Entitlement with an ‘I’

Entitlement with an ‘I’

Entitlement is a huge problem in South Africa.

i would suggest it is more a problem in the white communities because Apartheid was specifically created with that in mind – the elevation of whiteness and superiority. While white people need to wrestle with their entitlement in different areas, a lot of people of colour are still wrestling with the insecurity and inferiority complexes that systems of stamping them into the mud helped put in place.

One example of entitlement was this comment by Suzanne on my blog yesterday:

It says my comment is awaiting moderation. Well I trust you’ll publish it as one is entitled to their views.

i think i’m not sure that Suzanne knows how a blog works. Of course you’re entitled to your views Suzanne, but when they incorporate sentences that begin, “I’m not racist, but…” [after which anything said can never not be racist] i will enact my right to not publish your comment. You’re welcome to air your views in your own blog or on your own social media. i imagine you would not do that though, because some of the views you tried to express through my blog comments you probably would not want your family and friends and colleagues to be aware of.

i like the simplicity of the cartoon which says so much – the boxes of I WANT and NOT FAIR which sum up a lot of what Entitlement is about.

As a white person i have been conditioned to believe that i deserve a whole lot of things but i don’t feel like people of other races deserve the same things – there is a problem there. 

As a white person i have been conditioned to believe that certain things are not fair – things done to me or withheld from me – but i don’t feel that it’s unfair when those things – and worse – are done to people of colour or kept from them – there is a problem there. 

i think it will be a healthy exercise for each one of us to take some time – maybe sit with a friend or family or group of friends – and list all the things that fit into those categories. Figure out where my entitlement is – i imagine it might be different for different people.

i imagine if most of the people with a similar background and socio-economic status as me sat and drew up a pyramid of basic needs it would differ quite a bit from someone in say a township or a rural area doing the same. i imagine most white people [and others] would have things like car and cellphone on those lists – things i have to have – basic needs – whereas others might be focusing on food and clean water and clothes…

This is a mirror we have to stand in front of if we ever want to move forwards well in the conversation. We could possibly make the conversation a lot more interesting by asking our friends of colour what they see as areas of entitlement in us – Ooh, now there’s a scary challenge – Where do you see me as being entitled?

We can file this in a long list of aspects that South Africans would do well to UNLEARN because it has very much been embedded in us and we need to actively work against it, if it is ever going to go away.

Let me know how that goes… What are your thoughts on entitlement? Do you see any of that in yourself? 

[For the Followup Post i wrote on People digging through your trash and begging at traffic lights, click here]

About the Author:

Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.


  1. megan May 12, 2016 at 9:01 am - Reply

    I agree. I think this needs to be explored even more deeply. Like, for instance, actual lived experience.

  2. Grant May 12, 2016 at 10:08 am - Reply

    This is very interesting as I’ve often wondered about entitlement and what it actually means. Its a difficult question. I guess I do feel entitled to have a place to stay and a car. If I didn’t have a job however, I surmise that I’d be on the streets like some of the vagrants I see these days. If I were retrenched it would probably be a matter of months before I am there (if I could not find another job that is). I work long hours and make sure there is a buffer in place so that I hopefully do not end up like that! I don’t really feel that I’m entitled to anything? I do have privilege in that I am pretty smart, have qualifications and education. I’m a coloured guy so one could say I have a certain privilege. I was raised in Athlone and studied for a Btech in Mechanical Eng. I earn a pretty good salary, but jobs are scarce and if I were out of a job, I think it will be difficult to find another one with the strict AA laws. As a coloured man, I am one of the forgotten… too white, not black enough… not white enough…LOL

    I think we all have the following basic needs:
    1. Food, Water
    2. Shelter
    3. Toilet facilities

    We have further needs as well:
    4. Healthcare
    5. Safety & Security
    6. Education or books must be available to study.

    After this we could say things like transport, car, cell phone, luxuries. I think at this level it is debatable what is a luxury and what is a necessity. In the 1990s there were no cell phones and we did not regard them as a necessity as we didn’t know about them.

    Lets look at these basic needs. Is it possible for the whole country to have these needs met? Yes, but at 54 million of us, it would be difficult. There would need to be sacrifices on the part of the higher level people. We cannot have a government who squanders the fiscus money. We cannot have people blindly vote for the ANC when they are so obviously wasting the money.

    Among the coloured people, we feel that there is a problem in the outlying areas. Many of the black people are taking the jobs in Kaap and we are sidelined. I’m okay, but many of my family and friends feel bitter. The influx of people from other ANC areas has created an imbalance. It is a right of people to move around SA in search of jobs, but the problem is that the fiscus should then allocate more money to areas like Grabouw, Wellington and Masiphumelele in Noordhoek and other areas of course. The population of many of these areas doubles every 9 years and there is not enough money in the Kaap. If the national fiscus money went to help it would be okay. I feel it is a problem as many of these newcomers expect these basic services but there are too many to keep up. In town planning for example it costs about 5 times more to lay water pipes in some areas. The current carrying capacity of the wires is limited. The cost of toilets or even portable toilets is very high and even with the best intentions there is not enough to go round here. I think a lot of the people who come here have homes in other areas and its unfair of them to feel entitled to it here in the Kaap.

    Entitlement is a difficult thing to define. I think the test should be:

    If I were poor, could I see myself cleaning toilets in a poor township or even a Skwata camp? If not, then why not? Many people do this for a living, so why not me? I cannot see myself doing this so in this way I am entitled. It is a dirty job and I would get ill but people do it! On the other hand, why are some of those demanding service delivery who don’t have jobs, go and actually clean up their own streets, camps, townships? On the edge of my suburb there is a camp now and people do not clean up the area. Entitlement usually means that someone else must do the job that I could do. So if one wants free houses, someone else must pay. If someone wants clean toilets, someone else must clean it. If I want food, someone else must cook it. That I think is entitlement – the belief that someone else must work for you. I could be wrong, but I think entitlement works both ways, rich and poor both do it in many ways.

    • brettfish May 12, 2016 at 2:28 pm - Reply

      Hi Grant, some great thoughts thanks – this stuff is all so complicated and so hearing different peoples’ opinions and experiences as well as contexts really helps so there is some valuable stuff in here as well. i totally get [as far as a white person’s brain can, so in terms of context at least] the dilemma a lot of coloured people face in terms of that not black enough/not white enough thing and that must add layers upon layers to this conversation. But as long as we can walk alongside each other and create spaces to have these conversations i think it will be helpful. For starters anyways.

      Thanks for stopping by
      love brett fish

    • Kevin May 13, 2016 at 4:16 am - Reply

      Very interesting point! I’m coming at this from the viewpoint of living in USA. Here having a car is almost a necessity; it’s difficult to get around a lot of the country without one(though not completely impossible and a bit counter cultural). Here Coloureds are considered black(though some people with a black parent and a white parent identity as “mixed”). Concerning needs, psychologist Abraham Maslow identified a hierarchy of needs: basic level are the what we need to survive; level 2 is safety and security; level 3 is love and belongingness; level 4 is self-esteem; level 5 is self-actualization. I think we all should have what is necessary to not live in poverty and to be able to operate on a level playing field.(Hence in USA with cars — without one one must be creative, rely on friends to get to work).

      • brettfish May 13, 2016 at 9:40 am - Reply

        Thanks Kevin, i like how you said “almost” with the car thing because it becomes a thing of ease, of comfort and so most of us [South Africa too] feel like we have to have one – but many people get by without and it really is a luxury that the majority of the people in the world, and even in your country i believe, don’t have. When we get creative then we save the environment a little through car-pooling or using public transport — we probably sacrifice some time but gain in many other ways and i think part of this post was getting us to look at the things we think we need and those which are just comforts and how possibly we could work together on meeting actual needs for those who don’t have stuff like food, water, clothes and then let the comforts come later!

        have a great day
        love brett fish

  3. Catherine May 12, 2016 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    Hi Brett. I love what you write. It challenges me to the hilt every time l read. It clearly challenges others too and people react in different ways. Keep it up. Keep us on our toes and if people get angry then we’ve got to hope that the nerves you are touching are evidence that you are reaching something inside – causing turbulence – shaking the foundations of belief that society has been standing on (or hiding behind). Keep writing please!

    • brettfish May 13, 2016 at 9:42 am - Reply

      Thanks Catherine, appreciate you stopping by. And the encouragement. i will continue doing what i can and trust the ripples will spread as far as possible.
      Have a great weekend
      love brett fish

  4. Kathy May 14, 2016 at 11:29 am - Reply

    In your ideal society how do you see things? I’d love to hear how you envision it. I often drive from hout Bay to town and see all the houses along the way. I mean, how does one pay R90 million for a house? Lol the view and all looks amazing, and it’s obviously market related but how?

    In a more equal society do you think people will still live in those houses? Hopefully nobody lives in Shaks anymore but normal houses.

    I wonder how it would look and if it can be accomplished.

    • brettfish May 14, 2016 at 1:21 pm - Reply

      i absolutely hate the excess. My ideal world would probably not have golf courses cos they feel like such a wasted space for rich people [typically] to be able to play a game. My ideal world would probably have Camps Bay/Bishopscoourt and areas like that re-imagined. There would be no R90 million houses and possibly no R9 million houses either and certainly no Nkandla. It would be amazing if we had a president who would model this for the people as that one South American president does – uses public health, public transport, lives in a small house – if the leaders did it it would make it a lot easier for everyone else to follow. But ja there would need to be a lot of reimagining of rich rich houses if i had my way. Not everyone needs to have the same but everyone should have a toilet before one person has a pool…

  5. […] some ways i guess this explains the kind of Entitlement so many white people feel, which i alluded to in these two posts. If i think i’m better than someone else then naturally i will think i deserve more in some […]

  6. South Africa - Brett Fish May 30, 2016 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    […] Entitlement with an “i” – a brief glimpse into the problem of entitlement in our country […]

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