/ 9 December 2016

The cloying discomfort of the middle

Friday editor Milisuthando Bongela.
Milisuthando (Photo: Delwyn Verasamy/ M&G)

To what end is everything that constitutes the ways in which we spend our time? If 85% of my time is taken up with churning stories into the insatiable machine of news production, is my soul welcome in this 85%? If so, how am I serving its purpose? What does it want?

This question has been on my mind lately, percolating out of an exasperation with the limited modes of existing that modern urban life offers us.

* I’m on a deep search for the reasons my soul chose to incarnate in this body, with these dark brown eyes and this dark brown skin at a time when the value of dark brown skin is under social and economic re-evaluation.

I’ve supposedly got “better opportunities than my great-great-grandmother’’. I have a public voice in a newspaper. She could not read. But have I chosen to come back to Earth through this black body that capitalism in South Africa loves so much these days just so I can be cool? What luck to have struck at such a time.

* Pity we cool kids are a little too drunk on comfort and identity politics to bother with learning to love.

* I asked a group of friends why we were having a party at all, one sponsored by a drinks company, when I got an invitation to attend an afternoon garden party recently. What are we celebrating? Were we not just crying the other day about the rapes and the fees? Is the party to raise funds for extra time so that we may have more minutes at the feet of our thoughts or one more hour with our children each day? Are we celebrating the launch of a new algorithm for kindness towards each other?

Maybe they have found a cure for loneliness or a remedy for arguments. Is that why we are dressing up and toasting?

Of course, there is nothing wrong with an innocent afternoon party. The purple summers of Johannesburg are reason enough to worship the sun every weekend. And God knows we need to worship beauty. But there is a great distance between our collective joy and our collective addiction to unconscious, for-the-sake-of-it


Sixteen-year-olds were drunk on this spirit of celebration last Saturday in Braamfontein, or was it Hendon Street in Yeoville? Their happiness beaming from open car boots, glass bottles bursting with gleaming unpride and unpurpose, the chewing of youth so effortful. But what reasons do we give for numbing time and emotions with tonics every weekend as mature adults?

* I went to America once and came back changed, a little more ripened to want more things. I switched on the TV and felt lonelier. Ideologically dwarfed. Stop judging people. Judging is not a virtue. You are inviting negative karma into your life.

* I know an artist who had an exhibition and only invited himself. He told people the date, time and venue, and that they were not invited. Only he showed up. His intention was there, unclear to his uninvited guests but fertile to his cause: this is not for commercial, emotional, photographic and experiential exploitation.

* If only intentions were as transparent as the tears that row our faces when we are alone at night, awake to life’s infinite gorge. If only they were as affordable as a greeting. If we could see them, maybe we would be able to pick them up and use them better every day. Perhaps then our world would be full of different results.

* If the intention for our freedom as a nation was to live comfortable lives with houses too big and aspire to have tennis courts and uniformed maids just like the people who invented uniformed maids, then to some extent we have achieved what we intended as a people who once had a cause.

What should happen now that some of us have left the others in the economic behind? Should we invite them into a form of existence that is maintained by the pressure to maintain this so-called comfort? Should we also encourage them to get into debt? Should we show them how to build the American Dream because it has solved all of our problems?

Or should we, the people who can afford to imagine and achieve a holiday overseas, be evolving better, having better intentions with our extra time, and having more purpose with the gifts we have accumulated through our difficult work of surviving each other every day in air-conditioned offices?

* How do we learn to say: “Swimming pools will drown your reverence!” so that those who don’t know stay not knowing what it’s like to take the wrong turn in life and think: “This is it.”