There are many standards by which people would judge a good friend, among my measures is a friend who introduces me to a good book. One such friend is Dr Mahnaz Motevalli. Besides her other wonderful gestures as a friend, she added a good book to my library, and it was always a great read.
So when we recently met, she gave me Born A Crime and said: “You should really read this!”
Written by Trevor Noah, this thrilling book has taken me on a journey of a nonfictional story that at times felt like fiction. It is Trevor’s childhood life story. Born during the Apartheid period in South Africa, from a European father and a Xhosa mother. I have travelled over 10 times to South Africa. However, it was only during my latest trip in July, that I started analysing how South Africa was moving on after the fall of apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s walk out of prison. Maybe it was a----lso the fact that after all these years we finally managed to visit Robben Island where Madiba spent 27 years in incarceration. Having little time in Cape Town with rough seas that caused the first day’s trip to be cancelled, it was a relief that we made it the next day.
While walking on that island, I was thinking of the conditions under which the prisoners lived, and the cause for which these freedom fighters accepted to be sacrificed for. I wondered if things were better now. It crossed my mind that while leaving George, one of the renowned cities in the most Southern parts of South Africa, there was a general strike by local taxi drivers. That day, all the local staff who lived in the outskirts of George, and whose only means of transport are taxis, were stuck at their homes and could not commute to town to earn their daily bread. The sad part was that this protest was because government was introducing modern buses to commute between townships and the city, hence providing safer and more economical means for the local residents, but for taxi drivers this was not it. So when I read in Trevor’s introduction remarks to his book, that when apartheid fell and Mandela walked free, South Africa went to war with itself, Things started to make sense, and the more chapters I read, the clearer the picture became.
Both dramatic and humorous, this book is a great read.
Your banker is not your best friend
The car loan or the salary loan to buy a car is probably the slyest product that bankers have ever created for the Ugandan young urbane consumer. The product promises to bring heaven on earth; it tells a young fresh graduate from school that with a few signatures on a few documents, they can drive away with a car whose cost is their gross monthly salary for two years. And in my time I have learned that you are well advised to treat a car-loan sales pitch from a banker with the grandmother of all caution because your banker is not your best friend.
Their timing is always spot-on.
In your days as an unemployed young man, surviving on small short-term assignments that pay Shs250,000 every so often, no one will give you a call. Your bank may not even notice that you exist. Then suddenly you get a job, and a net pay of Shs1,000,000 starts to stream through the account every month-end. They now know that regular money has started flowing into your account from an employer and then they pounce. They offer to give you Shs12,000,000 for which you will pay Shs500,000 per month for three years. With that money, you walk into a used car bond and walk away with a car.
So many thoughts of so many possibilities run through your head. You think of the days you have stood on the verandah of the neighbour’s shop waiting for the rain to cease, as the clock ticks on and makes you late for work. You think about all your friends and realise it is only you that has no car, the one who begs for a lift every time you meet up. And then you think about that girlfriend from your university days, who has endured your lack of progress for so long she is soon giving up on you entirely and switching to other masculine options that offer serious promise. This would show I am seriously aiming for big things, you think to yourself. She will know I am not a joke.
You sign the papers and take the money.
But because you have never owned a car, you had not yet considered such facts as that you need at least Shs100,000 per month to fuel the car, which reduces your take home to Shs400,000 after the loan payment. The rent charges of Shs300,000 then leave you with Shs100,000 to pay utility bills, buy food, service the car, pay for repairs and take your girlfriend out for dinner at a fine restaurant, just so you reinforce that new belief that you are seriously aiming for big things. Soon you realise that by the 10th of the month, you have more month than salary. Suddenly, you start creating the need for upcountry visits that last a week so you can pack the car for longer and feed on per diem money. Then you start fidgeting with the accounting and procurement at work so you can make an extra Shs500,000 from company purchases. And soon your bosses will catch you and then it will dawn on you that with the loan, you bought a rope and hang it around your neck, and the noose is now fast drawing in.