homeless, pretty dirty, maybe in his mid-fifties, and just had the general look of having been beat down by life. The man walked through the medal detector and it beeped. The security guard motioned for him to walk back through to the other side, whilst reiterating the need for the man to empty his pockets.

Pretty agitated at this point, the man said, “I don’t HAVE a cell phone, wallet or keys!” as he threw his hands into the air. The security guard insisted that something was setting off the detector. At that note, totally frustrated with the bureaucracy of Home Affairs “cell phone, wallet and keys checking system”, the man reached in his pants, pulled out an object, threw his other hand in the air as if to say “this is no big deal and it’s definitely not a cell phone, wallet, keys, or coins”, and huffed, “All I have is this!” as if to prove his point that the security guard was being ridiculous, and possibly even discriminating against a poor man who has nothing, cruelly rubbing it in that he does not own a set of keys or a cell or a stuffed wallet.

At this point Lindsay looked at the item the man was holding and she could not hold back her laughter.

The item that set off the medal detector was a six-inch butcher knife.

I love this country!!