Sibongile Mafu

Do reports like this have a future in SA?

2013-05-22 10:00

Sibongile Mafu

In the famous words of philosopher, artist and self-proclaimed Black Jesus, Kanye West, "no one knows what it means, but it's provocative". That was initially thought when I read the BBC article titled: Do white people have a future in South Africa?

My naïve self thought this was one of those ironic surveys that crowd news websites and add no real value to anything, but when I clicked the widely distributed and analysed link, I was surprised to see that this was an actual article.

John Simpson, The BBC's senior foreign writer, reported that while some whites have the best houses and jobs, below the surface there is poverty and a sense of growing vulnerability. And questioned whether white South Africans have a future in post-apartheid South Africa.

I'm a little upset at myself for reading and completing it, and a little upset that it got me upset.

I'm a liberal arts graduate. I was taught to welcome any and all opinions on anything, or at lease use the little bit of drama I've studied in my life (none) to act like I am. But also allowing myself to have an active choice in what meaning I gain from a particular experience.

What is really important

A good friend forwarded a talk yesterday by David Wallace Foster, a brilliant writer who committed suicide in 2008 at the age of 46, from 2005. The memorable commencement address was delivered to the graduating class at Kenyon College. The speech was published as a book in 2009 under the title This Is Water. Wallace covers quite a lot of stuff in a powerful 20 minute lesson in oratory, but the most important one I gained from it was how incredibly empowered I am in making meaning from particular experiences and what is really important.

There's this running joke I'm starting to see amongst South Africans and our colourful media space. We wake up and instead of saying "Good morning," we ask "What Are You Upset About Today? What will rile me up, tie me into a tight knot, make me ill, leave me with very few answers and spit me out today?"

In my rush to get upset, I stop for a moment to think what value it will add to right now. When I was in high school, I was on the debating team. Exhausted topics like "should prostitution be legalised" and "do video games make children violent and create wars" were argued and re-argued to the point where students could do it without even really thinking. Like we'd been programmed. We became so dead set on proving a point, and coming out on top that we often came out of debates asking ourselves what we'd just debated about.

Waiting to be right

That's exactly how South Africa feels sometimes. We're poised, waiting for the next issue, waiting for the next debating topic, waiting to be right...again.

That's what the BBC report achieved. It got us bothered, distracted and made us exert very precious energy on something that has no intention of moving us forward. But it also shed some light into the very real and very delusional conversations that are happening in respected spaces. How very little focus is placed on what is actually important, only what is important to a select group of people.

The question shouldn't be "Do white people have a future in South Africa?" The question should be: "Why do we even bother with these kinds of questions, and who do they benefit?"

But I'm just here, a black woman living in post-apartheid South Africa, probably one of the most vulnerable groups in this country. Any questions?

- 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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