Yesterday was the day of reconciliation, still celebrated as the day of the vow by some of my friends. I can thank my parents for never getting us into this whole day of the vow celebrations, although primary school made pretty sure that we were indoctrinated into the myths. And the Afrikaner community of which I am have been part all my life remain a constant reminder of these celebrations. The day of reconciliation, which replaced the day of the vow after apartheid, in many places continue to struggle to replace the day of the vow. And in a way it is understandable, since we have rich liturgies which we can draw upon to celebrate the day of the vow, but we struggle in creating liturgy for celebrating the day of reconciliation.

My celebration of the day of reconciliation came by accident really. We never got round to traveling on the Gautrain back when it was opened, and then one of our friends made the suggestion that we do the trip sometime during the week. That sometime ended up being 16 December. But, mainly due to previous experiences, we planned our trip a little different from how most others would have visited the Gautrain.

Yesterday morning started at Pretoria station. Metrorail. Third class. R7.25 from Pretoria to Isando. Apparently at some point the Metrorail and Gautrain will overlap at Roadsfield, so that you will be able to climb over from the one to the other, but not yet so. So we traveled the hour to Isando station. Walked back to Roadsfield, about an 8 minute walk I guess. And bought Gautrain cards. R10. Got on the train to Sandton. R21. Walked around Sandton city for a while and got some take aways. R40-R50. Back to Roadsfield, where we watched as the train from Isando was driving past us, and knew that a long wait was ahead. Walk to Isando. Sit around for a while, then decide to take a pilgrimage to OR Tambo. On foot. About a 25 minute walk when you don’t know the road. Get Americano Iced Coffee or something from Mugg & Bean. R25. Walk back to Isando. About a 15 minute walk when you know which road to take. Take a nap on the station. Take the train back together with many who had to work today, and for whom Pretoria station was not the last stop.

The reality of the unreconciled world was distinctly visible in this trip. One tweet from the group read “Experienced 2 very different worlds today. That of a 1st world South Africa. And that of a 3rd world South Africa. The difference is huge.” And it is true. Roadsfield station has not been opened yet for the Metrorail and Gautrain to be connected. There is something symbolic in this. These two worlds is not supposed to meet. Either you are on the Metrorail, or the Gautrain, but traveling both is strange. Traveling third class Metrorail in South Africa to visit Sandton City is unheard of.

But lets state is in all it’s harsh reality. On the Metrorail we were the only white people most of the time. We saw three other white people from a distance on Pretoria station for a moment. The rest of the train is black people from South Africa, and I guess from Southern Africa, with a few coloured people joining in. The Gautrain and Sandton City display the cosmopolitan ideal. People from all racial groups in South Africa, and of the world really. But let’s say this, with a continued disproportionate amount of white travelers and shoppers, and the same, although in the other direction, for black travelers and shoppers. The Gautrain is for those who can pay more than R1 per kilometer for public transport. OR Tambo is for those who can pay R80 for the last three kilometers of the Gautrain, or who has other means to get onto the airport. No one considered that those using the public transport of the populace might ever have the need to get onto the airport at a reasonable price.

I can go on and on, about the amount of security on the Gautrain vs the Metrorail. About the public facilities surrounding the Gautrain vs the Metrorail (let’s state it bluntly: public toilets which are regularly cleaned is a privilege for the rich, not a right for those human). But maybe I should end with the deadly honest recognition: the Gautrain gave the feel of being a tourist environment more than the means for daily travel which public transport is supposed to be. This is what people use to go shopping or to get of the airport. Yet, I didn’t feel like a tourist on the Gautrain. I blended in completely. The Metrorail on the other hand, never intended to be tourist transport, had me feeling like a tourist. Like the one not really knowing what’s going on. Always needing to ask where the next train is going to be. Always wondering whether I’m on the right place. When I traverse the unreconciled world, I am therefore constantly reminded that I am the one that need to be reconciled with those places where most people travel. I am the one removed from the world of daily life, into the world of cars, malls, or trains where everyone has a seat.

Continuing from the post on spatial power and whiteness

After noticing how race in many instances continue to mean that white people has the privilege (right) to move anywhere, while black people (and today I use black to refer to all people who are pushed out of the dominant normalized racial position) are in various ways bound to specific spaces, there is a second part which we have to notice:

Because white people in South Africa had the right to move into any space they wanted to, they decided to not move into every space, but limited themselves to white spaces. Because black people had no control over which spaces they moved into, they were forced to move into all spaces, those designated as black spaces, but also those designated as white spaces.

The apparent contradiction rests on the distribution of money and work. White people controlled (and in South Africa continue to control) the financial resources, which in many instances meant that they controlled the working environments. In it’s ultimate form it meant that they had the ability and privilege of appointing someone to work in their homes as cleaners. Black people thus had to learn the knowledge of moving into these designated white spaces in order to gain access to money and work.

This meant that black people gained knowledge of “both sides” of the Apartheid world because they didn’t have the privilege to control money and resources, while white people because of their privileged position, learned knowledge only of those spaces which they had control over. Black people had the ability to translate between these spaces, while white people did not.

Whether my assumptions about black people is correct I cannot say, but I see this with white people. There is this whole world which white people don’t know how to navigate. Think of the townships, the public transport system, and yes, today I guess the inner-cities as well. Most white people I know carry no natural knowledge which can help them navigate these spaces. But at the same time black people have been moving into and our of those designated white spaces (suburbs, malls, business) and they know the rules, both written and unwritten, by which these spaces are governed.

Thus, in spite of my argument that the decision to move into various spaces is already a reminder of the privileged position I am in, it is making exactly the decision which we have not been making thanks to the privileged position our racialisation has ensured white people. And with this, it is making the decision which causes the discomfort of not knowing: Not knowing the unwritten, and many times the written, rules of this space I am moving into. This does not take away the important critique that my move can also reinforce white privilege if it is used to “take back the city” – to broaden the “area of control of white people”, which it can become, even for those coming with good intentions (mission history should teach us at least this).

What it does help me with is understanding that experiences of discomfort because of my lack of knowledge is caused by my own privileged position and the ways in which it was unpacked and used in the past. The task is therefore not on black people to do things in such a way that I don’t experience any discomfort because of my lack of knowledge, but on myself to work through these moments in which I am confronted with the fact that my past has kept me in exclusively white spaces.

I’ve been intrigued with space in its various forms for all my life. My first memory of intentionally contemplating space was by studying the planets and the stars at the age of 8. This was followed by reading every science fiction book I could lay hands on, ultimately culminating in the Mars Trilogy, which I’m still re-reading, and consider to be one of the most important influences on my thoughts on space over the years. When one of the characters, Arkady, the token anarchist of the book, described his vision for a new world, it is to a large extend a description of how space should be structured: do we separate living and working quarters? Do we build in squares of circles? How does the space we create contribute to an egalitarian society? This was at the age of 16. In recent years my reflections and experimentation concerning space has found a number of spaces into which it grew:

  • I ran a few experiments with kind of “open space” camps with people in their early 20’s from 2008. The experiment lead us to a place where camp programs was not the issue, but the way we constructed space became more and more important.
  • Starting 2009 I experimented with liturgy and space, in a service where the way in which the space was constructed was more important than the order of the liturgy. Steve wrote some thoughts on the very early experiment (only a few weeks after we started) and I posted some photos.
  • Also, in 2009 I moved into a community with friends right after getting married. Ours was not a very religious intentional community with Bible studies and programs, but simply sharing the space, working against our own individualism and using less space in the long run (primarily for ecological reasons). This year the space in which I had my office, as part of the community in which I live, also had important symbolism.
  • Lastly I reflected on space in some of my academic work. Writing an assignment titled “Jesus’ disregard for rules of space” in 2008, and working on the role of religion in the public space since 2008 and still continuing.

So, I’m drenched in reflecting on space, and this continues.

Ons space which was important in my own life over the past 5 years was the inner city of Pretoria. Actually, I guess when we whities talk about “inner-city” we mean everything west of the “sunnyside” sign in Jorrison street which students are taught to interpret as “now you’re in the danger zone”. It’s the space which white people decided to leave of the past 15/20 years. Sunnyside, the Pretoria central, Salvokop. Over the years these places changed from being the spaces which must be feared, to some of my favourite places in the city. And for years me and Maryke have been dreaming of moving closer to the city.

In the last few weeks we started to look each other in the eye, and decided that the dreamlike talk should become reality. And a few minutes ago I sent the email confirming that we will be taking a flat in Arcadia.

Now, Arcadia is not the most dodgy place in the city you will find, actually quite middle-class. But it’s a conscience decision to move out of the suburbs, and out of predominantly white spaces, into the space where ambulances and police disturb you, where people are living in flats and close to each other, and where being white mean that you are a minority. We are not on a mission to the city. We don’t have a plan by which to save the city. We are moving to the city hoping that it will save us. Change us.

Together with us one of our house-mates from the past 2 years, Andre, will be joining. This is the space into which we will be moving. What will we do while there? We will be living there. Hopefully I’ll be blogging more on this in the year to come.

OK, I think I’m tired of blogging about Amway now, so I’ll finish up with this post as conclusion.

As the “creating wealth” tract was turned to the last page, it had an image which contained two empty blocks. My evangelist filled in “Amway” and “NW21” into these blocks. Now the secret was out. It was revealed what this guy was selling all along! And somewhere deep down I remembered hearing about these two companies, and what I heard wasn’t good. So I understood why he was hiding the company he was presenting up to now. First had to convince me how poor I was and how quickly I can make money.

There was a second part, however: I could immediately call up the wikipage on Amway, note the recent court cases against them, note the sociological work comparing Amway to religious cults. Had I knew before the appointment what company I’ll be speaking to, I could have prepared for this. When he finished, I asked about some of this. Answers focused on how legal this company are, and on their 90-day money back guarantee.

I was told about the 8 couples in South Africa who made it to diamond level, which meant a R1.6 million a year income. This sound like a lot, but since they work with couples, it’s R800000 per person, and then you still need to deduct all your business expenses from this, since the R1.6 million isn’t profit, it’s income for the business. Suddenly the riches doesn’t even seem to be that much riches anyhow. Well, R1.6 is a lot of money, and probably more than I’d even earn, or really care to earn, but in the business world your not really noteworthy. Also, if only 8 couples could actually make it, then I can be sure that with my low commitment to marketing I will never make it. This is like telling a worker the CEO’s salary then he apply for a job. He know he’s never gonna get that salary, so why should this even motivate him?

The last thing that I found really really strange was the gender issues in the approach. The man invited only me, alone. But the whole interview was about how me and my wife can make this huge amount of money. No thought for the possibility that maybe we like to be independent people doing different stuff, and not even considering that if you want the both of us to buy into a business idea, then both need to be invited. And all the examples he used was about married couples running this Amway thing together. Some of my friends who attended similar events in the past confirm that this is always the case, and the Amway South Africa wiki also confirm this.

So with this I’d like to conclude: I have questions about the ethics, and I can understand that people would run businesses which is ethically questionable. I believe a time will come when Amway, as with similar schemes in the past, will be found illegal and end, but I can understand that people would want to make as much as possible from the scheme while it’s still  possible. However, not even in the church do we still work with the idea of “pastoring couples”. What is behind this strong emphasis on couples selling Amway? Forget the money. The feminist in me becomes a skeptic…

I’ve shared my invitation, the introduction, and the explanation which my Amway evangelist gave on how economics work. Now for the juicy part: pyramids 😉

I have to confess: the guy lost me in the next part of the conversation. This was where the system (which still had no name) was explained. At first it was quite easy to follow. He identified the problem with how things are working by pointing to “conventional distribution” and “personal franchise”. The conventional way would be that a manufacturer provides products to a wholesaler, which provides it to the retailer, from which you would buy it. Instead, the “creating wealth” tract suggested that I become a “prosumer”, which imply that I should buy directly from the manufacturer.

Now this kind of made some sense to me. Since I’m into all this ecology stuff, I buy into the idea that we should shorten the distance between the manufacturer and the user (although in ecology this would imply shortening the physical waste being created in the moving around of products, not necessarily shortening the hierarchy of distribution), and there is nothing new to idea that I should buy higher up in the hierarchy. That’s what the whole “straight from the wholesaler” thing is about, and even some “straight from the manufacturer” sales. However, if cutting out the middle-man was what “creating wealth” was about, then the next section of the tract should have been a list of manufacturers in and around Pretoria, with URLs for their online orders. And I know that you do find factories around Pretoria where you can buy straight from the manufacturer. What followed made one big mess of this, however. Also, if these products were so cheap, why not provide me with a pricelist? That would seem the obvious thing to do!

There was the promise that in my buying directly from the manufacturer, I will be saving 30%. Then the first picture of the hierarchy which I will be becoming part of appeared. I was not simply buying directly from the manufacturer or the wholesaler (as I would be doing when going to Pretoria West or Silverton), I was to become part of a team of consumers buying together so that I can earn 21% rebate on my money, and an extra 4% which I didn’t understand. So, 25% of 30% would only come when I’m part of this team of buyers.

Next, I started gathering that I won’t be ordering from any manufacturer directly. I mean, I wasn’t getting a list of addresses, giving me the power to drive over to a factory or a farm, and buy my milk or cookies, I was to order through some kind of network, which would package stuff for me and deliver to my home… suddenly this started sounding quite similar to the wholesaler and the retailer which I’m used to. And actually, I think we have a better deal! Cause when I want fresh products, I drive down to the local mom&pop fruit and vegetable shop down in Lynnwood road. Small little place, which sell fresh products which I would guess has a very short line in delivery. It doesn’t have any wrapping, and they don’t stock plastic bags. They are able to sell it to me real cheap, its fresh, and they employ enough people to guide me through the shop, to hand our a peach that I can taste when I walk in, to carry the box of vegetables to the car. Real nice place! I’ll recommend them as the economically en eco-friendly option.

The last straw was when they started drawing all these pictures of how I should be building teams of consumers under myself so that I can earn masses of income from their buying through me, or me earning money from their consumption, or something like that. Gone was the “directly from the manufacturer” part. For this product to reach my house, a whole ordering and delivering system was in place, packaging it, importing it (since I could gather by now that some of these products was not manufactured in South Africa), and finally, handing out profit and bonuses to people in some kind of hierarchy which I was to become part of.

However, the hierarchy was so complex I couldn’t quite follow the guy. He couldn’t tell me how many people would average a team.  What I could figure out afterwords was that if I build a network consuming R200000 of products which was part of this business which the guy was selling (still no mention of Amway or Network21), I will make R15000 per month, plus R75000 in bonus. Quite a profit I, the new middle man, could make if you would be willing to believe that I, and those I recruit, was actually buying directly from the manufacturer. But I’ll refrain from the calculations at this stage, since I’m simply telling a story.

(lastly, some google searches reveal that buying Amway would actually be more expensive. Can’t comment on that though, since I still haven’t received a price list).

Amway: going for the catch

November 2, 2010

This is the second part of my story on Amway. Part one, where I described the invitation, can be found here.

Friday came, and we were both on time. Like a good evangelist, he didn’t start out saying “Hi, I’m into Multi-level-marketing, and I want to recruit you”. If ever you had any evangelism training, you know that’s not how it works. Soften them up. Ask about work. Ask about life. Share something about yourself. So we played the game. I knew my coffee wasn’t being payed for so I can tell him what my first two years of church-work was like, and I was pretty sure we weren’t going to go into the detail of my studies in ethics (although even that were discussed), but I knew we had to dance the dance.

Then came the promise that he won’t be using a lot of my time, and out came the piece of paper, pen, and a small tract titled “Creating Wealth”. Still, I was unsure what he was selling, but the dance continued:

Question 1: If you and you’re wife were to have R10000-R15000 extra per month within 9 months from now, what would you be able to do with it?

Question 2: What has changed in your financial situation within the last 6 months, and what will be changing in the next 6 months?

I knew that these were the catch questions. Like any good evangelism technique, you have these questions which you can predict with 99% certainty what the answers would be, partly because everyone know what you are supposed to answer.

In this case, he just assumed that we’d want more money, and since no one in society ever says: “you know what, I’m really happy with my income and quality of life”, this is a pretty good assumption. And everybody would be able to find something which they hypothetically can do with more money, and if you can’t think of something, the “Creating Wealth” tract has some ideas (including, if all else fails: “Charity”).

My answer: We’d get rid of our study-debt. This was both true, but there is also a catch in this answer, since this imply that we don’t need more money indefinitely (like this exercise would prefer I indicate). So he pulled out some more answers from me, until he had “traveling” (which I didn’t really say, but OK, I can see how he interpreted my answers as “travel”), which was a nice one, since this would always require more money.

On the second question: Well, I said nothing changed in the past 6 months, which wasn’t really true, but for the sake of the dance we were dancing, this was the answer I was willing to give him. As for the coming 6 months? I hope I’ll have my Masters finished by that time. In response to that answer he wanted to know if that will help me financially, and I silently thought: you really don’t understand a thing do you? A masters degree costs money, is doesn’t pay, but it’s not about the money, it’s about learning, about the research, about the ability to think.

But the catch was over. He had on paper that I will have use for R10000-R15000, and that at my current rate of change I wans’t going to become rich. Assuming that I want to be rich (I mean, that’s what everybody want, isn’t it?), this established the foundation for the next step of the conversation: Teaching me about economics. You guess it: Kiyosaki.

Amway: the invitation

November 1, 2010

After my brief introduction to Amway on Friday, I’ve decided to write some personal reflections on the experience. This doesn’t claim to be any kind of analysis of Amway, although, I’d like to do that if time allows. Feel free to share your own Amway stories.

So I got this call last week, from a guy I kind of remember meeting, but only because he told me that we met at this specific place (it was a supposedly highly academic discussion of theology, which become more and more shocking as the story proceed). Nice guy, really nice guy, I’ll give him that, I think we might be friends if not for this white elephant which then suddenly entered the room.

He started out by asking me whether my plans is to be in ministry full-time for the rest of my life. That question has only one answer: No. Since I’m 26, and no one knows what the future of full-time church work in South Africa is going to be, and since I’m not in a full-time position at a church at the moment.

Next he said that since he met me, he wanted to discuss this business idea with me. He and some friends has this network in which they group people together to created assets which can then create a steady flow of income for them.

Now, I’m a skeptic when it comes to the rich who build up any kind of asset which will then create money without them having to do anything. A good friend summarized my own discomfort a while ago (she might reappear later in the story) when she said: money don’t work for you, other people work for you. I’m also highly skeptical when anyone phone me with any kind of business proposal. You see, I really don’t have capital on hand. I don’t get a large salary (I try and find the balance between being able to buy books and having the time to read them, no sense in having money to buy books and no time to read them), and I’m really not into any kind of business thing.

But I was intrigued by the invitation. My main motivation was academic in nature. My interest in ethics, specifically ethics and economy, drove me to find time for this appointment, since every red flag I had was already warning me that this will be a really interesting experience.

To test my gutt feel, I asked the caller what the name of their business was (I am the google junky, so I like to do my research before meetings such as this one), his answer? Something along the line of: “We don’t really have a name, it’s not really a business, more like a network of friends bla bla bla”. Ok, last red flag was waving! I just had to attend this meeting. So I made an appointment for Friday…