Sibongile Mafu

Civic Centre Man

2014-01-17 10:35

Sibongile Mafu

Something awakened Capetonians form their midweek slumber yesterday, or rather someone. Morning commutes and lunch breaks were disrupted when news of a man who was threatening to jump from the 23rd floor of the Civic Centre emerged.

Tweets and photographs started popping up, and eventually live tweets documenting every move being made during the ordeal from civilians and journalists on the scene were streaming in.

When it started, there was a lot of sympathy for the man. Emergency services were on the scene quickly, with a police negotiator doing his best to get the man to remove himself from harm's way. But as the hours went by and the man remained where he was, the tone and sympathy started to change. In well and truly became like watching a suicide attempt in the time of social media.

Predictable jokes and wisecracks were shared, with many tweets saying the crowd that gathered were shouting for him to "jump". Trending topics and hashtags around what songs to play while this was happening formed and a small social media monster was created.

I don't know the man and I don't know his story but it was a bit painful and uncomfortable to watch. The insensitivity around mental health and the issue of suicide and how we talk about it and tackle it in this country fully hit me while this was going on. There were many people who called out this behaviour, saying how repulsed they were that people were making light of this man's pain which I agreed with.

Yes, no one is a guardian of morality and what we should find funny or not funny, but when it plays out on a social platform where you can actually see the recklessness and just what little is known, you begin to understand how very few would know how to handle something like this should it affect someone close to them, and how very little interest people have about in empowering themselves about mental illness.

Judgment calls were made about this man and the position he was in and why he'd chosen to do this is in such a public place. Clearly an attention seeker, right? Choosing to go to one of the most well-known buildings in the city, exhausting the state's resources and keeping them away from other emergencies. All these kinds of comments filtered through as if it weren't a human being that was up there. A human being going through something very, very real.

The man was eventually lured to safety, as people shared how well emergency services had handled the situation.

Whether it's about of attention-seeking or not is not the issue. We should most definitely be paying attention. It is this kind of recklessness we have with mental health which makes it incredibly difficult for people to reach out for help.

Sit up and listen when someone who clearly has come to a point in their life where they consider throwing themselves off a building rather than remaining a second longer on this earth speaks rather than yelling "jump". Sit up and listen rather than telling them they're cowards. Sit up and listen rather than labelling them "selfish".

It’s great that you have it all together. Now I’d suggest grabbing a tin of humanity.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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