[OPINION] The bitter pill we don't need to swallow in 2019
“As I stand before the door to my freedom, I realise that if I do not leave my pain, anger and bitterness behind me, I will still be in prison.” – Nelson Mandela
Why don’t we challenge ourselves and leave our pain, anger and bitterness behind us in 2018? We will not be free until we have freed our thinking to believe that we have what it takes to make our lives and our country work.
The more I focus, the more I see thousands of fearful South Africans fighting each other to be right and to be heard, rather than working together to build a just and free society.
Is there a pecking order? Yes. Is it false and unfair? Yes. Do we get to make any adjustments while pointing in each other’s faces? No! It has never worked and will never work.
We have to reach a point in this struggle for freedom that we take personal responsibility for how it will turn out. The recent Clifton Beach scenario is another example of us punishing and fighting each other instead of looking at a very successful architectural design called apartheid which was created for exactly these distinctions.
We have been fooled into believing in all or nobody. So, all white people are rich and self-interested, and all black people are aggressive and entitled. Coloured people well, we remain according to the word on the street apathetic and violent.
I have loosely chosen stereotypes from classes of words which have been tabulated over a long period of time. If you don’t like these ones, fill in the gaps for yourself, but don’t lose the point that all of these descriptions cannot, I repeat cannot, be attributed to races or classes of people. Racism, in the definition I have accepted over many years, is when a white race imposes superiority over a black race.
Race privilege by global definition has people who are white at the top of the list whether they choose to be there or not. This is something that too many white people do not understand, acknowledge or accept because they are born into it by virtue of their skin colour and the history made before they were born. It takes something to want to understand and grasp the concept of privilege. It has little to do with social standing, material wealth, access to resources, access to social capital, and it has everything to do with it. It requires some thinking and looking to see and listening to hear.
Our democracy is so young that we are still battling out definitions of racism, classism and privilege. If you have had the opportunity to live through apartheid to the new and not yet improved South Africa, you have been offered the gift of comparison, of duty, responsibility and opportunity.
Many, many older black South Africans are getting on with the slog of life. Many were involved in the struggle for our freedom to vote. The next generation is impatient and feeling let down that they are still not in a position to improve the lot of their parents and their children. This is how it is, it is understandable and it is hard to swallow. This bitter pill, however, does not need to be swallowed, we have to change it. One way is to know what our possibilities are, to choose how we show up as a group of South Africans who want our country to work for everyone and be a home and safe haven for more people.
If a private security company was hired to vacate Clifton Beach at a certain time for the convenience and comfort and protection of residents, it is a no! If people on the beach were drinking, being rowdy, engaging in criminal activities, another no! Having a protest is so much more powerful when it demonstrates our resolve that we are free, we live in a democracy, we gather as a diverse group of people to illustrate our commitment to protecting our human rights enshrined in our constitution.
I have never had a braai on a beach. I do not understand the significance of slaughtering an animal to cleanse a space. If I understood the cultural background of the sacrifice, I would support it. We must respect our own cultural traditions to share them with others, not to use it to dominate or frighten the bystanders. In the beach slaughter, I was forced to have pity on the sheep being led to the slaughter, as the saying goes.
We need to meet each other as human beings. We need to treat each other the way we want to be treated. As I watched the video of the black and white woman having a shout down on the beach, I must say I felt proud seeing these two strong women having it out in public, no physical violence, too much swearing, but a willingness to meet at the nose. The possibility I saw was a willingness to take a stand and to get to grips with the issues.
Just imagine we could do that in a responsible way, leading by the example of listening to hear. And yes, white people are going to have to do more listening than talking, it is that time! As black people we are going to have to get our ducks in a row and make them swim with synchronicity. The days and days of protesting and sloganeering are all but ready to be packed away. We know how to do that, so when it is necessary, let us paint our posters, gather like-minded citizens and march. There was a place for that during our struggle. Now we have systems and options which can be more effective than us taking to the streets and beaches to voice our discontent. It is all too predictable.
We need to show up and tell our stories, extend ourselves by leading through example and coaching. Let us stop being the injured victims, let us nurse and bandage up our deep wounds and lead our healing process by creating a future we want with all the people who want to join. We have to be teachers and students eternally. There is no other way. It is up to us to change the flow and build something unbreakable with our country. 2019 seems a perfect place to start.
Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn