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Face to face with democracy

Being South African forces one to reflect and re-evaluate, sometimes daily, how to identify, in some general and particular ways with who we are. Sum of parts, or a sore thumb, the nearly two decade’s span of freedom is a precarious space for identity. Too black, too white, not quite right, we continue to grapple with the colour of skins, the link of ethnic histories frozen in time, while trying our utmost to shape a new reality free of overkill metaphors of dark and light.

Every day, we’re brought face to face with disparity, the yawning gap between have and have not as we compete on a global stage. Slogans from the pathways scream: down with economic apartheid. The skin, faces blur, eyes tell stories of the real pain, frustration, hope dashed. Poverty knows no creed or colour. The mirror beckons.

Sometimes, the face in the mirror is a little girl hearing the sound of an ice-cream truck as it approaches her home, wishing that she had enough coins to fill her dolls tea cup with the icy pleasure.

Sometimes, the face looking back admonishes her for not making the team, not getting the highest test grades, not finding the courage to speak up to a petty bully.

Some days, the face is pink, white, brown, the colour of pale disillusion at the rants of politicking and self-policing. Watch what you say and it won’t come back to bite you. Big brother is watching you. The patriarchs roll the dice.

Often, dreams are severed in the hopes of a happy family.

Sacrifice accentuates self-worth. It takes a lot of stepping away from the mirror, and then returning to face it square in the eye before a selfish decision can be made to live the life you’re meant to live.

These days, the face in the rear-view mirror seems nervous, at all that is being left behind, perhaps filled with fear at what lies ahead. Sometimes it feels like every step forward, takes you further away from where you belong.

Soon, we’ll find that the face in the compact mirror is haggard. Not the same, filled with the memory of yesterday’s hopes and dreams, the forgotten songs on the playground that echo to this day; the taste of candy still fresh on the tongue. Alas. They just don’t make things quite like they used to.

Faces in the mirror do just one thing: they only focus on what’s right in front of them, and sometimes omit to see the full picture. This is the conundrum we’re caught up in. We fixate on self-reference. My identity, my race, my beliefs. We make value judgments and decisions based on this form of reference. We choose to imprison ourselves in these frozen boxes of history. And we do very little to bridge gaps.

When I look in the mirror, I want to see transformation. Not just growth, don’t get me wrong, there is always growth, change, dimensions of newness. What I want to see is a shift in consciousness, and evolution of spirit. That’s the only turn of face that will take this rainbow nation forward. And in order for that to happen, South Africans need active citizen participation. Face to face with a democracy that’s very much alive.