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[OPINION] What if the problem is not the problem?

Black Monday was a call made by some South Africans in response to the number of farm murders happening in our country. It was a call to all South Africans to highlight the plight of farmers providing sources of food in a country where food security is one of our major challenges. That some chose to pitch up in old South African flag regalia was their choice and should not be viewed as a reflection of the entire march and its intention.

By the same token, when a group of active citizens organise a march to protect our people, our Constitution and our country in a non-political, non-religious and inclusive gathering of people who want the same, and a few T-shirts from various political parties pop up - be they DA, ANC, EFF or the like - it does not make it a political march.

However, everything in our country is still politicised. We are working our way through a swamp of history and all its after-effects. How do we start communicating about the real issues which affect the majority of South Africans if we cannot support each other with specific issues which all have the same source, our history?

I am an active citizen. My daily call is to enrol people to be involved with unifying our partnerships, marriages, families, communities and, most importantly, our country. I have been labelled a social justice warrior, an idealist, elitist and misinformed by a handful of people who chose to misinterpret who I say I am. It never knocks me off my game, even if it insults my thinking and hurts my feelings. Occasionally I wonder if I should just get on with it, my life. A lot of people choose to do that and I respect that choice entirely.

My hesitation to simply get on with it in my own little corner of a leafy suburb is that I will deprive others in my position to see what it is they can do and how they can contribute to atonement, reconciliation, debates about stereotypes and influence how they think and be. All the while I am learning that there are other effective ways to make things better and different. Sometimes we meet in the middle, agree to disagree or compromise and move into uncomfortable or unknown territory. My intention is always to build through understanding and appreciation of each other, our stories, our backgrounds, our cultures, our triggers, or distinctions.

Crime, corruption, cheap life, more valued life, abuse, rape, robbery and righteousness are skittles in the bowling alley of our lives. We can sit on the sidelines, enjoying Coke and candy floss and cheering or jeering. My preference is that we put on our shoes, roll up our sleeves and create a team to think about these ills and how we recreate our predictable future. There is wisdom in crowds.

When ordinary citizens make a concerted effort to mobilise people into the streets for a march to protest each and every mockery of our people, our country and our Constitution, we should participate. If other citizens feel strongly that fees must fall, we should hear what they are saying and be prepared to look back and see how we ended up here. All this before we offer an opinion based on our personal circumstances.

When ordinary people organise to protest against gender-based violence, especially if it is not something that affects us directly, we should hear them out, show empathy and prepare ourselves for the day it does become our reality or that of someone we love. When concerned citizens call for Black Monday, where everybody is asked to wear black in opposition to the senseless brutal murders of families who own farms and the people who work the land, then we should support them. If we don’t support them, it should not be because it is not our problem. Are you personally making a difference, or are you waiting for it to be made by the people involved?

When an old South African flag shows up, once or often, I stop myself jumping on the bandwagon of, “I knew it. Racist, white supremacists organised this march!” I prefer to assume these old flags are in the hands of opportunists, fearful of the future and longing for the safety and protection which apartheid offered them. That is their prerogative. I don’t have to agree with them, I can reject their sentiments and support the overall action highlighting that farmers and food supplies are at risk and as vulnerable as the rest of us.

No, we are not free to taint the whole march and all the marchers with the same brush. There was a call for citizens to support. A request that no political paraphernalia or T-shirts or flags be used to demonstrate and represent any political party. “No boer, no pap” is a reality. If we want to debate racism, the land issue, how so many farmers are white yet the people who work the land are black, these are the places we must delve to find answers and ways to move forward. All these socio-economic stumbling blocks are worthy of our attention and understanding and they are separate and parallel discussions.

We need to acknowledge the people in the various groups of dissatisfaction who, like us, want a different, inclusive and free society. The best way to create more people like that is to show up and support. Let us stop judging each other on the actions of a few and let us look at and be willing to build a better society as people first.

There is a teaching which doesn’t allow children to play team sports against each other until they have learnt to play with each other. We have to engage with one another, our values, principles, beliefs, stereotypes and, most importantly, we should be willing to realise that all we know is not workable in a society that is transforming. Democracy can be a barrier and a beast. Basic human rights and responsibilities should be everybody’s 101. Go there, be that!

We can replace teaching our children how to be fearful, prejudiced and mistrusting by being brave, free and open. There are great people to meet in this country, there are lessons to be learnt and taught. Our country is in a mess. WE ARE OUR COUNTRY. WE ARE THE PEOPLE. If we all stopped to think for ourselves, ask questions (they ALL have answers) and choose to be part of the right attitude to the problems, the problem will not be the problem. It will be the space from where we design a new solution, together.

This is not our first rodeo, but it always seems like this is the last straw. It is not. We have no intention of emigrating to the new ANC, Australia, New Zealand or Canada; this is our country, our home. There is space for all of us here. We need to claim it and understand what our role is. It is easier and more convenient to wait for a new Mandela. He always suggested he was ordinary like us, so why can we not be extraordinary like him?

100% of the time, the problem is our attitude, not the problem.

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn

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