Hun­gry for hope in our bipo­lar SA

Saturday Star - - OPINION -

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.

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