me think thou dost protest too much – 31 March 2017
Today a man shouted “Amandla!” and for the first time in my life I answered “Awethu!”. I am 36, I have no first hand knowledge of the revolution. I grew up in a family that was apolitical and have never been involved in the political landscape of our country. All I know about the politics of our revolution was the horror stories of people being necklaced.
But today I spoke my first awethu, standing outside parliament on a drizzly Cape Town day. Still reeling from the news of Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle. I stood there with my fellow South Africans, filled with nervousness, self-conciousness and the burning question of “what-the-fuck-are-you-doing-here?”. But coupled with the confusion, I also felt a deep resonance, a tingling in my blood as I tapped into something I didn’t know was there. I am born of this land, sprouted from this soil. Her hurts are my hurts, and right now I gotta tell you, I’m in agony.
It took resolve this morning to walk out the front door towards my first protest. Even as I stood in that crowd I felt helpless, ineffective. How do I fix this? How do I stand here with all these people in solidarity when we all have our personal gripes, our personal perception of what is going on and why it is wrong. The fear and uncertainty, the feeling of isolation I feel in this crowd. I am not apart of this and yet I am here, I am standing here because I want my government to know how I feel. I do not know the songs that some people in the crowd are singing. I do not even understand most of the words they are chanting. I am lost but I am here. I have to be here.
In the midst of this inner turmoil an older man pitched up at the protest shouting colonialism must fall. He was furious. He had every right to be but we weren’t gathered to bring down colonialism. We were trying to let Zuma know that we were gatvol. But this always happens. People pitch up at protests and use them as platforms to push their own agendas. It can’t be helped but it taints the feelings, the sense of unity you feel with the person standing beside you. “wait, hold on, that’s not the message i came here to relay” and then more confusion, disorientation. a questioning of those around you. Are we one people? I want to be one people, but are we really? I don’t know where you come from, the experiences that form your opinions. I get mine from Facebook, twitter, the links friends share all filtered by like minded people. What do you see with your eyes, hear with your ears? Are your filters different?
We are of one land but this land has some pretty varied mineralogy.
With social media being what it is, and the tendency to sensationalise the most mundane acts how do I make my voice heard? I was uncomfortable standing in that crowd. the entire exercise felt alien to me. Even if I did make my voice heard am I speaking a universal truth or just my truth, my small ignorant truth filtered by what I expose myself to.
Great men and women have gone before me. They went forth with courage, a deep-rooted sense of right and a willingness to sacrifice all they had to achieve the goals they had set for themselves. How did they muster the strength? Was their outer confidence a mask to their own inner turmoil? How do we choose the right path? Yes get Zuma out, but then what? Where do we go? How do we ensure the future protection of our country.
I am angry and that anger will fuel me but in what direction and for how long? How long before my anger burns out leaving a grudging complacency. We have been fighting this battle for years now. Getting riled up every time Zuma does something that irks us but falling quickly back into inaction when the news directs us at Trump’s newest tweet or the latest act of “terrorism”.
Revolution, they say, comes in waves. Our wave feels like a ripple. A ripple set off whenever Zuma dips his feet into our firepool. We need a tsunami. How many more earthquakes do we endure before we actually manage to set one off?
The Awethus were flowing more naturally for me. Today I joined the Cape Town leg of the #Zumamustfall march and today I made a point to listen to the ladies singing beside. I told one of them that I needed help, that I wanted to learn the words and understand what they meant. She was kind, she helped. I sang with them for a while. but singing the words of people of this country who have lost the most, who have suffered the most made me feel like an impostor. Who am I to make these pleas when they have lost so much.
I am Indian, I went to model C schools, I went to university, I have good earning potential. Yes my parents had to work hard, yes I had to work hard but what about the people who can’t even get access to primary schooling, who go to schools without textbooks, without desks?
I realised something today, the middle class is protesting because we don’t want our lives to change for the worse which is what we see happening under Zuma. The poor and economically disadvantaged are protesting because they are desperate for change. Change that has been promised. Promised 23 years ago but is not forthcoming.
We sit in our nice houses, running water (while the dam levels last) and electricity and underfloor heating and we think we are suffering. We’re all worried about having our way of life taken from us, but how much would we gain if we thought about what we can give to help ease the suffering of others. When do we stop to consider the plight of those who have nothing?
There is a growing undertone of animosity between white and black, rich and poor that is taking away from the unified front that we need to put forward to fight the forces that are working to undermine our beloved country. Lots of people go on the defensive. “But I’m here, I’m fighting for change!”. Our notion of change is very different from what is actually required and that is the bottom line.
Before we, as the people of South Africa can come together to fight the challenges that lie ahead we really need to get to grips with what we are fighting for. The equality we flaunt to the world is not a real equality. I’m as guilty as the next person. We are all prejudiced. Programmed to see each other differently and have preconceived notions of who people are before they even open their mouths. We’ve been programmed from birth.
The peaceful revolution we boast was revolution on paper. What have we actually achieved on a grass roots level to ease the pain of those who crossed the starting line of our democracy at the back of the pack?
Taxes do not go to the people who need it. I for one, for many years have declared unapologetically, “I pay my taxes, what else do I need to do?”. But that’s the bullshit thinking that got us to this point. We all have a civil duty to take care of this land and all the people in it. We are South Africa and South Africa is us. Sitting idly by and blaming the ANC isn’t gonna cut it anymore guys.
There is a fuck ton of work to be done. Government should have lead the way with reform. BEE didn’t cut it. BBEE didn’t cut it. The problem is that we want to take from those that have and give it to those don’t. How does that right the wrong of the past? Those who have should be helping those who don’t to make a life for themselves. It’s only by empowering and educating the poor and downtrodden people of South Africa that we can bring our country, our whole country to the future that this land and her people deserve. Roll those sleeves up people. This is gonna take some effort.