Age of the slack

2013-03-14 00:00

THE Age of the Slack is upon us and rebuffing it will not help. Daily you see it in newspaper headlines, outrage on social networks and the discordant murmurings in far and wide places in our country. The events of the past month reveal a complex scene in the South African story — contradictions everywhere and a rudderless citizenry beholden to their dim-witted selves.

The South African story stretches beyond the Oscar Pistorius fanfare (as Time magazine would like us to believe) or, on a lighter and pricier note — costly websites that are actually worth nothing.

All of these moments are part of a thread that is slowly carving out the confusingly tinged South African story. Forget about the big story for now. It is the folks in it I’m concerned about — you, me and everyone else.

Exposing the slack is pretty easy in South Africa. Wake up each morning, find a latest brewing saga and then engage in cheap moralising frolics. Do this on a social network preferably, and you’re more likely to get a stream of mentions and retweets signalling approval. High-nosed and clear in your mind, do this day-in, day-out. Sooner than you know it, the slack which you candidly live to expose engulfs you. You realise that the slacker is not only the inept local ward councillor or the callous man who abuses his wife and children — but you realise that the slacker lives in you, too.

Two weeks ago in Daveyton, Mido Marcia was dragged behind a police van in full view of the public. No surprises here, this is an all-too-familiar case of the senseless police brutality we’ve come to know of.

But what is more senseless and outrageous is that this all happened in front of the eyes of ordinary citizens: you and me.

In the video of the incident, some of the onlookers could be seen cheering. One gets the idea that the sight might have been a spectacle for some.

I might be wrong.

From the beginning of the video until the 0:50th second, one sees the bystanders looking keenly as the police officers “do their job”. Law enforcement they say. And the bystanders are merely watching the men in blue do what is expected from them.

I might be right, maybe.

From 1:20 it becomes a little more apparent that this isn’t about law enforcement anymore. “Wenzeni?” (What did he do?) , asks a member of the crowd. Fast-forward to a minute later (2:20) and total pandemonium has erupted. One cannot make out whether the jeering and shouting are in protest of the unfortunate sight or in approval of it. Maybe one of the protesters would have tried to dissuade one of the police officers otherwise? Maybe a group of the onlookers thought of doing something to bring this horrible sight to an end?

But this never happened. Instead, Marcia was taken to the police station where the terror continued. Two hours later, Marcia was found dead in a police cell.

We could ask why the other men in blue at the police station did not do anything to prevent this cruelty. But it is a little too late for that now. Marcia is dead and was buried last weekend in Matola, Mozambique.

This video, two minutes in length, captures the slack of our nation.

In just two minutes, the police officers, the bystanders, you and I, are the slack. We are complicit daily because violence, both structural and physical, has become a part of the South African story. We have become docile subjects waiting for the next spectacle to happen. And when it happens, we, the docile subjects, become animated onlookers.

A little less than a week later in Tweespruit, fans of a well-known gospel singer vilified a 15-year-old girl who claimed that the gospel star, Sechaba, raped her. “We will support you. We love you. Don’t worry about the devil trying to destroy you,” snapped a woman from the crowd. Scores of other people are reported to have camped outside the Tweespruit Magistrate’s Court, all present to defend their hero.

Of course, this narrative is not new. Public figures are special creatures and their fans are even more special. Any public scandal that erupts is seen as a ploy to get him or her. We know this.

But the crowd at the Tweespruit Magistrate’s Court went beyond the line of admiration. Just a few weeks after the Anene Booysen tragedy, these people relapsed. Shouting pejoratives to the 15-year-old girl and dismissing her allegations as false and evil — say slack?

Pointing out the slack seems easy, look outwards and cry foul. Dealing with the slack is more complicated. For this, we have to look inwards and around us to be more honest with ourselves.

Truth is, we are all responsible for the slack. Both the big and small actors have messed this scene up. It will take a little more than outrage and cheap moralising to fix this. — News

• Sibusiso Tshabalala is a law student at the University of the Free State. He is one of Google’s International Top 10 Young Minds for 2012.

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