Call Me Clever: Woolies is the enemy of (my) transformation

By Thato Magano (@pothaeto)

It’s that one thing that even when you’re opining with your friends on what can be done by the powers that be or society at large to change the socio-economic conditions of our country, it catches you mid sentence and makes you question your commitment to the cause.

So you see, I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself revolutionary, but I do consider myself to be committed to changing and questioning the state of affairs in South Africa. Julius Malema, or Andile Mngxitima I am not, but I have sought to express my revolution in little ways that have proven fundamental to how I live my life, so I will settle for calling myself a Biko-ite.

I have become more committed to giving myself the time required to building businesses that are black owned so we can stop lamenting corporate South Africa and its lack of transformation. I have limited my engagement time with the likes of Neighboorgoods and Maboneng so I can focus on  fun hangout alternatives outside of these European copy and paste solutions.

And I’ve celebrated most often when I’ve seen that some of my friends have also gotten onto the bandwagon and are questioning the status quo, questioning why many activities we participate in must first be endorsed through the frame of ‘whiteness’ for us to feel they are legit.

It’s not to say that as black people we don’t deserve nice things, but rather that we also need to think a little bit more critically about those nice things.

But even with all this commitment, the urge  and need to question, the urge to change things and self determine and be black and proud, I have one great challenge among a list of many that will not let me be great and continually calls into question my integrity on these issues. In effect, as most black people of this generation, we all have that one symbol that betrays our commitment to what I like to call the radical transformation of ourselves.

It’s that one thing that even when you’re opining with your friends about what can be done by the powers that be or society at large to change the socio-economic conditions of our country, it catches you mid sentence and makes you question your commitment to the cause. It reminds you that even with all this good intent and great dreams about changing things, you are still owned; the system has got you by the throat and you have little chance of getting out of it alive.

For some, it the incessant need to correct those who do not have the effortless eloquence of expressing themselves in the queen’s language that comes with private school tutelage. For others, it is the embarrassment we suffer for wanting to be the only black at the dinner table whilst for some, it is the accent we put on when we are engaged in rigorous debate in public settings. I have been able to work through some of these and feel great about the progress I am making to free myself but one still remains.

This one for me is a store. The name of the store starts with the letter W. I would go as far as considering this store the most subtle oppressive tool in the new South Africa in how it has sold convenience to us and made us believe that we have finally arrived and we belong.

Its latest appeal for me is the most amazing white hot chocolate I have tasted in the north of Johannesburg, so much so that at one point, I had it on a daily basis for a full month, not skipping a single day. I am so far gone that when I do go to the store and find that they are out of white chocolate powder, I often spent the entire morning in a bit of a lull.

It’s the short queues and amazing assortment of fruit available throughout the year. The rotisserie chicken that has been known to cause a scuffle over the last one available for the day. During winter, the myriad soup flavours (we’re so past butternut soup, think cream of biltong or chicken and chickpea). In this store, all and everything you ever wanted can be found there for your sustenance. But more importantly and in the bucket loads, it is also your sense of disassociation to the reality of South Africa that can be found there.

Woolworths had along been a feature in my life but things came to a head and the love affair became deep when I was living alone in the North of Jo’burg and couldn’t have been bothered to stand over a stove and cook on the daily. I could be exaggerating but I believe the enemy entered my life back then and I haven’t been able to shake him off.

Even last night when I saw the calls to boycott Woolworths on twitter due to its links with Israel, I had to take a moment and consider how this would affect my life after I had emphatically said ‘no ways’ to the boycott. My immediate question after engaging the thought was to ask ‘What do I eat then?’. And better yet, I might have to miss out on the quality sale that starts today of all days. The timing is just not in my favour.

I had to contend with making concessions and deciding which products I can boycott and not the entire store. I have since observed the conversation on twitter and how many of us are also willing to make these concessions in terms of products and not the store. This is just further evidence to how far gone the enemy has infiltrated, that I cannot outright take a stand that is in keeping with my convictions.

I could just be hating but in my life, this is the ‘enemy’ to transformation. The need not only for food convenience but also in terms of how we live our lives, to offer us the opportunity to not engage with the ordinary Jabu during our shopping sprees, to offer the false sense of inclusion and achievement that comes with standing next to Mrs Van der Merwe at the tills. To deflect our attention from doing the work of building South Africa by having us believe that we are all the same at the end of the day.

And no, we are not the same, there is still a lot of work to be done by black people in this country and it does not help that the likes of these conveniences keep popping up to sidetrack us from what we should be focused on. Or perhaps, I just want my enemy to be owned by the Sombandla family instead, perhaps that is my problem.


READ: Pressure on Woolies to drop Israeli goods


In a previous life, Thato Magano was a strategy consultant and marketing dude at Cadbury’s and has since moved to crafting alternative entrepreneurial spaces to explore his various talents. He is a transitional griot trapped in the comforts of saxon realities and longing for the freedoms of civilisations past. A liker of things and yet prisoner to none. A revolutionary non sequitur! Motho wa Batho fela! 

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