I have battled to write recently. This is odd because I usually have a great deal to say.
But I have been struggling with what a dear friend and colleague calls “the black dog” of depression. For those of you who suffer from depression, you will know that it is damn nigh impossible to create from within the bowels of the beast.
Dr Louise Van Rhyn, founder of Partners for Possibility, talks about there being 4 possible responses to the challenges we face in our nation. She says you can get depressed, you can get angry, you can leave (well, some of us can) or you can get up and do something. My choice since returning from the UK in 2007 has been to do something. My contribution has been to persistently challenge the prevailing narratives and to explore possibilities rather than problems. In short, I have tried to tell a different story about our country.
But then sometimes the black dog outruns me. He outruns all of us from time-to-time. We get negative and even depressed. This can be clinical. It can also be situational. I think many South Africans are suffering from situational depression right now. Zuma has been taken out and nothing material has changed. We are on a major Ramaphoria come-down and it isn’t pretty.
But I don’t wish to get angry and as a family, we have closed the backdoor for good. Leaving is unimaginable for us and not an option. I do not wish to be depressed so the only thing left is to get more involved.
My involvement today is simply to say this. We are better off than we were 1 year, 10 years and 20 years ago. I am not making this up – the data proves it. So, please don’t leave; don’t get angry and try not to get depressed. And if you want to get involved and you don’t know how, then consider this invitation:
What if the future we want for South Africa is in our hands?Each one of us holds infinite possibility in our heads and hearts. This possibility is our “true self” – the self that sees possibility all around us. We are laden with possibility; with potential; with gifts that our world desperately needs. And yet we get trapped in thinking: “I’m not enough; I don’t have the time, the money, the talent etc”. This is simply not our true self speaking.
Join myself and Dr Rama Naidu and begin a journey of discovery of the unique gifts that you have that our country urgently needs
Date: 18 September
Time: 8:30 for 9:00 until 13:00 (lunch will be served)
Venue: TBC but in Durban
RSVP to Thandiwe no later than 10 September 2018 via email firstname.lastname@example.org
“I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around, when they triumph over poverty. I wanna be there when the people win the battle against AIDS. I wanna lend a hand
I wanna be there for the alcoholic. I wanna be there for the drug addict. I wanna be there for the victims of violence and abuse. I wanna lend a hand.
Send me.” From “Thuma Mina” by Hugh Masekela, as quoted by Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address.
Much has now been written about President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address, but I want to focus in on the above quote. Its use was a tactical master-stroke and very far from fluffy or sentimental. These words were chosen deliberately and are indicative of where our new President is taking this nation and what he expects from both himself and us.
With this quote, Ramaphosa sent two very clear messages. Firstly, he let us know something of the man he is and what his main purpose will be; that he is a man-of-the-people in a very real sense; a man who would direct his energy towards the alleviation of the pain of the oppressed, the down-trodden, the sick and the poor of our country. This was a stinging indictment of his predecessor; it was a brutal poetic slap-down of our last “man-of-the-people” President; the one who gleefully, irresponsibly, heartlessly accepted this title whilst singing and dancing and chortling and raping us.
The second thing the President did by quoting these lines is that he inspired us to join him in his mission to help “turn it around”. “Thuma mina” – “Send me”, was his version of the Obama campaign cry, “Yes We Can” in which the former US President brilliantly commissioned both himself and his fellow citizens in these 3 simple words. In an unusually personal piece by Huffington Post SA Editor-at-large Ferial Haffajee she said: “Suddenly, I want to lend a hand, to be sent. I haven’t felt that for the past decade.” This response is surely what Ramaphosa was aiming for – the mobilization of our people – and has surely been said (or at least felt) by many across the country.
But for this quote not to become a distant, feel good memory; for it to become part of the essence of who we are and how we operate as a nation in the post-Zuma dispensation, we need to spend some time with it and ask what it means for us. For Haffajee and her colleagues in the media former Editor-in-Chief of the Mail and Guardian Anton Harber hit the nail on the head in response to Haffajee’s article: “The best way you can lend a hand is to continue to be a vigilant, active, critical citizen and journo.” For our new President, we all have our views on what this should mean for him.
But for the ordinary man-in-the-street, what do we do to “lend a hand”? In the quote Ramaphosa talks to several key issues that affect people daily: poverty (and by implication it’s parent’s unemployment, inequality and poor or nonexistent education); health issues (including the destructive scourge of addiction) and violence and abuse (crime). What can we do to help ensure a better life for our people in these complex and overwhelming areas? What questions should we be asking of ourselves if we want to say with our President: “I want to lend a hand, send me”?
Before we go to some possible questions, let’s be clear that “me” may include individual actions and that is good and necessary. But let us not discount me in relation to others. It’s all about working together in some form of small “community” grouping – whatever that looks like for you – to help turn things around bit-by-bit. You may already have a group that exists for other purposes – from church home groups to book clubs to a running group – you may want to start a group.
The point-of-departure for this “lending and sending” type of work, is dialogue. The basis of this dialogue should be to come together in these small groups and ask good questions that will spark new seeds of creativity and passion in us. As Albert Einstein famously said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” Here are some questions that might help the dialogue:
As a community/neigbourhood/district, what challenges do we face? Which area of challenge would we like to help in? What gifts, talents and resources do we have in this group (or could we mobilise) that could be useful? How could we begin doing the necessary work using the resources we have?
If you would like assistance, training or resources to help get started, local NGO the Democracy Development Program (DDP) is hosting a workshop called “Send Me”. For more information contact email@example.com and use “Send Me” in the subject line or call 031 304 9305.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter