Friday, June 19, 2015

MultiChoice CEO Imtiaz Patel and other South African CEOs sleep outside in Sandton in posh CEO SleepOut; far removed from real homelessness.

Hundreds of South Africa's richest CEOs - including Imtiaz Patel, MultiChoice South Africa CEO - slept in the street last night as part of a festive charity event to draw attention to the poor homeless people and children.

For me, this CEO SleepOut event however comes borderline close to being very condescending.

In their comfy boxes - courtesy from premium mover Stuttaford Van Lines - and complete with snug sleeping bags, goodie bags and of course excellent reception for their state-of-the-art mobile devices, over 200 CEOs converged in Sandton - South Africa's richest suburb - to show how they, too, can sleep outside in a cardboard box in winter.

Under the over 200 CEOs who boxes themselves in were Vodacom and Telkom's CEOs, as well as Eskom as part of the CEO SleepOut charity event.

A lot of photos and images were taken of the CEOs sleeping outside - much more than those taken of real homeless people who have to sleep outside not for one night, but night after night after night.

The CEO's knew beforehand that this experience - more resembling "camping for a night" than truly experiencing what its like to be homeless - would be over by 06:00 the next morning.

Yet sadly being homeless and sleeping outside is never over for the millions of destitute and poor people who really are homeless.

Perhaps a few of these CEOs can now also write an essay like the one I read in 2003 when Vanity Fair did their "How the Poor Live Now" feature. So that we can know more about this very strange experience they've had to endure, of course.

These CEOs were protected in their red sleeping bags and their sleeping boxes. Physically. There were security. There was electricity (more than what Eskom's CEO Brian Molefe who was there is providing to South Africa) and soft-glow electric lanterns.

They didn't have to worry about food. They didn't sleep in the rain.

Their elite logo branded cardboard boxes didn't carry the mark of homelessness' hopelessness.

And of course when they got bored they had their phones. They were never cut off from the world, physically and socially and basically ostracised from society like what happens and what we do with homeless people. They remained connected.

Were there porta-potties? You bet. Without being unnecessarily crass (and cruel), heaven forbid that South Africa's titans of industry experiencing Disney-lite Homeless ever have to endure or do what the real homeless have to go through.

Even sponsors got to hang their banners and show their logos at the fun event, from Virgin Atlantic to KFC and Makro. It was wonderful. Vodacom even put out their red umbrellas. It was so very festive.

There was no crying, no hungry children, no desperate parents having to explain to their small ones that there really isn't anything to eat or people facing the desperate struggle of trying to keep wet clothes dry in impossible circumstances.

Of course all the sound bytes and press coverage and media will be about and include the CEOs and how "wonderful" this event was and the money that was raised. Amazing, huh?

Spare a second however for those who are and will be and remain invisible in 100% of the stories about South Africa's CEO SleepOut you will read and see today in South Africa media: the voices of people who are really homeless and who besides not having a home, also don't have access to media - those people who don't matter enough to have their voices heard in a story purportedly about them.

You're just going to read about the self-congratulatory "millions raised" and see rich CEOs in cardboard boxes.

You won't see or read about actual homeless people or see a single quote from a single person or child actually affected by it, or see the real people who the money that's being raised, is going to.

They have to remain in the background and invisible. For real homeless people don't have a place in our society, and therefore they also don't have a place in our media.

Maybe the next CEO SleepOut can have company bosses sleep under bridges and damp dark alleys, away from sponsor banners, with no cellphones, selfies, sponsored warm water bottles, KFC and goodie bags. How about helping in Hillbrow?

Of course that will never happen. It would be all too real and close to real life to be ... comfortable.

I find this Disneyfied version of mimicking South African homelessness shocking, condescending, very demeaning and above all, very sad and insensitive, worthy of an Oscar Wilde The Happy Prince follow-up story if he were still alive.

What next? All going to ward 12 at Baragwanath for a night to experience true state hospital hospitality? Or how about going to a provincial court to experience just how our justice system fails women and children when it comes to child maintenance? I've been, many times over many years and its not "media events".

Homelessness I would think isn't something to mimic for the experience of it. Just like you wouldn't mimic disability, sexual or domestic or child abuse. Some things you don't have to experience. And definitely not with show.

If its okay to go sleep in a box for one night (with privileges) to raise money for homelessness, is it okay to go sleep in a hospice (with privileges) to experience end-of-life care to raise money for palliative care?

Of course not. Yet somehow homelessness to make fun of as a night out is ... "okay".

Sun International was the primary sponsor of this Sun International CEO SleepOut.

Ask yourself how many rooms in Sandton's glitzy high rise hotels last night stood empty?

Why didn't Sun International rather do a Homeless SleepIn; gave every single unoccupied room for the night in a hotel or hotels to homeless people and their children who don't have a choice - one night of a warm bed, running water and safety - with no photos to mark the occasion, instead of focusing on people who already have big homes and who chose not to sleep there for one night?

That would be an immediate, and direct intervention, and directly change the literal circumstances of a homeless person for a night, instead of a sponsored CEO version of the ice bucket challenge for the homeless.

South Africa's mighty CEOs sleeping "outside" for one night feels somehow mocking and condescending - as if they're all going to SleepOut Theme Park to experience this novel new world of (gasp!) poverty.

(What do you mean there's no running water in this sidewalk gutter? Well, at least I have my charged up Apple iPhone 6.").

I can guarantee you that the real experience for real homeless people in South Africa, really having to sleep outside in boxes in the street and beneath underpasses as discarded hidden people we don't want to see, is quite a different experience that the flea market type experience of South Africa's richest business people as part of their showy show-and-tell and who wanted to be seen (preferably with their corporate company logos).

Unlike CEOs who get to choose it as a side-activity, when you're really homeless, there's no going gently into a one-night-only, charity sponsored, lets post selfies, goodie bag filled, cold night.