My hometown has been a war zone for the last few days, my heart is sore and the adrenaline has been bubbling just below the surface with everyone in fight or flight mode. Normal everyday tasks seemed meaningless and irrelevant with the dull thud of tear gas explosions and distant screams in the background. And how lucky am I that I had a safe haven for my family, away from the violent riots, my privilege makes me ache. My heart is sore for the children and families whose homes have been in the midst of the tear gas and the noise of the rubber bullet fire, for the hard working local business people whose businesses were looted, vandalised and wrecked, for the people with valid grievances about being long time shack dwellers with untenable living conditions and shocking services whose voices are now drowned out by the violence and focus on the criminals who took advantage of the situation, for the people who were threatened and intimidated and not able to go to work and who will not be paid for this time lost, for the 5 families who lost their homes to a shack fire in the early hours of the morning (rumors are that it was a threat followed through…you go to work, your home will be burnt), for the families of the people who lost their lives in the bus accident that happened on the detour road in wet and rainy weather as the national highway was closed by the rioters for 3 whole days, for the woman who is lying in ICU because a brick was thrown through her car window at the start of the riots, for all those who lost much needed income in the chaos and will still lose income due to the ripple effects of riots and bad press, for all those who suffered under the racist hate speech and anger directed at ‘them’ and ‘they’ on social media groups despite doing all in their power to protect themselves and their families and of course keep their jobs. For all this and more my heart is sore.
The hate speech, anger and blame make me almost as afraid as the violence, it is so divisive and will destroy us in the long term. Who is this ‘they’ you speak of, the woman raising your children? The people working hard to build up your business? The local school leaver struggling to find work? Criminals taking advantage of the protest is absolutely unacceptable with devastating effect on familiy owned businesses, but so is painting everyone as a criminal, just based on the colour of their skin or the area they live in. Walk a day in the life of someone living in a ntyontyombe, a backyard shack. People say, ‘what does the violence and looting achieve, it just makes it worse.’ And I agree. But I ask, what does the hate speech, the anger, the negativity achieve? It just makes it worse. We need to find what it is we have in common that we can stand for, together. And also what it is we, the majority, have in common that we won’t stand for, that which we won’t tolerate. Would I be wrong in saying that the majority of us simply want wellbeing for our families as our top priority? Shelter from the elements in a strong and resilient home, good education for our children, good nourishment and food, a healthy living environment, fresh water, clean air, a stable income and freedom from fear. Do we all have that in common? But does everyone in my hometown have that? No, not at all. So many are living in homes that are not strong enough to withstand the elements, the wind, the rain, the fire, the floods. Living environments are far from healthy and there are the social injustices of unemployment, unfair wages, high transport costs, crime, drug abuse and domestic violence. Can we come together to ensure that the basic wellbeing of families in our town is met?
We all suffer under the mismanagement and corruptive use of government funds both locally and nationally. Is this not also something the majority of us have in common? While for some the corruption is more of an inconvenience as it does not impact much on the wellbeing of their families, yet for others the suffering is real as their families are robbed of any wellbeing at all. If we cannot expect those in power locally to place the wellbeing of all people as their core focus, then perhaps it is time for us to create a citizen’s assembly and make it happen. Because if we can’t get this right in our small town, if we can’t come together and stand strong for what we all wish for in common (the wellbeing of our families) and simultaneously stand strong and peacefully against the crime, corruption and violence then how are we going to get it right as a country?
And if we don’t pull together now how are we going to face the challenges of climate and ecological breakdown, which is already beginning to unravel around us, we will all be in the same sinking boat and we will have to keep it afloat together. It reminds me of when I heard the birds calling their alarm call in a tree outside my home and I knew the call was probably for a snake. It was, there was the boomslang heading for a nest with baby birds, but what I found amazing was that all the different kinds of birds were swooping in and attacking the snake and yet the snake was only heading for the little white-eyes nest. But there was the robin, the fiscal shrike, the sunbird putting their own lives at risk to protect the white-eyes young. It made me think about how in times of crisis when there is a common threat people also put aside their differences and band together for the greater good of all. Climate breakdown is the snake in the tree, we have unleashed it and it will effect us all at some point, it is a threat we all have in common and we are going to have to band together to overcome it.
In other countries people are peacefully protesting in their millions to wake up governments, corporates and policy makers to change their ways and save human civilization as we know it. But here we still have the hurdle of social justice to overcome before we can come together and stand together for our common future as humans. So we better get onto it, there is certainly no time to waste. Empathy, compassion, strength in unity and our common vision will get us there, we all need to be asking the question… is what I’m saying, what I’m doing building bridges of community or creating more division? We are much weaker divided. This we know. Ask the white-eye birds.
Photo credit: Julie Ann Photography