Isn’t it crazy how much things can change in a week? There’s been such a massive shift in our political landscape that I haven’t even known how to express it. But every morning since the 15th of February I’ve woken up and then when I realised that Zuma was no longer our president, a little smile set itself on my face and lingered there, the whole day. And then it settled on my heart too, like a warm facecloth on to tired skin.
It’s been there in the faces of people in their cars as they were driving to work the day after he resigned, as I watched them obviously listening to their radios and smiling from ear to ear. I’ve seen it in the discussions between strangers, in the coffee shops and in the grocery stores and at the school gates. An energy like nothing before, a buzz that’s simply been brought about by the potential for change.
I’ve seen it in the way a policeman stopped next to us the at the petrol station two days afterwards and struck up a conversation. How he says that now he has hope in this country and aren’t we an amazing people and he just wants to carry on serving South Africans, because he loves this place (he just wants to be paid more, which I totally agree with).
And with this sea change, our country’s incredible journalists have come to the forefront of my mind. These are brave and brilliant people who have chased stories, followed up leads, revealed the scandals the world needed to hear, often at the cost of their careers, their income streams, and even their lives. I wanted to be a news journalist when I was younger but I quickly realised that I wasn’t made of tough enough stuff. We owe these journalists the most incredible debt, as individuals and collectively, as a nation.
For it’s like our country’s been in a mild depressive state for the past few years and suddenly we’ve realised that there is an alternative way of living. We’ve been given a tiny glimmer of hope and for our resilient and go-getting nation, that’s really all we need to make a start. Then I watched Ramaphosa’s SONA speech and for once I was transfixed and I laughed along at his jokes, and even cried a little, as I watched a skilled orator deliver possibly the most important speech of his lifetime.
This doesn’t mean I’m blinded to how much work there is to do here, nor do I think our new president is perfect. But it was the way he invited us all to be part of this country, and asked us to “lend a hand” that really struck me. For that has always been the way our country will be mended, by its citizens, who go about their everyday trying to contribute something, beyond fulfilling their own immediate needs and comforts. Those citizens need to be you and me, because we have the most to give, and there are so many South Africans who need our time, our energy or anything material we can offer.
(And weirdly, because this is how things work – after writing the above paragraph I went to bed and opened up a chapter on “The Art of the Good Life” on the “Ovarian lottery” – how our circumstances are so pre-determined by the family we happen to be born into, the street on which we live: “Remind yourself daily that everything you are, everything you have and can do, is the result of blind chance. For those of us blessed with good luck, i.e you and me, gratitude is the only appropriate response”. “Second: willingly and ungrudgingly surrender part of your (unearned) success to people who were born with the wrong genes into the wrong families, in areas with the wrong postcodes. It’s not just noble, it’s commonsensical. Donations and taxes aren’t financial matters. First and foremost, they’re issues of morality”.
Gus Silber is one of my favourite South African writers, and he so perfectly sums up the feeling in South Africa right now, with this Facebook post he published recently: “Thus is a hashtag born; thus is the power of the President devolved to the power of every person in the street; thus will this speech be remembered, not for its long list of plans and pledges, but for its passing of the baton, on the brink of a new dawn, to each and every one of us who runs or walks the race, at whatever pace, in whatever colours we fly.”
We’re heading somewhere now, instead of waiting for something to happen. Change has come, and it’s never felt so good.
P.S. Have you seen Cyril’s walks he’s doing every morning with the people of SA? He must agree with my recent post on the benefits of walking;)