I Lagardien
I Lagardien

Short story of the electrician and his apprentice

Sometimes, in this fractured and fractious society of ours, things actually work. When they do, I often pause to think: Why? How? What is it that makes some things work, all too infrequently, it should be said? Why can’t we make more things work, and other things work better? For now, I have no conclusions, recommendations, and no prescriptions — just observations. Let me share something, here; the story about the electrician and his apprentice, and place no restrictions on what may be discussed — the way that identity brokers in our country may insist.

Yesterday I had an electrical fault at my home repaired. The electrician and his apprentice arrived on time, they did the repairs swiftly, professionally and (for now, it seems) reliably. I was impressed, but I was also quite moved. Yes, it may seem odd being “moved” by watching people work. You see, I come from a long line of artisans, carpenters, bricklayers, tailors, cabinet makers and painters, among other.

So, when the electrician arrived I was mightily impressed, at the outset, that he had with him, an apprentice, and that the apprentice did not object to taking instructions or doing menial tasks; like wiping surfaces, or picking up scraps and clearing cobwebs and insects from fittings. It reminded me of when I was 14 or 15 years old, when my father took me to a construction site where I learned to lay bricks, mix cement and push a wheelbarrow — without complaining. For many years before, say, 17, I also helped my mother with sewing. She was a widely respected maker of wedding and ballroom gowns in the townships of south western Johannesburg. One of my frequent tasks was stitching long rows of sequins onto ballroom gowns, then going to the “town halls” of Soweto on Saturday night for massive ballroom events. By the time I was 17 I could cook, lay bricks, wash dishes, build a fire in the old cast iron stove, sew and knit! Besides the fact that my father was a tyrant, I knew, at a young age, that I was learning and doing something meaningful. We were all responsible for chores around the “matchbox” house and in the yard. That’s not the whole story, but the reader would have to wait for something more substantive that I am trying to put together for publication around the end of the year.

Anyway. One of the most surprising things about yesterday, was that while the work was being done at my home I was not told how difficult life was, how hot it was and how thirsty the electrician was. I was not told about oppressive forces in the world, and did not receive a doleful look, no scraping or bowing — I was not hustled, nor was I extorted for cash on the side. Quite different an experience from the Telkom dude who, last year, told me his pitiful life story of working at the same job for 28 years, and who wished for nothing more than a job in government. He emptied out my fridge when I left the kitchen, then left me to clean up after he had lunch!

Nonetheless, after the work was done, yesterday, a professional invoice was handed over (which I was asked to pass on to the landlord), we shook hands, the electrician and his apprentice said goodbye, and this morning I received an SMS asking whether I was satisfied with the service.

Watching the electrician and his apprentice work was a moving experience. It was reminiscent of a childhood watching and working with my mother, father, aunts, brothers, cousins and uncles, many of whom worked in factories or at home as dressmakers, seamstresses or tailors, upholsterers, carpenters — and (piano) cabinet makers and polishers! Plumbers, bricklayers and electricians build things — it’s trite even to say that. But in the three years that I have been back in South Africa I have seen so much destruction, laziness, avoidance, greed and entitlement that it was refreshing to see someone simply go about doing their job, doing it well, and taking pride in what they have done.

Trades people — artisans — are amazing and important members of any society. One of the regrets I have is that, unlike almost all my family members, I can’t work with my hands, or build things. I doff my cap to those who do — and do so without manipulation, extortion, expediency and hustle!

I said I had no recommendations. I lied. We really need to (re)build things in South Africa. All of us. And work like the electrician and his apprentice, jointly, professionally and thoroughly — without manipulation, extortion, expediency and hustle.

Note: I banged this out in a rush. I may revise it an place it on my own website at a later stage.

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    • Travesty

      Oh well said, Sir! Artisans build the foundations of our economy. Their attitudes are as critical as their skills. Their attitudes permeate the fabric of our society … if only we could all get this right.

    • Pakane

      The need for artisans is known just as the actual challenges of being an artisan are understood despite not remedied.

      Youth have limited knowledge about who needs to go to an FET college, when to start FET programmes and how to get funding for the colleges. Currently education is increasingly getting cheaper to free for basic education, not for FET learning, why, someone knows better.

      FET colleges also fail to fully provide us with artisans as they do not even bother to ensure that their students get apprenticeship or internship after their theoretical studying.

      Thank you for sharing the story that touches the economic need of our nation.

    • Rejoice Ngwenya

      Great narrration, I LAGARDIEN. Being Zimbabwean myself, that breed of country boys who knew nothing rather hard graft in the maize fields and cattle plains – I know the amazing feeling of watching great craftspersons at work! But then our current generation of children – the I Pad Group – do nothing other than ask for airtime and peer at the silver screen [NOT the black and white TV!]. I have lived in RSA, Botswana and Kenya – but I think the South Africans tend to be complacent [another term for lazy?]. Look at how they burn tires and municipal buildings to DEMAND service. When I’m shopping around in Polokwane or Musina [the nearest towns to my derelict country Zimbabwe], I feel MORE comfortable being served by an Indian or white chap – at least I will get the RIGHT answers for my product. It takes an effort to get the black bally off his phone [talking about Orlando Pirates]!

    • Ras

      I was for 24years a teacher at a Technical High School.The biggest error people in South Africa make is the following they say:”He is not clever but good with his hands.”
      What a lot of Bull… A person hand movement is controled by your brain.Therefor if you are not clever your hands will be stupid.Most of our student wrote and gained a double matric that is a Technical Grade 12 N3 and an academic Grade 12

    • http://www.mark3africa.co.uk Sean Haywood

      Great story! We get so carried away with all of the bad and inefficient that sometimes we neglect to see the good around us every day!
      Now if only there was a way to let that entrepreneurial efficiency filter into the Corporate beasts that straddle our globe..

    • Barbra

      There is no need to revise it; it is perfect as it is, and illustrates a number of points perfectly well.

    • Jans de J

      I had a similar experience in Umtata once when I had a flat tire and was convinced that it was punctured. No, said the workman, it was just dirty because of driving through holy dirt roads in the rain. He promptly rinsed the wheel and tire, and sent me off without charging a cent. I wasn’t even allowed to give him a tip. One must applaud such dedication to your craft and such meritorious service to the cause, in face of insurmountable odds we can only believe steadfastly that one day our efforts will be acknowledged.

    • http://Chemanviews Mandla

      Many of us do, without fail, spend too much time with our buil-tin microscopes, multimeters and ammeters looking even for slightest of deviations.
      We do this to ourselves, we do this to other people as well.

      Because of the magnifying capabilities of the microscopes we do see many “big” mistakes in people’s deeds. Because of the staggering nature of measurements as displayed in those small screens of our meters, we scream. We even ignore the fact that the readings would finally stabilise.

      You are doing exactly the opposite of this and in the process inspiring us all. We are GREATFUL to you for reminding us of our Ubuntu values.
      Hail to the Electrician and his apprentice.

      We also remain optimistic that even that “Telkom dude” would come back a changed and a better person.

      Thank you Mr Lagardien!

    • Steve Woodhall

      What a wonderful story. I hope there are many more people like that electrician in SA. In them lies our salvation.

    • nguni

      Nice story. Reminded me of the powerful artisan guilds in Europe where the possibility of starting your own business is still appreciated by the apprentices, who put their shoulders to the grindstone until they have learned their trade. They do much better than the professionals where supply has overtaken demand. Plumbers pull in better hourly rates than most doctors..

    • Cam Cameron

      Bravo, bravissimo! Apprentices — future artisans — are a quantum better than the swarms of plodders all trying to scrape together a third-class BA in sociology or politics.

    • Momma Cyndi

      May the sequins be with you forever :-P
      Never underestimate the value of knowing how to sew up a hem. It seems to be a sadly lost art in the world today. That is why I will always value growing up without money. We had to do it for ourselves.