‘Tis the season of disbelief.
I can’t believe shops are already knee-deep in Christmas decorations.
I can’t believe we have to start booking Christmas lunches and make New Years plans.
I can’t believe that ordinary families can still afford to go on holiday, let alone oversees.
But what I really can’t believe; what actually stopped me in my tracks and nearly made me drop my free-range eggs, is the fact that in 2014, in the age of PC, BBBEE and the ANC, we still sell “Christmas Boxes” – that old Apartheid relic of basic food items that the “madam” and “baas” would pass off as a “gift” to their staff and families.
In reality the gift was theirs. It let the madams off the hook for paying such poor wages, the kind that turn food basics into luxuries. It also assuaged their guilt about not looking out for the needs of their workers’ children. If you can’t give them a good education and equal rights, the least you can do is make sure they go to bed with a full stomach of high-carb foods that will probably lead to poor health and diabetes. Talk about killing them with kindness.
I remember being confused by these “boxes” back in the 90s, when my mom would give them out to her workers as a Christmas “gift”. Not because they came in plastic wash buckets. That might be more practical. But I didn’t understand how they were supposed to be a gift. I knew what a Christmas gift was – it was something fun, pretty and made you feel good about yourself. It wasn’t bulk packets of Samp and Beans squashed into a blue bucket that could later be used to mop your floor with.
Thinking back on the faces that received them every year, I think these buckets were packed with the broken promises of a New Year and the hope of new beginnings. Instead they were filled with more of the same – the same discrimination, the same poor wages, the same unjust laws. Accepting the box was akin to accepting a system where you were told what was good for you and what you needed to do and become. After all you were just a “boy” or “girl” who would drink their money away (much like the madam’s own teenagers, I might add).
But that was then. Madams have come along way since they set aside their “special” enamel plate and mugs. Today many of them pay a decent wage, some have stopped watching the sugar like it was the petrol price and others even reach out to their workers’ families through school fees, housing and the like.
Which begs the question: how is the Christmas Box still relevant?
Is it because it’s practical? One could argue that food is expensive and by easing this costly burden, this box frees up some of those hard-earned wages to buy gifts for the kids. It’s a disclaimer not an argument. Even if food may be worth its weight in gold, so is transport. Would you give your domestic worker a monthly train ticket as a gift?
It’s not that I can’t get my head around practical gifts. I often ask for them myself. But there in lies my point – I ask for these gifts. They come at my request, which gives me some control over what I receive, in line with what I actually want and need. Maybe I am belabouring the point, but I think that if someone works for you, someone you trust to look after your children or plant your precious petunias, then you should respect them enough to ask them what they need.
Let’s open Pandora’s Box for a second. Inside the bucket is a number of food staples, including beans, sugar, tea, cooking oil. It’s quite a lengthy list, most of them listed by brand name, which makes all the difference. It says “I am not just a cheapskate that buys you a generic Christmas Box. I make sure it has Glen tea and Ace porridge.” I wonder how much marketing research goes into these hampers? Did they do a survey on the market LSM 1-5 and come up with a list of the top 50 most bought items? You would hope so.
But it still troubles me that the Christmas Box offers solutions where questions should be. Questions about how the people, who clean our houses and help us run our businesses, live. How you can have a relationship with anyone and not care to know or ask their tastes and preferences. The Christmas Box may have been rebranded (like many Apartheid relics) as a better brighter “Christmas Hamper”, and even decorated with bright images of Christmas decorations and some expensive looking gifts at the bottom (aspirational maybe?), but inside its pretty plastic exterior still lurks more of the same old same old.
‘Tis really the season of disbelief.
Musing on the fact that you don’t have to travel far to find old, outdated relics that no longer serve a purpose.