Anger is a negative, strong emotion. If you Google or Bing it, you will see few words in its favour.
It can lead to genocide if directed against a group of ‘others’. If you harbour anger against people you will do your psyche damage. It can destroy you as a person. Some people theorise that it can also lead to cancer. The general consensus on the ‘authoritative sites’ thrown up by search engines is that haters are the scum of the earth.
But what if you don’t hate a person? What if you hate a thing – like a government? What if your hate can be justified, because what you hate is an evil giant that must be slain? Didn’t the Bible have something on this?
I ask because I had an epiphany recently. I came to the realization that I hate the government. Not the individuals in it, not the system of government, but the collective that is our South African government of today.
My epiphany took place when I came face to face with a yellow peril casspir – an imposing exhibit in the Apartheid Museum.
Like many people (a recent survey by the South African Depression and Anxiety group shows 4 in 10 people say they are suffering depression) I have been experiencing bouts of depression or anxiety stemming from these long dark nights and unproductive days of power outages. To rouse myself from this sorry state and for distraction from the never-ending recital of the new sins of commission and omission of the government, I decided on a personal programme of real-life arts and culture for distraction.
This required several hell-run journeys through pitch dark, potholed, storm- lashed and deserted suburban streets to listen to book authors, and a night at the theatre watching William Kentridge’s extraordinary ‘The Head and the Load’. On one morning last week I made my first return visit to the Apartheid Museum since its opening.
The outings improved my mood. But it was the yellow casspir that triggered me.
Standing in front of that giant armoured police vehicle, I felt the mood of those years of ‘unrest’ roaring back.
Millions hated the government of the day’s discrimination, repression and inhumanity. They made that known unequivocally. We weren’t depressed then, we were passionately engaged in our own chosen ways (mine was journalism) on bringing about the government’s downfall. Some big businesses even tried growing spines through the application of the Sullivan Principles Code of Conduct.
But now I realized I was not simply opposed to the government of today. I hated it as much as I had hated the previous government.
The government of today is morally repugnant and has lost whatever humanity it may have had. It is the equivalent of the National Party government. It discriminates by race, and it is failing the most powerless and vulnerable of our society, the children of the poor. It is failing to provide children with a decent education, as the recent literacy report (PIRLS2021) can attest. It is failing to do what it should be doing to ensure there are jobs available to them when they leave their schools And it is actively chasing away foreign investors and its own citizens.
It fails the children when, as in KwaZulu-Natal recently, it cannot ensure they have the daily school meals they desperately need if they are to learn. It fails them when it fails to provide an alternative to unsafe pit toilets still existing in 5000 of the country’s public schools in 8 of our 9 provinces. (No prizes for guessing which province has eradicated these primitive toilets from schools.)
Once you admit to this hate, the question is: what are you going to do about it?
Just rolling along hoping for the best when elections come round, leaving it to others to do battle with cloth-eared government ministers in Parliament and in the law courts doesn’t cut it. This hate needs to be channeled into action by you, or it will poison you.
People on social media have asked why we aren’t all out on the streets right now in civic revolt instead of simply adapting to every onerous stricture the government imposes on us.
Is it because we’re so punch drunk from the endless assault of the stories illustrating the failure, hypocrisy and immorality of our government that we can no longer put up a fight?
Seven years ago, many ordinary citizens of various shades, who shiver at the mere mention of politics and who could only be described as activists when returning goods to the complaints counter at Game, Checkers or Woolworths, were motivated enough to get out on local streets and call for Jacob Zuma’s removal as President.
Was it really easier to lure some of the usually inert out onto the streets then because the captured President had just sacked the media’s current darling, ‘trustworthy’ Pravin Gordhan, and pushed us into junk status with credit rating agencies?
Bizarre, and somewhat shameful considering what we now know about Gordhan.
Was it the composition of the Save South Africa grouping initiating the protest, with a sprinkling of ‘heroes’ of the struggle, that provided the political respectability necessary to stir some of the moribund middle class into joining activists and opposition party members on the streets with placards?
I do not wish to see a violent, physical rumble in our own jungle, running street battles or stupid destruction of infrastructure, schools and whatever else may represent the government in our eyes. Or any deaths.
But as the scales fall from the eyes of previously fawning foreign governments, surely we should make an effort to embarrass our political masters by overcoming our differences and making a powerful pushback stand. Injecting just a slight fear of wholesale civic revolt. Like uniting for something along the lines of the 1989 Baltic Way Human Chain protest, adapted for the huge distances between our cities?
It may be easier to make pigs fly but oh, how much better we would feel if we were able to do something to unequivocally express our displeasure at what’s being done to us, our children, and the country.
It is time that we paid attention to what this government’s sins of commission and omission of the past 30 years are doing to our psyche, our mental health, our morality, our reason, our own capacity for compassion and humanity.
Once you come to the stage of ‘hating’ the government, you need to save yourself by actively resisting and committing to liberate yourself from it.
For the past 50 years I have voted in every election and referendum for the same party. But I have not been a member of the party. (I believed it was best to be without official ties while a working journalist. But these days I only write opinion so there’s no real point in that purity.)
Like so many other voters I have also been fussy – no one party exactly reflects me and my beliefs.
But it’s time to stop being so precious and to step up and do everything possible, in whatever way we can, to ensure we are set free at last from the despicable incumbents of government and their allies through an entirely legal process. Politics is not the preserve of paid politicians.
Think about how you want to be remembered when you are gone. Not only by the children the government has failed but your own.
In his latest newsletter ‘The Wrong Side of History’, British journalist and author Ed West ruminates that it is not our race or sexual or political identification that people will remember when we are gone, and, unless we were public figures with significant jobs, it is also not our jobs. It will be what we did for others and family. Let it be that we made South Africa a better place for those who come after.