OPINION: Sona, when thoughts and feelings collide
Like a second skeleton/Trying to fit beneath the skin/I can't fit the feelings in/Every single night's alight with my brain - Fiona Apple.
In my favourite piece by writer Sisonke Msimang, she uses a Lauryn Hill song Ex-Factor to unfold the reasons for her deeply personal break-up with the ruling party. ' Requiem for a dream: On loving and leaving the ANC' is an incredible synthesis of feelings, thoughts and analysis. In its poignant style and delivery, it is different to the kind of think pieces that pervade our political writing landscape. It reveals the way music often has an incredible way of giving an accurate and coherent vocabulary to our feelings about various aspects of our lives.
We're a thinkpiece generation. Each week, various events on the national or world stage launch 1,000 articles that attempt to make sense of what news and current affairs mean both in and for our lives. They help us to think through current issues, to process their impact and to consider what the future might look like, and how we can influence it. In the post-Sona 2015, the above lines from Fiona Apple's Every Single Night are the most accurate reflection of my personal attempts to unpack the events of last Thursday. I can't fit the feelings in.
Currently, there are numerous articles that have emerged in the wake of the State of the Nation Address (Sona). Many of these pieces help us to make sense of the meaning of the events that unfolded in the context of our representative democracy. In the act of engaging with these pieces, and trying to make sense of last Thursday, with a sense of historical consciousness, I find a heady mix of overwhelming feelings in the place of coherent thought. These feelings run the gamut, ranging from disappointment, anger, hurt, fear, confusion and caution to disillusionment, hesitance and sadness, among many others. These feelings are also applicable to many responses to Sona, which have fallen right into the easy, oppressive, racist and misogynistic tropes. They are also underscored by the sense that many of the things that we saw happen on Thursday night have been present in multiple ways in other events in our recent past. In some ways, these feelings shout out my attempts to systematically think through and analyse the signal jamming, violent ejection of EFF members, the image of a woman with a bloodied face that circulated on social media and the state of our democracy. The urban youth would say I am 'deep in my feels'.
Feelings and thoughts do not have a mutually exclusive relationship. But at this moment, an overwhelmingly emotional response to Sona has meant that many feelings have not made the transition to being coherent thoughts as well. I stand with many South Africans in still processing the events of last Thursday, trying to make sense of their meaning, effect and patterns. How do we think through history when it is the recent past, when we think of it as 'not-yet history' and just 'last Thursday'? Without the benefit of perspective, and as we feel the aftershocks, we feel the full weight of history in collision with now.
The editor of Business Day, Songezo Zibi, tweeted something that resonates with the current state of our democracy: 'Insults, the language of violence and violence itself often fill the vacuum left by declining legitimacy and absent ideas.' The kind of language, and spin, that has been used in the days since Thursday have reflected this - particularly Baleka Mbete calling Julius Malema a cockroach, which is an uncomfortable resurfacing of the same kind of dehumanising language that underscored the Rwandan genocide.
As Toni Morrison notes, language can be violence itself. She states: 'Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek - it must be rejected, altered and exposed'.
In this moment, I have more questions than answers. Some of these questions are aimed inwardly, as I ask myself what active citizenship demands of me in this moment, and beyond it. Others consider the nature of democracy in local and global contexts, the state of contemporary leadership, and the insidious nature of multiple forms of violence. I have more feelings than thoughts. Over the next few weeks, I hope that they will morph into a more coherent grammar that will allow me to make sense of last Thursday's events in the context of history and connected to other events of the present. I await a vocabulary that will allow a fuller breadth of meaning to emerge, with a greater synthesis of thought and feeling, as I read and think more. Until then, an assembly of disordered feelings characterise my response to Sona, and function 'like a second skeleton/trying to fit beneath the skin/I can't fit the feelings in'.
Danielle Bowler holds a master's degree from Rhodes University and is a Mandela Rhodes scholar. She likes to think critically about the world around her, which includes often making complex political arguments about pop culture and Beyonce. Follow her on Twitter: @daniellebowler