It would take at least two 9/11s and a tsunami for South Africans to be thrown into a state of panic. We live in the most violent society on the planet that is not at war. We are used to living with a sense of fear hovering around us.
We are adept at working through insecurity, particularly when the odds are against us. We find ways to insulate ourselves, cocooning ourselves from the threat, and create a comfort zone amid the madness. We are so good at finding security in chaos that we often confuse one for the other.
Albie Sachs once said: “South Africans are good at the extraordinary, but we are not so good at the ordinary.” This is the year when the god of small things rears its head and asks about our devotion to the details. How do we love? How do we share resources? How do we co-exist with those with whom we have differences? In the universal laboratory experiment that is our democracy, liberation is the what. Freedom is the how. Freedom is the only journey. It is a never-ending process that requires complete submission.
This is the year when the personal terrain demands to be acknowledged. ANC president Jacob Zuma has inspired a national conversation around relationships. For the first time in my lifetime we are talking about the merits and the validity of polygamy. Zuma’s attitude towards love and women is not far from most of the men who have shared my heart and my life. Many black South African men just aren’t into monogamy. JZ doesn’t hide his sexual practices behind a pseudo-feminist rhetoric he doesn’t believe in.
As much as the ANC president and men such as him are patriarchs, they are also targets for women who see their power and status as a ladder leading to their own success and survival.
“A man is an axe, you loan him out.”
“Marriage is suffering, hold on.” This kind of cultural messaging forms the emotional and psychological content for the relationships we create. This translates into the reality that most of us have not experienced love relationships in which honesty, fidelity and commitment are core values. We hold on to these boundaries because they have come to define who we are. We accept their parameters because without them we would not know who to be. We are a traumatised nation. Our trauma expresses itself in the ways we love one another and in the scourge of HIV/Aids.
It expresses itself in the heroes we choose. It is the reason why a family of soldiers, who once fought, worked and played together, struggles to work peacefully when it no longer shares a common vision.
Trauma translates into the poverty that robs our society of its humanity and ultimately robs us directly of our hard-earned possessions and our peace. Spiritual poverty robs our systems of governance of their integrity and their transparency.
This is the year in which certain individuals will rewrite their scripts on how to make and spend money. Healing and sustainability will be core values for many new businesses and entrepreneurial pursuits.
I am intrigued by the young people who will be voting for the first time in this year’s elections.
There is the tribe of neo-South Africans who roam the shopping malls of our collective psyche. They refuse to inhabit the tortured heartscape of the past and of their parents. They swim along digital rivers that connect them to their humanity. Their existence is not attached to a particular place. Their very being is tied to movement: of fashions, of ideas and of multinational cyberspace communities. They are the deracinated fruits of freedom, suburban reared yet immersed in an economic apartheid that doesn’t foster links between them and their poorer counterparts.
The latter live as they have always lived, in places that are too removed for democracy to embrace them fully. The past is much closer to their reality. They will vote for the person who makes them feel seen and heard. One day a generation of storytellers, poets, educators and healers will emerge who do not carry the burden of bloodstained memories. On that day we will all be free.
Lebo Mashile is the author of two collections of poetry and the winner of the 2006 Noma Award for publishing in Africa