It started with the #Bringbackourgirls campaign. I hadn’t followed the story closely, but when I read articles to make sense of what had happened, I couldn’t make sense of it. I tried to imagine people coming into my school and taking away the students and there being no sense of security or outcry. I tried to put myself in the shoes of the girls and wondered what I would have done as a teenage girl if people came into the hostel to abduct us. The story was bizarre. I decided to disengage and pretend it wasn’t happening. I decided not to write about it on any blog and I dared not tweet about it.
And then the Lwandle evictions. I saw the front page of the Cape Times and read a little further. There was something inhumane about evicting people during winter from houses that were already at the mercy of the Cape Town winds. This incident took me back to my own experiences of evictions as a child. More importantly, I thought about the documentaries I’d seen about the forced removals during apartheid. I wondered if the children went to school as normal that day or if they were allowed to play in the street. How did they attempt to live their normal lives in spite of the disruption they saw? Again, I decided not to think too much about the incident and I moved on with my own life.
A week ago I got a message from a friend which read “I want to write something on the siege in Gaza. I’m so angry and helpless”. My trite response: “Do it. I’ve disengaged, I’m confused.” I wasn’t surprised by my response. Growing up observing the violence in the Gaza strip has desensitised me to the gravity of the situation. In the bigger scheme of things, I thought that being upset about it, following the story or not following the story made no difference. The violence escalated and the images became more gruesome every time. I considered young children who were born and died in the conflict. Adults who didn’t know what it’s like to live in a peaceful community. Adults who were maybe even surprised that they had survived. Why? How?
Closer to home, the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is coming back to bite us again as the question of releasing “Prime Evil” Eugene de Kok as well as Chris Hani’s murderer, Clive Derby-Lewis, from jail. I read as much as I could and listened closely to press releases: “The family of the victims has not been consulted” said the minister. There doesn’t seem to be a script for dealing with the complexities of 20 years later: Have we forgiven? Who gets to decide the extent of forgiveness? I realised I don’t know enough about the processes and rules governing these cases, but my immediate response was one that was reflected in the article “Limpho Hani, Clive Derby-Lewis and the power of refusing to forgive”. What do these stories mean for other black people whose stories don’t make it into the news but every day, live with the burden of forgiveness, even when their lived experience hasn’t changed in the past 20 years?
More recently, I watched just like many others in South Africa, a mother’s account of how she couldn’t save her son from a hijacking. The brief interview on the news showed a woman who was clearly broken but had to talk about her trauma for the rest of us to hear and see her heartache. A few days later, I was reminded of the little boy who died in a pit toilet because his school didn’t have the correct facilities. Again, I moved on with my life.
I’m often amazed at how we live in the modern world. We know so much about the world around us yet very little seems to change. I can eat my supper while watching the news, listening to a story about seven-year-old boys being offered drugs, abducted and later found dead. I can switch off the TV and proceed to do my laundry or something equally mindless and forget about the pain of others in the world. I can read about the shooting of the miners and go into a classroom of teenagers and attempt to teach them about the world as though the world is as it should be when it isn’t. There’s something disturbing about the way we live today.
I can only find a Xhosa word to describe how I feel and think about the world around me: ndidanile (ukudana). It’s word that describes a complexity of emotions such as sadness, loss and a deep-seated disappointment that recognises the futility in any attempts to change the situation around me. Until the destruction and the violence creeps into our ordered lives, we will continue watching and reading about the atrocities and continue with the mindlessness of our everyday lives. We will leave it to the government and global leaders to sort out the world. Our privilege allows us to disengage. Being safe and secure allows us to be okay with the world because we hope we will never go down that road. We have options. And the default option for me right now is to disengage and live a quiet life until it is disrupted.