Hungry for hope in our bipolar SA
IHAVE been overwhelmed by melancholy ever since Human Rights Day this week. That’s when I watched the video of a man shouting at a woman in a family restaurant.
I’d seen the video posted on social media, but I never clicked on it. I was scared about what I would find – that’s prejudice for you, just for a start. All the stereotypes came into play; The Glen Shopping Centre, white man, black woman, Spur steak house. Eventually though, as I kept seeing it posted by different people across social media platforms, I succumbed and clicked on the link. It was worse than I expected. I didn’t find it as overtly racist as I thought I would, but I was appalled by everything else: it wasn’t just that – irrespective of how you look at the picture – the man towers over the woman. It wasn’t just the language, the likes of which I last heard 30 years ago in an army barracks.
It wasn’t just the fact that there were a bunch of impressionable kids looking at him bully her, their innocence stripped away forever.
No, it was the fact that this was like a car crash playing out in front of everyone – and no one did anything. The waiters didn’t get involved. The manager was nowhere to be seen. There were other people in the restaurant – one of them even filmed the clip. Watch the video (http:// www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/ gauteng/spur-mom-i-had-to-defendmyself-and-the-kids-8290035), you’ll see almost at the end, he rushes back and nearly upends the table. The violence is palpable.
Nobody speaks to women like that – ever. Nobody threatens women like that – ever. Except they do.
The worst of everything is the people who tried to rush to his defence on social media afterwards.
Let’s be clear about this, there is no defence.
There might be mitigating circumstances, but there is no defence, and even if there were other issues which led to the outburst, nothing gave the man any right to rush up and start berating the woman in public and in front of her kids.
There were many different ways in which this could have been handled, all with far better outcomes for everyone involved. But this man played to the stereotype – the same kind of stereotype that makes the annual 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Chil- dren Campaign critically important every year, the same kind of stereotype that cracks the mirror of what many of us so desperately hoped was the rainbow miracle – and so many others delight in trying to dash to the ground.
We are trapped in a doomsday clock. The hands are always at five to 12, with 12 being the end of the world. This week it felt like the minute hand had a moved a couple of minutes closer.
Somehow, when politicians are behaving badly and everything is running amok in the murky half world of factions and feuds, with burglars doing a Watergate on the office of the chief justice, I’m able to deal with it because of a basic tenet of faith – we, the miracle nation, aren’t like that.
Helen Zille derides what she ter ms this South African exceptionalism. It was a reverse Damascus moment for a former believer who came to her revelation after her recent trip to Singapore, which she then famously rendered into 140 characters. I disagree. I believe we are an exceptional nation. We are exceptionally passionate. We are exceptionally kind. We are exceptionally adaptable. We are exceptionally gifted.
We are also exceptionally cruel, exceptionally spiteful, exceptionally prejudiced, exceptionally mediocre.
We are, in a word, exceptionally bipolar. We are also living in exceptionally difficult and trying times, where the economy is moribund, formal jobs are becoming as rare as unicorns and political leadership is often nil.
I find myself as hungry for hope as a drowning man is for air.
I get despondent when I see ordin- ary South Africans hating on social media, plunging even deeper into racial laagers, desperately defending the indefensible.
But there is hope. And in the video.
Almost towards the end, another man jumps into the fray. He’s half the size of the aggressor, but he fronts up to him.
As he does, all the staff standing about like rabbits caught in headlights start moving too. The aggressor is shepherded away, as the woman screams abuse at his departing back, in front of her kids.
She’s wrong too. But who’s going to blame her? If it had been me, I would have stabbed the man in the throat with a Spur steak knife – just to get his attention.
He got off far more lightly than he deserved.
And therein lies the problem. We seem to be angrier, more wound up than ever before.
It often seems like we’re all on hair triggers. The problem is going to come when the next bully squeezes a little bit too hard and gets his own P*&^klap.
We won’t stop klapping until there’s nothing else – which is precisely the kind of nihilism Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Ahmed Kathrada et al, including FW de Klerk, tried so hard to avoid. it’s
There is no defence for a man attacking a woman in public and in front of her kids as happened at Spur recently.