This week has seen some of the worst rioting across South Africa since democracy was achieved in 1994. It’s been one of the most stressful weeks for me personally, as an emigrant with close family in some of the most affected hotspots in KZN – Pietermaritzburg and Waterfall.
I’ve run through every flipping emotion you can think of this week.
- Rage – at a dangerous situation that seemed to originate with a criminal going to jail. Seriously?
- Sadness – for a beautiful country that will always have a piece of my heart no matter where in the world I live.
- Guilt – at living a safe and secure life in Australia while my closest loved ones were trapped in their homes, gunshots literally echoing around them.
- Overwhelm – sobbing uncontrollably in my bedroom, making sure my son doesn’t hear me.
- Frustration – at being able to do so little for my parents that was practically useful.
- Gratitude – that my son has no idea what it’s like to experience violent crime first-hand.
- Panic – when I don’t hear back from my family after texting.
- Relief – when I finally get a message from my Dad each morning to say they made it through another night.
And I’m sure many of you have been through this as well, with looting happening across KZN and Gauteng.
Which makes it hit home even more how far removed we really are from our loved ones right now.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that we live thousands of kilometres away from each other.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that our Australian borders are closed indefinitely, and we have very little chance of seeing each other in person right now, and we have no idea when we might be able to travel freely again.
Added to all this, we now we have additional fears and concerns for the personal safety and financial survival of our friends and family in SA. People have lost livelihoods overnight. Income gone. Jobs gone. Clients gone. Property gone.
Some people have called yet again for special visas for South Africans to be able to leave.
Some people have held candlelit vigils and prayer meetings.
Some people have sung Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika outside their international embassies and government headquarters.
And while these scenes can be heart-warming, it begs the following questions:
But what good is this when our family and friends are suffering now?
How does this keep them safe now?
How does this help them buy food now?
How does this help them fill their chronic medication prescriptions now?
As we’ve seen over the last few days, the only people who can actually provide practical help right now are the affected communities themselves. They are the ones who have stood up against the threats of violence to their homes and businesses and local community. They are the ones who have stood face to face with the looters and rioters and thieves. They are the ones who have turned up with their brooms and are now clearing up the mess.
I’ve seen images of seniors armed with paintball guns. Women armed with hockey sticks. And many people – black, white, Indian, coloured, you name it – armed with nothing but a broom to start cleaning.
THIS is the true spirit of South Africa and what we need to hold onto.
For if we lose all hope now, there is no turning back.
Yes, the government should have done more. Yes, the police should have done more. And heaven knows the bloody army should have been given the power to do more.
But once and for all, South Africans across the country, and internationally, have seen very clearly that this is not a government they can rely on. Either at peace or, heaven forbid, at war. It is time to band together, to help each other, look out for each other, check in on each other, and protect each other. It’s really now or never.
The community support I’ve seen in KZN alone has been phenomenal. Neighbours swapping food. Trading eggs for bread, fresh veggies for meat, milk tart for egg sandwiches (true story). Pop up farmer’s markets organised by locals who have risked their lives to drive milk and fresh produce to the people. People dropping off food parcels to strangers and not accepting money to cover their costs (thank you Melanie from the bottom of my heart).
THIS IS WHAT THE REAL SOUTH AFRICA IS ABOUT.
So while some people (definitely not all) might be sitting in their cushy overseas homes, smug in the knowledge they knew this day would come, I prefer to believe the majority of South Africans at home and overseas have felt like I have – hating the situation but loving the Ubuntu of a country that will never leave my heart.
Perhaps now we can truly appreciate the last lines of our beloved national anthem:
Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom
In South Africa our land.
For those who would like to help those in South Africa affected by the recent events, check out this really helpful list of organisations and communities taking action on Good Things Guy.