There is a “thing” in the air. It’s not quite fear, not quite anxiety, not quite hopelessness, a tension, a deep crack in our society which is threatening to shift the ground we walk on together, separately. We can no longer afford to carry on living side by side, barely able to look at each other in the eye, shouting at each other at safe distances across racial, political and class lines. We cannot continue to pretend we are okay when we are clearly not.
The rainbow nation’s colours are fading; the reality of our democracy is not quite meeting anyone’s expectations. The pot of gold has barely been distributed, and there’s a growing perception that it still sits mainly with those it sat with all those many years ago. As the clocks tick, it seems the willingness to share is no longer there, “you are free now, create your own wealth”. There is growing resentment amongst those who don’t have, a failing education system, a growing economy that sheds jobs, yet the highways are barely big enough to accommodate the fancy cars some have the luxury to buy.
A frustrated middle class that has run out of ideas has found a new sport. Uproar.
Service delivery protests, xenophobic attacks, Malema, corruption, racism. Uproar. The country has found a new drug for its pain. Noise.
Robust debate has become a natural sport, an avenue to direct the tension, because silence will force us to face the real issue. We have been working on that by eradicating unemployment, poverty and inequality, we will miraculously fix social cohesion. If everyone is fed, we’ll all just get along. Years of a fairly stable economy that has unfortunately not grown fast enough to tackle these issues, we have found ourselves silently screaming for help, while audibly screaming at each other.
We are not okay.
We have a crisis on our hands, and our petulance for creating infinite villains is only a weak distraction from the simple fact that we have run out of ideas. We are now dedicating our attention to audits and blame, the result of which brings us no closer to solutions but pulls us only further apart.
This is not simply a crisis of visionless leadership or kleptomaniac civil servants. This is more than about a dilapidated education system and rigid teachers’ unions. This is more than about insensitive leaders and denialism. This goes much deeper than fears of a possible youth uprising, or the possibility that the next financial crisis may not leave the middle class largely unscathed.
We naively thought we could solve great problems when we can barely have a national conversation without throwing insults and accusations at each other. Looking at us now, the architects of apartheid are probably dancing on their own graves. This is exactly what apartheid hoped to achieve, well done South Africa.
In the words of a crackpot psychologist, how is this working for you? Waking up on Monday morning and spending an entire week shouting at each other, relieving the tension, or blaming someone else for it.
Consider for a minute that the structural issues plaguing the economy might just be a manifestation of the issues that plague our society. Maybe this economy is just a reflection of us. Until we are able to have a decent conversation, we cannot hope to get to make the compromises that are required to move our nation forward. We cannot hope to create a space that allows for innovative leadership and creative solutions. We cannot hope to move forward from this sorry state we are in.