The F-word: Rediscovering the ‘hayikhona gene’

2013-01-13 10:00

Aesop’s classic tale of the boy who cried wolf has been retold many times.

Mainly, it is used to warn children not to lie or they won’t be believed in the future, when their story might be true.

The fable is a story-time favourite across cultures and generations because it’s message is so universal.

One of the elements of the story is that it speaks to a people’s sense of occasion and shock.

Villagers rally around the shepherd boy’s cry without worrying whether it is their sheep that are in danger.

But they lose interest when there are too many calls and the result is consistently disappointing.

Two events, seemingly worlds apart, reminded me of the Greek storyteller’s famous tale.

A footballer of Ghanaian origin playing in Italy kicked the ball into a crowd of racist fans; people in India made the gang rape and murder of a woman their own business.

So inured are we by the everyday reports of rape and racism that I have to wonder if the Indian woman would have made headlines outside the city where she was attacked had it happened in South Africa.

And racism is so commonplace that it provides rich material for the burgeoning ranks of South African comedians.

In South Africa we have lost the sense of wonder, and of umbrage.

We may rightly say that with our past history as the purveyors of institutional racism and our record of sexual violence, particularly against women, we should have led the move to change to the world’s sensibilities regarding these two subhuman practices.

We did not, because we are too tired of the story and hope our fatigue will somehow make the issues disappear.

Cries of women being abused and people being treated as inferior because of their skin colour have become, for many South Africans, similar to the third or fourth call that a wolf has come to attack.

To many, reports of sexual violence against women and reports of racism against black people are just a turn-off.

Some might blame the media for it but we are all guilty of numbing our senses to those things in our daily lives that demand more than our cursory attention.

Cynicism and indifference have led us nowhere.

We could also blame the usual culprits, politicians, for abusing their platforms and for milking an event for their narrow and immediate benefit, but all of us need to ask ourselves how and when we lost our sense of indignation.

Societies are transformed by those moments when ordinary people decide that “business as usual” cannot continue.

As the boy who cried wolf found out, indifference and lethargy results in all of us losing what we claim to value.

As is happening in European football and in the Indian courts and on their streets, things change when a people decides one person’s bad luck is everyone’s business.

We simply have to rediscover our communal sense of right and wrong and speak out with loud voices, or risk the slow but sure slide into the abyss.

Our indifference and cynicism has provided arable space for those with a penchant for melodrama to make what ought to be societal issues an opportunity for self promotion.

We should ask ourselves how those who were once radical fire eaters in the struggle against apartheid have become zombies moved by nothing, unless it is burning their own bottoms.

We have seen it many times. What became the Arab Spring was ignited by an ordinary citizen saying enough was enough, and not by some ideologue with great oratory skills.

Regimes along the Mediterranean Sea fell and a new public ethos formed because people rediscovered their “hayikhona gene”, which they thought had become extinct.

Nations are rejuvenated when their people rediscover the sense of belief that there must be something better than the injustice they thought they had to endure to their graves.

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