A glorious moment of conscious naivety

2012-08-18 12:40

Here’s a confession that’s bound to alienate many people before we’ve even begun: Sometimes, I don’t like critically engaging with the world around me.

Sometimes, I simply want to enjoy the good stuff, the shallow, unexamined euphoria without the cold, tough questions.

This makes it difficult to be a South African because we’re a nation that not only likes to ask hard questions and critically engage with our world, but seems to actively seek out opportunities to do so. It’s as though our brutal, complex history and our fragile, hard-fought and desperately inequitable present have left us quite unable to take the good stuff unfiltered.

Maybe that’s a positive thing. Maybe if we let our collective guard down for even an instant and stop prodding the good stuff in our search for a terrible flip side, everything will crumble. If we rest on our laurels, only celebrating our victories and not scratching for the defeats below the surface, maybe we’ll lose our claim to being a young democracy whose citizenry, at the very least, is constantly looking to improve.

It was Caster Semenya who drop-kicked me into this latest bout of navel-gazing. Until about two minutes after her silver medal win last Saturday night, I believed the young woman from Limpopo had proved her mettle, once and for all.

She’d taken three years of repeated assaults on her dignity – endless revolting jokes and undeserved scrutiny – and she’d channelled that into an excellent performance at London’s Olympic Stadium. How’s that for thumbing your nose at the nasties of the world?

I followed the action on Twitter and when my timeline exploded with the word “Silver!”, over and over again, and as my neighbours roared and cheered, I started crying. It was one of those hopelessly naive, uncritical moments that I surrender to from time to time.

The negativity was completely overwhelmed by the good stuff.

Then Twitter intervened.

It wasn’t the “jokes” about Semenya’s sex, which flowed thick and fast in the minutes following the 800m final, that got to me. It was the scores and scores of South Africans who immediately had two things to ask. Firstly, why not gold and, secondly, did she deliberately throw the race?

It was a familiar reaction and it was one that broke my heart a little. In every soaring, brilliant moment, there’s always a loud gaggle of South Africans reminding us why it’s simply not good enough. During the World Cup, our great halcyon moment, it was Bafana Bafana’s performance that gave us something bad to grab on to during a time of great joy and celebration.

It wasn’t enough that we’d defied the world’s expectations and thrown one helluva party. No, we had to dwell, Eeyore-like, on our on-field inabilities.

When we were jointly awarded the SKA bid with Australia, eyes rolled so loudly that you could hear them. It didn’t matter that we’d pulled off an enormous scientific coup; what mattered, dammit, was that we were sharing.

I’m not suggesting that South Africans all need to come over to my occasional way of thinking. If we stopped asking hard questions, the country would slide rapidly into absurdity.

Instead of reporting on tender corruption, City Press would praise tenderpreneurs for their initiative and curse law enforcement agencies for always harping on about pesky details like bribes.

But there has to be a middle ground, a space in which the Eeyores and the Tiggers can meet halfway and teach each other when it’s okay to let go and just enjoy the moment, critical thinking caps stowed in our pockets for a little while, and when we need to roll up our sleeves and start jabbing at the world around us, seeking the weaknesses and, finally, hopefully, knocking them out once and for all.

» Joseph is City Press news editor

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