Melanie Verwoerd

What if SA went dark and silent for a day?

2019-03-06 08:22

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Imagine the goodwill that could be created if we had an annual day of silence in South Africa. Many families might just lay down the hatchet, but more importantly it could be cathartic on a collective level, writes Melanie Verwoerd.

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently said that he wanted to follow the Rwandan example of a national clean-up day. Having seen first-hand the positive effect this monthly event has in Rwanda, I would totally support the president's proposal.

However, there is another day that I think we should copy. Tomorrow is the Balinese New Year, called Nyepi. It is a new year like no other. Nyepi is a day of total (and I mean total) silence. If you have ever been to Bali or most Asian countries, you will know that they are noisy.

Yet, on this day, Bali does something that no other place on the planet does – it goes totally silent. Absolutely no noise is tolerated. No one is allowed out of their houses and no traffic is allowed on the roads, the only exceptions being ambulances for medical emergencies and women giving birth.

Bali also goes completely dark.  

No lights are allowed inside the houses or businesses and all the street lights are switched off. Hotels have some leeway with tourists inside the premises, but they also cover the windows to block out any light to the outside world. If you were to fly over Bali during the night, it would be completely dark. (Note that you would only be able to fly over the island, since the only airport in Bali shuts down completely.)

TV and radio stations and even Wi-Fi go completely down.

All of this is carefully controlled by traditional/community security called Pecalang.

Nyepi is part of the Hindu ritual of "Catur Brata Penyepian" which is a time for self-reflection. Nothing that can interfere with this important time of introspection is allowed – thus, no fire ("amati geni"), no travel ("amati lelunganan"), no activity ("amati karya") and no entertainment ("amati lelanguan").

People use this time of silence, darkness and seclusion to meditate, pray and fast. They also do a lot of introspection and specifically focus on patience, love, kindness, truth and generosity, reflecting on their own lives.

Many also believe that it is a time for nature to reboot itself from all the pressure that is put on it. Naturally, 24 hours won't be enough – but the intention is never the less very important.

Now, just think about the enormous collective good that gets generated when, for 24 hours, a whole nation is meditating and recommitting to important values. I can't help thinking that we would be a totally different country if we could do this too.

Imagine all the politicians having to reflect and recommit to truthfulness, kindness and generosity! Commissions like Zondo would run out of business faster than you can say "Namaste". Government policy might actual be geared to the poor and officials might just treat people kindly for awhile.

Ordinary South Africans might also be more tolerant to their fellow countrymen and -women. I wrote a column two years ago about the extraordinary tolerance the Balinese have to diversity and each other. I related the story of being told that they teach their children to look at the other "softly, softly".

How desperately we need the softening of the gaze in our country.

In Bali there is another very important element to these six days of rituals. The day after Nyepi, they celebrate Ngembak Agni. This is the beginning of the new year according to the Shaka calender (an ancient Indian calender and one of two calendars used by the Balinese).  During this day, when all social activities pick up again, people visit family, friends and neighbours and… wait for it… ask for forgiveness for any hurt and harm caused in the last year.

Imagine the goodwill that could be created if this happened in South Africa on an annual basis. Many families might just lay down the hatchet for a while, but more importantly it could be immensely cathartic on a collective level.

So, Mr President, I would like to ask for an annual day of "silence" for South Africa, followed by a day of asking for forgiveness.

And to the lovely people of Bali, may you have a very blessed Nyepi.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    cyril rama­phosa  |  bali  |  forgiveness
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