Jack in a shack a colonial throwback
30 Nights In a Shack by Jack Bloom Staging Post 172 pages (80 photographs) R185
Jack Bloom’s ode to good deeds may as well have been called 40 Days in the Desert. Before I even opened the book, I was struck by the image of Bloom on the cover – arms outstretched, a white man in the middle of a crowd of hopeless-looking shack dwellers, or “forgotten people”, as Bloom so often calls them in the book.
Despite his perhaps sincere but lacklustre effort to admit all of this may be seen as poverty tourism and a declaration of his own privilege, his disclaimers did little to improve my sense of distaste.
Trigger phrases such as “these people” and “they” squashed any benefit of the doubt I tried to muster for Bloom. And, while the title of the book might suggest the DA politician spent 30 consecutive nights in a shack, this was not the case.
He spent one night listening, trying to help, and sleeping next to “those” poor people, but lived at home for the rest of the time. He then repeated this act randomly in different townships throughout Gauteng on an ad-hoc basis.
I could not figure out the purpose of the book. Beyond the obvious selfcongratulation and a long list of the ANC government’s service-delivery failures, there was no sense of what these experiences really meant for Bloom.
Did he come away having a greater sense of his privilege?
Did he conclude that party-based politics is the only way to change the status quo?
If there was at least one chapter dedicated to Bloom evaluating the vision of his journey, it would have helped to balance the sense that his shack work existed in a bubble.
Indeed, why did these observations warrant a book at all?
Surely if the purpose of the journey was to see where Bloom could help, why was it necessary to chronicle each individual experience? Who is the book for? It’s highly unlikely it will be read by the families he stayed with.
While I think there is definitely a space for white activism in trying to address social ills, I can’t honestly say I’m invested in the type of activism Bloom believes he is practising.
Even without the words ‘native’, ‘primitive’ or any other Conradian phrase, this book is reminiscent of colonial and post-colonial anthropological texts, which earmark the poor-black experience as something to be studied, analysed and fixed by a white person in power.
And that makes most of what may well be a sincere effort a little hard to read – and immensely difficult to believe in wholeheartedly.