A copy of a memo addressed to the Dean, informing her of staff in the Faculty who qualified this year for Long Service Awards. First on the list, was.... me.
Aside from the implication that I've been treading water as a pit zombie these last 15 years (or 14 and some bit years - the anniversary bell tolls in October) the principle and form of the Long Service Awards themselves depressed me terminally.
For those who've not encountered them:
Upon labouring 15 years (and each ten years subsequent: 25, 35, etc) for the University, staff on conditions other than academic qualify for a Long Service Award. This is in recognition for good and faithful labour over time - after all, these are not people whose quality service is acknowledged through Ad Hom, or whose length of service qualifies them every seven years for sabbatical.
This involves being awarded a certificate and vouchers to the value of R1 250 for 15 years, and incremental amounts for subsequent Awards, and a letter personally signed by the Vice-Chancellor in the month of the anniversary of employment.
And despite the wonderfully ironic inversion of a Black VC bestowing largesse on loyal and diligent white workers, it still smacks of its historic roots in a system of paternalism, of "baasskap" and classism, permeated with the historic racism that interweaves our history so strongly.
It's really hard to feel pleased on receipt of a letter whose subtext suggests that Madam HR wishes to reward your dutiful service with a shiny new microwave, which the Baas will personally hand over with a handshake and a smile.
At the same time, it's hard to launch an all-out campaign against this assault on the dignity of the subordinate classes of staff who qualify, without in the process removing from some who really appreciate the material benefit (a new fridge, after 35 years!) given the relative paucity of their wages.
Perhaps if all classes of staff were valued, and acknowledged, equally, one wouldn't feel so cynical. Perhaps if all systems of reward and acknowledgment were equitable - appropriate to the nature of one's work, rather than one's conditions of employment - one would feel more enthusiastic. Why a Librarian, say, should get a microwave rather than a sabbatical (or two sabbaticals; a fridge would equate with five) when their research contribution could be as enhanced as a rank-and-file academic's through sabbatical; why the AA who secretly runs the Department while the HOD gets the allowance should feel blessed with a LaZy-Boy rather than an Ad Hom promotion, or why the Departmental Assistant who, 35 years later, is far more expert in his field than the newly appointed lecturer who relies on him to make it all happen but gets all the credit... Well, these celestial mysteries are not for the likes of us to ponder. Ours not to reason why - ours but to do and - after 15 years - smile gratefully when your letter arrives telling you you've won a microwave.
PS If I'm still here in October - and the plan is seriously not to be - I'll raffle off my Long Service Award to some deserving cause, or individual. I'm sure there's someone out there who might see it as positive, rather than insulting, and might derive good use rather than negative karma from its presence in their lives. Suggestions and nominations welcome...