We are an angry nation

2018-02-04 06:21
Siyathemba township in Balfour, Mpumalanga, during a service-delivery protest on February 9 2010. Residents set fire to municipal offices and barricaded roads with rocks, electricity poles and rubbish bins. PHOTO: Leon Sadiki

Siyathemba township in Balfour, Mpumalanga, during a service-delivery protest on February 9 2010. Residents set fire to municipal offices and barricaded roads with rocks, electricity poles and rubbish bins. PHOTO: Leon Sadiki

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Road rage is loosely defined as sudden violent anger provoked in a motorist by the actions of another driver. It seems to me that my beloved country – our beloved country – has become an angry country, a country struggling with “citizen rage”. It crosses all boundaries. It’s a sad fact that most South Africans, at one point or another, get irate at the establishment or the status quo.

We have become a people whose first instinct is to throw a stone (verbally or physically). We no longer rationalise or try to understand what another is saying or doing. Insulting each other has become the norm. We use labels, stereotypes and perceptions to pigeonhole one another (as individuals and/or groupings) and freely apportion guilt or innocence. We exculpate ourselves, or feel justified in our actions, because someone else did this, that, or the other. If a person (stranger or not), for example, of a particular colour and/or gender does something senseless or wrong in our eyes, we tend to tar everyone of the same description with the same brush.

So charged is the general state of things; so loaded each of the many occasions combining in intolerance, that one can scarcely summarise the reported facts for fear of stoking the fires. What is fact to some is fake to others and anger meets anyone who has a different opinion.

During the past few years, we have slowly but surely been sinking deeper and deeper into a culture of distrust and anger. Instead of working to solve the tensions, we started a fresh new year with clothing retailer H&M offending black people with its Coolest Monkey in the Jungle hoodie. Thereafter, young South Africans felt it was justifiable to damage H&M’s stores.

We saw, late last year, the sentencing of Theo Jackson and Willem Oosthuizen for forcing Rethabile Mlotshwa into a coffin and threatening to set it alight. Parents and protesters assaulted each other at the gates of Hoërskool Overvaal. Citizens take to the streets to demand basic services which, more often than not, escalates into violence and destruction of property. The police’s response is to pepper protesters with rubber bullets and teargas – as we recently saw in Krugersdorp with a community upset about drug dens and brothels in their area. We see court cases about the language of learning, which many believe is simply another way to enforce exclusivity, while others feel their rights are being trampled on.

These scenes of intolerance and physical violence are not the vision we had for South Africa when we fought for its political freedom, for social equality and peace. This is not the South Africa Nelson Mandela had in mind when he said from the dock, 54 years ago: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Our citizen rage may be explained by the pervasive corruption and capture mania that took hold of ANC cadres. It may be the DA’s persistent kvetching, often perceived (with good reason or perhaps not) as unfair criticism, about “black inability”, more than a cry for good governance. It may be the brash and blazing style of the Economic Freedom Fighters. It may be the perception that Afriforum protects Afrikaner culture, rather than mobilising civil society and ensuring that minority communities take part equally in democratic debate. It may be Afrikaans-speaking coloureds on the Cape Flats offended by what are seen to be “black barriers” to tertiary education in their mother tongue. It may be the extremist actions of some fearful fringe groups whose only goal is to drive the wedges deeper into our society and unscrupulously prey on the fears of our peoples. When a crisis, like the Cape Town metro’s water emergency, generates accusations and insults across race and economic divides, the danger is real and present; the threat palpable.

Government’s reaction to this oncoming freight-train of social upheaval has been mostly no reaction at all or, perhaps even worse, some trite remark that this too will pass. This in the light of looming #FeesMustFall unrest. Unacceptable. We deserve better. This must end.

Violence permeates our societies, our very being as a nation; our minds and, most dangerously, our hearts. An attitude of animosity has captured South Africa. A culture of distrust. A culture of contempt. A culture of one-upmanship. A culture of destruction. As with road rage, the frustration and suppressed anger of our people (and this is a universal phenomenon) erupt every now and again like a steam engine under pressure. Our problems are getting worse, with more frequent eruptions, as time goes by.

We choose to fight, even in front of our children (like at Hoërskool Overvaal). We fight each other using the ruse that we are fighting oppression; when we damage shops where our fellow South Africans earn an honest living in a distressed economy rife with unemployment. We act for personal gain, and for the perceived benefit of some group we personally support, without thought for the damage we may cause, and are causing, the very people who most need our support.

A group of Khoisan activists walked for 14 days from the Eastern Cape to Tshwane to camp on the lawns of the Union Buildings. They resorted to a hunger strike to demand a meeting for formal recognition of the Khoisan language and to have the Khoisan declared the “first citizens” to originate in South Africa. It took a newly elected leader to finally acknowledge them. Where is our compassion?

Yes, much of our problems are the result of apartheid’s social engineering, but also a result of terrible management and the absence of strategic planning and tactical implementation.

We no longer engage with each other constructively. It is not healthy to suppress our anger or frustration, but we must find beneficial ways of expressing our citizen rage and, most importantly, find solutions to relieve the pressure, calm the anger and alleviate the frustration.

As a nation, we have done so successfully in the past! We managed to bring about the Convention for a Democratic SA, which taught us that speaking to each other is endlessly better than shooting at each other. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission taught us that, to bring our grievances out in the open and to forgive, is endlessly better than to let them fester.

We are an angry nation; and the anger is fuelled by sporadic, real outbursts of intolerance (based on race, language, gender, political persuasion, religious views, etc), be it accidental or intended.

My fellow South Africans, our anger dumbs us down; our hostility numbs our empathy. We have not enough care. It must stop.

We, the people, must take back the promise of 1994. We are not Zulu or Venda, men or women. We are not Catholic or Zionist, Indian or coloured. We are not gay or straight; clever or stupid. For, if we are, we are lost. We are South Africans. Period. Rise not to this reality and we are lost indeed.

We should be aware that we tend to focus on the symptoms of our illness. Yet, we need to address the cause. The origin of our problem is economic divide. Of course, there are legacies we have to address. But the most important legacy is the legacy of inequality and, especially, inequality of opportunity. Before we address poverty and fairness, we need to rise to the challenge of creating equal opportunity irrespective of creed or colour.

We, the people must divert our anger into energy for a better future. To this end, we need to listen less to those telling us how we are being threatened by others and listen more to each other.

We need national leadership not engulfed by party politics, not in pursuit of political position, not in fear of prosecution, but able to motivate and manage coalitions both expedient and convenient, and committed to improve individual lives in service of rising communities.

Let us listen to one another, listen to understand, and not listen to respond and react. And let us talk to each other about what we hear from each other, not what we hear about each other. Let us learn anew to trust each other, because we have no choice really, as we are all together, here, in this beautiful and promising land.

Holomisa is a leader of the United Democratic Movement

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Read more on:    protests  |  politics

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