Not being able to see someone often results in not being able to understand and care about her.
When a husband does not not see his partner, he is prone not to appreciate her.
When an employer does not see his employee, he is prone not to pay him a living wage.
When an entrepreneur does not see his customers, he is most likely to exploit her.
The architects of an idiotic apartheid system knew this.
They made sure that blacks are not seen by making them live in townships far way from cities.
Bantustans [homelands which were led by black leaders in South Africa] were developed to keep them people away from the major cities. “Let them rule themselves far away from us.”
Even if they were to go to cities, they were not allowed to be seen in certain places at certain times.
Separate toilets, separate cinemas, separate tea-rooms, separate entrances to shops etc.
They were not allowed in town after certain times.
If caught at a specific public place and time [in town, after hours] without permission, you were arrested.
All this to make sure that they are not seen.
Domestic workers that live with their employers [even today with black employers], stay in the back room, with their own small toilet, and kitchen.
They are there, but not there.
We see it today, an employee sitting in the back of a van, when there is no one on the passenger seat.
Not seeing makes it difficult to understand.
It was when the picture of Hector Pieterson’s body being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo. His sister, Antoinette Sithole, running beside them during the June 16, 1976 protest made international news, that the world saw what was really happening in South Africa.
It was when the body of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy of Kurdish ethnic background whose body was washed out by the sea after he drowned as a result of Syrian refugees trying to reach Europe amid the European refugee crisis that the world took notice.
Sawubona, which means we see you, is an example of what happens when we see and when we don’t see.
When there is a crisis in a country or company the first thing that happens is for the beleaguered leader to cut off media.
Because he does not want us to see.
You see [pun intended], it becomes difficult to understand and appreciate the hardships of people if you don’t see them.
Most people, don’t know what apartheid was like because they were not permitted to see what was really happening.
When you don’t understand Mathematics, it is easy not to like it.
When you don’t understand a certain group of people, it is easy not to warm up to them.
Spending time with people, be it poor people, or people of a different race or culture, be it people from other countries, teaches you to see them, understand them, and appreciate their story.
CEOs sleeping under a bridge once a year as a way to raise funds, is not enough to make them to see homeless people.
The following morning the same CEOs go to work for companies that underpays their employees and only see them as cogs in their giant industrial machine.
Sawubona is about witnessing people, about seeing people as humans, not as target markets, or a challenge to solve, not as sales prospects, not as “those people,” or as foreigners, or people from those “sh#@t hole” countries.
Sawubona is about humanism.
It is when a company embraces the principles of “Sawubona” that it ceases to make in-sensentive racial adverts.
It is when we see, that we acknowledge people as equal humans, whether they are Hutu, Kikuyu, Masarwa, Massai, Thuti, Kalanga, Shangaan, Mexican, Indian, Afrikaaner, or Sotho.
No one is above another.
No one is chosen, we are all chosen.
When you reach out to see, understand, witness, acknowledge, it is always pleasantly surprising how humans are all the same even in their diversity.
Ps: You don’t have to be poor to understand poverty, or be homeless to understand what it means not to have a place to call home, but you have to invest time, talk, visit, greet, acknowledge, appreciate, show genuine empathy for other people. When we understand better, we do better.