Georgina Guedes

Issue fatigue

2012-08-30 12:16

Georgina Guedes

It's important for all of us to stand up for what we believe in, to speak out for what is right and to march against perceived oppression. As I phrase those words, I feel the stirrings of my revolutionary spirit, hear the cracking of my flag being whipped by the wind as I challenge those who would sow injustice.

But then, as as return to real life, the issues, the news, the opinions of the people, the wind drops, my flag sags like a deflated balloon and I find it hard to muster any sort of response.

The story that has me whipped today is the latest in the Spear installment. A new painting of President Jacob Zuma's exposed genitals, Umshini Wam is on display at the AVA Gallery in Cape Town, and again, there is a public outcry.

Important issues

The Spear and now Umshini Wam and the surrounding controversy raise so many issues that are important to South Africa and important to me personally. There's freedom of expression, cultural respect, art as a mirror of society, the right to dignity, the corruption of government, the importance of debate, the importance of sympathy, the importance of democracy - all wrapped up in this single issue.

It's almost as if all the relevant topics we need to address in South Africa today have coalesced in this single controversy. In the end it all boils back down to the same cultural barriers, the same weight of the past and the same inability to budge on our stances.

These are vitally important issues, ones we should be discussing endlessly - especially since they are so difficult to resolve. I really believe this. It's important to have the extremists yelling at each other over the fence so that those who sit on it can continue to enjoy their comfortable perch.

I have strong views on all of this, although this doesn't necessarily mean I can see a solution that does justice to everyone's feelings, but I know what I think is right.

So very tired of it all

However, when it was announced that the painting was on display, when the newspapers inevitably put it on their front pages trumpeting a new Spear (when Ayanda Mabulu has been painting leaders' genitals long before Brett Murray took paintbrush to prick), instead of feeling the stirrings that ready me for another round of debate, I just felt extremely tired.

I don't want to have these discussions again. I don't want to enter into another debate where I carefully phrase my arguments against a backdrop of democracy and our constitution, while trying to be sensitive to the hurt feelings and cultural insult on the other side of the argument, to possibly receive some sort of acknowledgment, but more likely to be stonewalled. It's not that I fear the conflict, it's just that my tongue feels too fatigued to form the thoughts, the words, the argument again.

I'm sick of the fighting. I know the debates are important, but I don't want to have them anymore. I am afraid that at the ripe old age of 34, as a South African who is proud to live in a country that I love, I have issue fatigue.

Finding the energy

It would be easy now for me not to have any more discussions, to ban politics and controversy at the dinner table, to discuss only the day-to-day things (Henry's first word is "hat"), the mundane things, the pleasant things – but that would only create a bubble around me and my family. And bubbles are fragile things to live inside, with a very real risk of popping at the slightest prod.

So, I will do my best to muster enthusiasm for debate, to sculpt my tongue back around the words that are so distasteful to many and to continue to do my small part in maintaining the teetering balance of our society. But maybe next week.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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