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Of Podiums, Dignity, and The Human Condition

It is a lovely summery Sunday. There are about 10 of us sprawled in the sun around a small table all from diverse backgrounds. I do not know most of the guests, something tells me that it is only our hosts who know everyone. I suddenly feel like I am a part of some study in social interactions, after all our hosts are academics, were it not for their nervousness and over eagerness to make us comfortable in their home. The human condition is a big preoccupation with the artists, why we feel the way we do and do the things we do. And so it is that socio-politics become a great conversation starter for this awkward group and we ease into a comfortable and polite rapport. Until a gentleman who so happens to be a government official, throws a spanner into the whole thing. I always feel sorry for politicians who like to grandstand in social gatherings because you cannot grandstand when you do not have a podium. See, a podium gives one the air of being out of reach and being somehow omniscient. It is wrong to grandstand anyway, and now that the podium is not blinding us, we see that you are human and fallible. But ke some people carry their podiums with them. I would not accuse the gentleman of grandstanding per se, more of spinning the truth. I guess with elections being around the corner, it is to be expected. Disappointing all the same.
Of late I find myself caught in the middle in most debates centering around South African governance. I find there are too many truths and untruths being peddled and confused for each other. One of those untruths is that we black people can only keep giving patience and forgiveness – keep our expectations low. Accept less and that in some future date all will be well. That does not mean there has been no progress. But it seems more like our government is managing a situation instead of pushing for radical change. Are they overwhelmed?

The truth being peddled as untrue is that race, colour, matters and, is a matter of life and death still in our socio politics. You cannot claim to unsee the colour of poverty in South Africa. And when you see it, it is unacceptable to revise the reasons why the colour of poverty is black. It certainly will not take 20 years for those reasons to change, nor a 100. It is easier to destroy than to build. It is difficult to rebuild what has been destroyed. It is extremely difficult to rebuild what has been destroyed when the environment is hostile to change.

Someone laments how we seemed to drop the revolutionary struggle from the onset of democracy. How all our preparations and big plans to change the South African agenda to be more reflective of it’s racial demographics fell apart at the point of big business’ spear. All in all this someone laments how we seem to maintain the same status quo that we rebelled against. We are maintaining it and protecting it because now at least we are not barred from participating. We have not asked ourselves if it is good for us or not. I guess if it is good for the master it must be good for us too. I have a problem with that. If the idea of social cohesion is to smile, wave and nod, I have a problem. I want to roll up my sleeves and chart out the map to the point where our humanity finds us. Along the way picking up all the broken pieces of mine, so that when my smile finally reaches you, you know its depth, the ugly these, my eyes, have seen. How I snatched my humanity from the edge of an abyss that constantly follows me. An abyss that holds the truth of my nothingness. The same truth whose crumbs we are begging for from the master’s table.
I fear we are slowly being made to accept the black condition as a default, with no beginning but an ending if you are lucky, or you pull up your socks as they say. The gentleman is not aware that the narrative has run away from him. He is very confused. We used to clap and cheer loudly the same words we now reject from his mouth. Now we have realized the insincerity of pretend common humanity in the face of human indignity. He says we cannot all be rich. I laugh because this sums up the problem. This is what it has boiled down to. Dignity is for the rich.

Article first published in Sowetan, 11 September, 2013

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About Simphiwe Dana

Musician, Writer, Activist, Mom

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