Our history is calling us to honour pledges adopted in the Freedom Charter, in whose name blood was spilt. Like an albatross, our wound summons us in all our races to wash and disinfect it, apply direct pressure and elevation to control bleeding before wrapping it up with a bandage again, writs BUHLE M
If you have had surgery or ever been treated for an open wound, you will know that medical professionals advise on extra care for the injury to heal with minor scarring. They will tell you to firstly, wash and disinfect the wound to remove all dirt and debris. Secondly, they will ask you to use direct pressure and elevation to control bleeding and swelling. Thirdly, when wrapping the wound, they will advise that you always use a sterile dressing or a bandage. Lastly, they will tell you that when the injury goes neglected, the infection can worsen, spread and even become deadly.
The bandage we put on the untreated South African wound is coming off, and the wound is bleeding again. The years spent not caring for it have led to severe infections, infections that now threaten the body of this nation. Infections like racism, corruption, denialism and anger grow every day in the rainbow nation. As doctors warned, neglected wounds attract bacteria that lead to the spread of infections.
For a while, our new democratic state has been experiencing turbulence after what seemed like a “smooth” take off. Simply put, we have been going through the most in all sectors. It seemed like we had it all together and were destined to be the poster child for Democratic Constitutional Excellence. In our defence, we tried, at some point, all of South Africa went out to the streets, held hands, and sang “South Africa! We love you, our beautiful land; let’s show the whole world, we can bring peace in Land”.
We even had those rainbow nation adverts with President Nelson Mandela and children of all races in colourful t-shirts. On a side note, South Africa’s PR game was influential in the 90’s. Before I digress, we kept at it; we had beautiful nation-building moments like that time President Mandela, wearing a Springboks Rugby shirt and cap, presented the Webb Ellis Cup to Captain François Pienaar. Moreover, who can forget the 2010 Soccer World Cup? What a time! For a while, we seemed like we were going to make it. The rainbow nation project was going to be a success.
Then our ugly wound reared its head reminding us that we have unfinished business. The past began beckoning us to realise the vision of the Constitution, that is, to heal the divisions of the past, establish a just and equal society. Our history is calling us to honour pledges adopted in the Freedom Charter, in whose name blood was spilt. Like an albatross, our wound summons us in all our races to wash and disinfect it, apply direct pressure and elevation to control bleeding before wrapping it up with a bandage again.
The recent passing of the Mother of the Nation, Freedom Fighter and ANC stalwart Mama Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela and the subsequent public, political and media events that followed news of her passing highlighted the deepness of our infected wound.
I am not naïve and are aware of the various factors that led us to where we are today. However, I believe, at the heart of our infection is that ours is not a shared history. To tackle the infections plaguing our nation, we need to speak of history from the same departure point; we must be willing to confront the not so pleasant parts of ourselves and be truthful in addressing and redressing past injustices without fear or favour. We must be willing to hold accountable all those (governments past and present, captains of industries and international communities) who played and are playing a part in our nation’s story.
If we are to heal as per President Matamela’s declaration at Mama Nomzamo’s funeral, reconciliation needs to be a two-way exercise. Black people can no longer be the only ones with extended hands at the reconciliation table. To begin to heal means empathy, listening when people tell you they are hurt or still hurting.
For many black people, apartheid and its legacies are an everyday lived reality. The country over, those classified as black during apartheid have family members lost to the struggle. Family members that are not childhood tales but people they shared moments. The emotions attached to their deaths did not disappear with the unbanning of liberation movements, the transition to a democratic state and the TRC did not rebuild the family structure destroyed by apartheid nor did it fix the rifts that occurred between families.
Thus, sweeping statements (“life was better in the old days”, “it’s just a word, its freedom of speech”, “just get over it”, “Good riddance, Burn witch”, “these people like pulling the race card”, “what will they do with the land” etc.) are an insult and demean the lives lost and blood spilt, across all races for a democratic South Africa. They undermine the very foundation of the nation we all claim to love.
In the same breath, while corruption and crime might seem to be South Africa’s most significant problems. For those who look like me, on top of corruption and crime, we still have to deal with landlessness, poverty, the burden of disease, a failing school system and not forgetting racial slurs and prejudice.
The tone deafness and lack of empathy exhibited in public spaces, in mass media, on social media and in gated communities WhatsApp’s groups landed us where we are today, in a country pregnant with tension. To heal means admitting that the way we have been doing things is not working. Healing means acknowledging that a majority of the country is suffering because of years of discriminatory systems, practices and racial prejudices that continue 24 years into the new nation.
It is time for us to admit that the rampant corruption in both the public and private sectors is a result of our shared history of colonialism and apartheid. For as long as we are selective about our history and its legacies, we deny ourselves the opportunity to heal.
To heal means questioning why South Africa is the most unequal country in the world? It means addressing uncomfortable truths such as, in post-apartheid the top 1% own 70.9% of the country’s wealth while the bottom 60% only control 7%. To heal means acknowledging that poverty has strong spatial dimensions, which demonstrate the enduring legacies of colonialism and apartheid. Poverty remains concentrated in previously disadvantaged areas‚ such as the former homelands and townships.
To heal means being a South African fulltime and not only feeling South African when protesting for Zuma to fall but keeping quiet when private companies have fraud allegations involving billions of rands. Being a full-time South African means rallying to protest against all murders, particularly those of women and children, and not only wearing black to protest against white farm murders, when for years farm workers have been asking for support in their plight against unfair treatment. To heal means supporting causes that do not necessarily affect you or your community but are essential to your fellow citizens.
To heal means calling out your friends and family on their prejudice, it means sorting out the mess in our own homes. Healing means understanding that Nomsa, the woman who helps to keep your home clean, is not yours, so stop referring to her as property, she is not yours. Say it with me, Nomsa is not mine.
If you are a South African in favour of a just and equal society and the end of racism, healing means critically unpacking, acknowledging and owning the below narratives as part of your history and your present reality.
“For years, we have managed to mask the fear, the loss and desperation with hope brought on by the idea of constitutions and democracy. Promises of a new dawn and a better future for our grandchildren lulled our pain and made us believe in the rainbow nation. The hope has since vanished, and in its place, there is anger. We have since come to realise that the rainbow nation euphoria will never reach the townships. The rainbow was not worth our scars and our continued suffering.” Gogo Ngobese, Soweto resident.
“I have lived here for over 40 years. I moved to Soweto with my husband in the 60’s; he was a worker in the mines of Johannesburg. Coming from the then Bantustans, many of the women I met like Ntombi from across the road helped me get used to life here. It was strange at first, and I was sad because I had to leave my eldest child with my parents. They restricted movement then.
I made good friends like Sizakele from the corner house; we comforted each other when our husbands passed away. We were each other’s rocks when our children disappeared during the 70’s, and we held each other’s hands when we voted for the first time in 1994. These days we comfort each other when we think about the young men and women who died for a better South Africa. We tell each other that things will get better. In the absence of freedom at least we will die with hope.” Gogo Mntambo, Soweto.
“Sometimes I wonder why my brothers had to die in the name of this freedom. We live in shacks like animals, and across the road, the rainbow is bright in Sandton” Sis Portia, Alexander Township.
“I remember watching the TRC and crying. I cried for my own family, our neighbours and other black people. I was not crying because of the stories. I am familiar with stories of torture and death by apartheid police squads. I cried because they stole our only chance at justice. I cried because all of them forgave people who killed our families and let them continue with their lives while we were left to deal with unanswered questions. You know what that does to you?” Ma Ntombi, Ekurhuleni.
For me, even as I navigate complex Cape Town, I believe South Africa can be the beautiful land of our songs. Only if we are willing to truthfully confront our painful past, redress its victims to heal the wounds and work together towards a just, safe and equal society.
BuhleM is a Pan Africanist, Human Rights Activist, Social Advocate, Public Policy Scholar and Thinker. As an advocate she has worked for organisations like the Foundation for Human Rights, SAfAIDS, the African Alliance and consults for various state departments.
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