Every preacher that goes to the Local Preachers Convention in our District has to contribute a cow. Or it may be that each circuit must contribute three cows. Something like that. On top of that every preacher - whether going to the convention or not - must contribute x hundred rand. I don't have the exact details. (This refers to the Methodist Organisation of Preachers and not to the Methodist 'office' of Local Preachers. Most preachers belong to the organisation but not all.) All of this goes into providing catering for the weekend. You can be sure that this will be a feast of feasts and a party of parties. Now the Local Preachers Association (which is the name of the organisation) is almost completely made up of Black South Africans. White people and non-indigenous Black people don't tend to join the organisations.
For Black people this feast concept is normal and a cultural necessity. For those of us of another culture, it feels very wrong. Because we are expecting people who cannot afford a cow or x hundred rand to pay up regardless. Otherwise they will be rejected by the community - either officially, or just by being made to feel bad and to be told that they have no 'ubuntu'. But for us on the outside we wonder how we can expect a person to deprive their children of what might be necessities in order that a small group of people can indulge in something that we see as both celebration (good) and greed (bad). For us, we say - your priority is your family and children. The Black culture says your priority is the community. At the worst extreme, this is why starving people will contribute to Robert Mugabe's lavish birthday party. They exist for the community - which in this case is represented by Robert Mugabe.
At phase 1 college we agreed that we would contribute R10 each for everyone's birthday so that we could buy them a gift voucher. This works out at R100 altogether. I thought that was kind of cool. But now, apparently, R10 each is not enough. We need to buy something nice for the birthday person. We need R50 each. This was brought to the group for discussion. A certain group of vocal people made their plea. Most of us were quiet and just listened. For me, this is just the cow story on a lesser scale. There are people in our group who may not be receiving their stipends. There are those supporting families. We do not get paid an enormous amount every month, as you may imagine.
I asked for time to think, explaining that this was not how my culture worked and I wanted to try to understand. But the pressure is there to follow the community (ie the vocal leaders). Those who cannot afford it won't speak up. Maybe everyone can. I don't know. For me, R10 or R50 is neither here nor there. My husband is also working. I would like to be generous. But I feel coerced and I am afraid that others do too.
Some cultural differences bite deep and it is very hard to decide what is 'right' or 'better'. Should I defend the 'underdog'? Or should I give with grace that transcends the sense of being coerced?
At the end of the day - again my culture speaks, and I think wrongly. I will say that the underdog must speak up before I support him and I will follow the community pressure. iRight or iWrong, as they say?