I have a friend with 40 cattle. He also owns goats, chickens, pigs and a few hectares under cultivation. The rest of his land is filled with all sorts of fruit trees. He has no cell phone or television, but he does have three wives, fifteen healthy, happy, productive children…okay, you got me, his one son is a bit of a scoundrel, but hey, whoever you are, I know you got one in your family, too. I visited Johnathan the other day. It is a long drive, but the detour is for my own pleasure.
Anyway, Johnathan has been living the good life long enough to have had enough of it. He has raised his children and cared for his wives, and he wants to go to rest now, but he can’t. In his old age, my friend Johnathan has found out that he is dirt poor, deplorable and a threat to national food security and investor interests. Education amongst the locals regarding road safety remains a challenge, another three donkey carts were squashed by mine trucks in the last thirty days, but still most of the locals refuse to switch over to automated transport. Offering vehicles at preferential interest rates and low deposits have so far proven unsuccessful. A program for incentivising entrepreneurs in transport operations was fully subscribed by the mayor and a nephew of the local MEC.
You see, Johnathan’s tribe has been the recipients of Institutional Charity. Some NGO has decided that Johnathan and his family deserve better. Johnathan’s lack of social connectivity, his total disregard for climate change, and his Resistance to Change are all signs of backwardness and legacy oppression. Hundreds of millions of dollars has flown into the area, and Development has proceeded. A shiny new highway for the mining trucks, a brand new clinic with real Sisters, in White Clothes. The dingy old clinic down by the Baobab tree has been closed down, it was really just a large outhouse with three-and-a-half chairs and a steel table. The van with the doctors and sisters came around every other week, serious cases were taken by whatever means to the nearest big town, fifty kilos by way of the new highway, but the donkey carts could cut across the hill there, and cross the river down by Old Jones’ gate, and from there it’s all downhill and straight, about three hours’ worth if you don’t flog the donkeys.
The donkey carts don’t go anymore. The hill now belongs to the Mine, and no-one is allowed near that land. Old Jones sold off for nothing once the water turned bad. The mine sent lawyers to explain to him why accusing the mine of polluting his water would be a serious miscalculation. He was an old, lonely man, Old Jones, him and Johnathan grew up together I am told, but I never met him. Losing his farm after watching his cattle waste away on poisonous water did him badly. He died before he signed the lease on the townhouse his lawyer sold him. Yeah, you read that right.
Anyway, shiny clinics run by shiny people in shiny White Clothes operate a bit differently than brick outhouses run by local government; you have to pay up front. When Johnathan’s daughter became pregnant, she was told she needed to be examined, the examination led to scans and tests and supplements and a huge bill no-one told her was part of the deal. Her previous two babies were for free, and did they not have all their toes? Johnathan learnt about Bonds and Loans when he went to the hospital to hear why they want to have his daughter arrested.
Johnathan is now the proud holder of something called a bond. Lucky Johnathan, free education just like that. He has already had to sell his cattle; the three left standing after a really bad mine spill. No use keeping any, the communal land is now privatised, poisoned or dominated by the local Mafiosi, also known as the mayor and his cronies. He lives in a brick house now, not his old ramshackle wood-and-mud kaya back on the farm. He has electricity and running water installed, but he never has money for the meters. The council is threatening to throw him out for rates arears and the hospital is still looking for their money. Johnathan now has all the benefits of modern life. He used to be so poor, what with only cattle and peach trees to keep him busy, no bank account, no cell phone, no frozen TV dinners or even TV.
Today, Johnathan has a cell phone, he spends his day not-watching television and longing for his cattle. He peels shop-bought fruit carefully, he heard about the Poisons on them, and he tells never-ending stories about his beautiful orchard that is now a dry, radio-active acidic wasteland. The bond on the land will be far enough in arrears by next month for the bank to foreclose. Johnathan says they printed the auction announcement already. He expects the only bidder will be the Mine; the land itself is surrounded by mine property already, and the water is so polluted nothing will earn a living on that land again. Johnathan always looks away when he talks about his land, his cattle, his chickens, the little blue flowers his First Wife loved so much. His two living wives work char jobs around town so they can afford some food, but luckily one of the sons found a job on the mine. He says wrangling a jackhammer in a dank hole is different from sweating behind a team of ploughing oxen under god’s sun. He also made more money selling corn and fruit, milk and meat, eggs and bacon, and all the other hard work on the farm. He is also having problems with his health, Silly Causes, they call it, but the mine doctor prescribed some pills… and his daughter’s latest child has diabetes, autism and chronic acid reflux, but he has been vaccinated against at least eight other things, thank goodness the other children grew up healthy without all those needles, imagine they had all these modern illnesses, without the benefit of being born expensively.
Johnathan really misses his old life. The dust here is bad, gets in the eyes something awful.
The NGO released their progress report: Johnathan now has a cell phone, a television, electricity and a bank overdraft. Johnathan is partaking in the formal economy instead of living a subsistence farming life. Johnathan has been saved from poverty. Another success story about investors saving the economy and creating jobs for the poor. At least no-one has to ride on a donkey cart anymore, it was so humiliating for the city folk driving past in their shiny cars, looking at all those poor people hanging over the sides, like human baggage, it should be outlawed. …and they don’t even have a McDonald’s!