[OPINION] Things are not bad enough in South Africa

I have long held this view. Things in Zimbabwe became bad enough. In seven days a whole new history can be created. There is no way of predicting the outcome and the best political solution.

For now, I am happy and celebratory with my Zimbabwean friends who welcomed Mr Mugabe’s wisdom to resign. They are in South Africa mostly by necessity, employed here to sustain themselves and their families back home. Their elation is infectious. Their joy and hope take me back to the day Madiba was released, the day we won the Rugby World Cup, the day Wayde van Niekerk became a household name and many other days in our country where we united unconditionally as people.

It always reminds me that we are unflappable, unstoppable and unbreakable. This week when a young woman from Cape Town won a national singing competition and became the youngest person in the world to do it, hundreds and thousands of people came out to support her. Though she is a deserving winner, I watched with interest social and other media reporting on this victory. For me, the greatest win was getting that number of people off their seats and out of their homes and cars to stand together for a common cause.

I have been involved in numerous social citizen activities over many months this year and for many years in my lifetime. It takes something to get people to commit time and energy to gather and celebrate or protest. There must be something in it for them. Generally, that is how we are as human beings.

I watch crowds that fill up stadiums for concerts and sports events and religious gatherings and am always intrigued, or plagued by, how do we keep this momentum? How is it possible to harness this energy and keep people active in working and standing together for something common and valuable? The cause for me always makes sense; it is mutually beneficial even if I won’t see the benefits in my lifetime.

It is hardly to never just one race group, gender or age group who follows a sports group, pop star or other causes which are in the public interest. Usually these big crowds are perfectly proportional to how my new South Africa would look. I am, however, stunned that taking a stand together for a better South Africa is like asking people to walk over coals or to have their teeth extracted with a wrench. They say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; this is true every twenty years! So, if we know this why don’t we start digging and start planting?

During apartheid when calling a mass meeting - when it was illegal and there was no social media - gathered hundreds and thousands of people in big open spaces regularly and successfully. What was it? We knew that at political meetings, mass rallies or the funerals of freedom fighters we faced the possibility of being tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets or detained. Still, we showed up in throngs. That was active citizenry, when most of us were not even treated as citizens! Singing freedom songs, often they were not even English songs, but we knew the words and we sang loud and clear, we toi toied, marched, protested, had one voice, always together. As people who live in and love South Africa. Why are we so apathetic now?

Our common causes were our collective freedom, a democratic South Africa, a representative and elected government and meeting the promise of a future for all who live and work here. Those possibilities united us then and seem to divide us now.

Then we had one agenda no matter who we were, if we opposed apartheid there was one goal. Now I find us picky. As South Africans we know how to struggle, oppose, fight and use our voices. The luxury we afford ourselves is to only stand out when it is something that directly impacts us, our families and our livelihoods. It is even difficult to get people in one community to stand together for things that affect the majority of that community. Part of the problem may be that people are tired of struggle. Maybe they are disillusioned and let down by the status quo. It is highly possible that some people have given up hope and now just get on with blinkers, working to keep their heads above water or the walls high enough to cut out the rest of the country and their issues.

Watching Zimbabwe this week reminds me that we don’t have a common cause strong enough to mould us into committed citizens. We don’t support and hold causes that we don’t see impacting us. This moves across all our country’s socioeconomic and political challenges. Sooner rather than later it will have an effect on us all. Just because it doesn’t impact you now, doesn’t mean it never will.

A protest march against gender violence is predominantly attended by women, a campaign for the disabled generally run by the disabled or people supporting the disabled, a voice against sexual misconduct and abuse generally championed by survivors or victims of abuse. Most of the meetings, protests and campaigns I have participated in are led by and supported by the people who actually need to be acknowledged and heard by people who are not impacted by the dysfunction.

“Preaching to the converted” comes to mind. If there is a talk or awareness drive about bullying, the bullies and their parents are not in attendance. We need to find a common ground.

In South Africa I am suggesting that our Constitution, our country and our people are worth us uniting and carving our own future. We are on a slippery slope all the time, it is time for us to throw our life buoys to each other and work together for what we want. We all know clearly and repeatedly what we do not want. All our socio-political and economic problems are linked.

We have several warning signs which we choose to ignore. To do everything we need to and create a less predictable future, we need everybody. When the dominoes fall, all of us will be in its wake, no matter how unaffected our lives may seem now. Who wants things to get so bad, we need a coup? Not me.

Together let us mull over what happened in Zimbabwe and why. Let us take responsibility for the state of our own country and how this happened on our shift. We have not done enough to protect our freedom, for our children and all new generations who will be born free but not free of responsibility. We sat back and thought freedom was enough. It was only the start.

If the situation in our country was dire enough, as dire as many preach it to be, we would not be waiting it out. We would be on the field.

Here’s to a South African spirit! May we light our own way again and again.

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