How do we live hope­fully in a dif­fi­cult world?

Mail & Guardian - - Lifestyle -

Lately, the word “process’’ has been perched on al­most ev­ery one of my thoughts about ques­tions large and small. At the base of my mind, like a mu­si­cal pro­gramme that dic­tates the rhythm to my be­ing, the ques­tions “Who are we? Where do we come from? and Why are we here?’’ are per­ma­nently play­ing.

On another level, I pose and take heed of another ques­tion in my daily life: “Why did my soul choose to come into this body, which they call black and female in this par­tic­u­lar coun­try and in this pe­riod in his­tory, and how do these phys­i­cal and ge­o­graph­i­cal at­tributes re­late to what my soul wants?” And, on yet another level, I ask: “What does my soul want?”

I be­lieve this is how I have been able to process the ex­is­tence of and es­tab­lish a way to re­spond to South Africa’s patholo­gies of racism and pu­trid misog­yny. In an at­tempt to re­mem­ber that I am not just a phys­i­cal body with five senses and a brain and a skin that looks out into the world like a sore to be dealt with, I have been think­ing about a ques­tion a friend posed when we were sit­ting on her floor eat­ing a soup that ei­ther she or I had made. I can’t re­mem­ber.

“What is the dif­fer­ence be­tween black­ness and African­ness?” my friend asked. “What if I would like to ex­plore be­ing an African and live from that mind­set?”

I have been think­ing about this for weeks. This is be­cause, if I only learnt that I am “black” at the age of eight when I first went to a model C school af­ter grow­ing up in the Xhosa Transkei, how do the for­ma­tive years when I was um­ntu, just a per­son, shape my cur­rent ideas about how to un­der­stand my cur­rent ex­is­tence? What does it mean to res­cue your au­then­tic self from your phys­i­cal self. Where is the grain and where is the chaff?

Be­ing hu­man is not an event. It is a process of travers­ing a time­line where suf­fer­ing is as much of a fact as laugh­ter. How the two re­late to each other in South Africa is a gift for us on our jour­ney as peo­ple who have been forced by his­tory to share prox­im­ity as black peo­ple and white peo­ple, as men and women, as be­ings.

In hind­sight, it feels like the great­est mis­take of our democ­racy was to give a date to the “end of our suf­fer­ing” and mark it in his­tory as “over” in 1994, when our racial en­gi­neer­ing has been in our minds, hearts and hands as cit­i­zens for three cen­turies. By do­ing so, and by in­vent­ing a nar­ra­tive of a new coun­try, we set our­selves up for the fall we are cur­rently un­der­go­ing, where the screws seem to be com­ing loose on more fronts than our ex­pec­ta­tions can han­dle.

Had the wise peo­ple who un­der­stood that the un­fold­ing of South Africa’s racial and gen­dered his­tory is a process and not an event been al­lowed to raise their red flags higher, we might have a more ma­ture out­look than the fear-mon­ger­ing and di­choto­mous nar­ra­tive we have built for our­selves, where things on a daily ba­sis in the news are ei­ther ab­so­lutely amaz­ing, funny, ex­cel­lent or an ab­so­lute dis­as­ter, typ­i­cal “I want to leave” bad.

For us who are here to­day, who have in­her­ited a school of prob­lems, how do we live well in the mid­dle, in the grey, in the mess that our an­ces­tors col­lec­tively be­queathed us? Things are dif­fi­cult. But how do we bring up healthy, lov­ing, car­ing chil­dren in safe house­holds? How do we cul­ti­vate our hu­man­ity, this ubuntu we are so fa­mous for in­side this dif­fi­cult coun­try? Where is the room for hope and how do we de­ploy it in our work?

I must have sounded crazy in the news­room on Mon­day when, in the midst of dis­cussing the Cyril Ramaphosa story, I asked my col­leagues: “How is our jour­nal­ism help­ing peo­ple, how is it heal­ing their pain?” Is it jour­nal­ism’s role to heal peo­ple’s pain? I don’t know.

As long as we imag­ine power, for ex­am­ple, to be big houses, cars, at­tend­ing pri­vate and for­mer model C schools — the things that white South Africans gave to them­selves for the past three cen­turies — we risk dis­ap­point­ing our­selves.

It is al­ready ev­i­denced by the result of late ne­olib­er­al­ism on our new democ­racy. Cap­i­tal­ism sees and cares for no colour or ide­ol­ogy — it co-opts any­thing that will feed it. Just the other day I saw a T-shirt in Wool­worths on which was writ­ten “Con­scious and Cool”.

To­day, some black peo­ple have houses and cars and we are able to go over­seas for hol­i­days, pur­sue any ca­reer we want to and get mar­ried on ex­pen­sive, white-owned Cape wine farms and ap­pear on Top Billing. And yet men­tal ill­ness, de­spair, lone­li­ness, sui­cide and poverty of char­ac­ter and spirit and mind abound.

Be­ing able to have that kind of power — pos­ses­sions, money, hav­ing “made it” — has not healed our pain.

What do we do to imag­ine another kind of power? How can this power in­ter­sect with the idea of heal­ing that we all need on an in­di­vid­ual level?

The rea­son I love and will ded­i­cate my life to the arts is be­cause art is the thing that keeps us hu­man. It’s next to spir­i­tu­al­ity and the pur­suit of God, in my mind.

But, in the 21st cen­tury, where art has been suc­cess­fully com­mod­i­fied into the gallery sys­tem, how do we find so­lace in its abil­ity to help us, to heal us? Gal­leries are not evil. But it is clear that con­tem­po­rary art is done more for its fi­nan­cial value than it is to be ac­cessed and used by peo­ple.

In the process of try­ing to un­der­stand my role in all of this, I also ask my­self: What has cap­i­tal­ism not co-opted yet? What can cap­i­tal­ism not reach so eas­ily at the mo­ment?

For now, it seems as if cap­i­tal­ism has not com­mod­i­fied fully the ways in which we can heal our­selves, the ways in which we can sur­vive this world next to each other.

Bar medic­i­nal forms of heal­ing, cap­i­tal­ism has not com­mod­i­fied hu­man traits such as hug­ging and talk­ing to each other. It has not com­mod­i­fied look­ing into each other’s eyes or set­ting up cir­cles to talk, purge and ex­ca­vate the crevices of our hearts where love re­sides. We can still pur­sue those ways of be­ing as a way to sur­vive, if we are to live in the grey space of un­fold­ing our patholo­gies as a po­lit­i­cal process.

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