This weekend I was asked to speak at a protest March in London outside the South African embassy calling for the recalling, or stepping down of our current President, Jacob Zuma (a little Google search will give you the latest news from SA and why this march, and others like it in SA and around the world were happening). I was asked to share off the back of a Facebook post I put up earlier this week questioning if I should be marching at all. Here is the full text of what I’d prepared (the actual speech was slightly shorter for time’s sake).
This morning I’m going to share with you my very personal journey. When my sister-in-law messaged to ask what I thought about coming to this march my immediate, gut response was no ways! There’s no way in heck I want to be a whitey-ex-pat surrounded by other ex-pats shouting for the recalling of the president of my home-country, a country I don’t currently live in even if I do hope to return there in the future. But then I got thinking… and reading…. and thinking… and reading…. and I moved from a definite no to being totally divided and unsure about what to do.
I so agree with the cause – an end to a corrupt leadership that has wrecked havoc on too many lives in SA. I also love that previously passive people are being motivated to stand up for something and get involved in democracy and politics (with a baby p).
But it raises questions in me: where was I when the social grants system was on the brink of collapse… where was I when mentally disabled people died because of lack of social care… where was I when our education system failed school children all over the country… where was I when the one of the biggest chicken producers in the country saw fit to cut almost one and a half thousand jobs while the big bosses on top took fat pay-checks home… where was I when Cape Town land was sold for the development of a private school instead of used for affordable housing… where was I when our inequality levels continued to remain sky high despite almost a quarter of a century of ‘’transformation’.
Why didn’t I march then?
Am I, and others in my position, only willing to march on certain issues? What truly motivates me?
Does my outrage only flair up at things which are covered extensively in the media. Or when the economy is shaken and my Rands lose value. Or when I am personally affected in some way…
Or can I truly say that I’m outraged by the plight of the poorest South Africans… that I’m outraged by the systemic yuck that has affected the way that all of us as South Africans see and speak about each other… that I’m outraged that I see corruption not just in our president but in business, in finance, in sport and worst, in the small steps and decisions that ordinary folks like us take each day… that I’m outraged by the fact that all these years later nothing’s changed for most people.
And so why march? Why am I, a current ex-pat living in London, here today?
In short, I’m here because you all convinced me.
In the words of someone I read this week “I want Zuma gone because of Khwezi, and Shaik; because of Marikana and Tatane, because of Net1 and Bathabile; because of Nkandla and breaking the Constitution; because of a growing culture of apathy and corruption; because of political assassinations and threats; because we don’t need nuclear power and it is an obvious front for looting and bankrupting the state; because we have allowed him to get away with 10 years of impunity”♠
But it’s more than that. I’m here because I want to take ownership – even though I’m here in the UK. As I read this week I found so much inspiration from others online about how to do this:
I want to take ownership by not letting today be my only political act, but instead letting it be a step in the process of humbly trying to engage with the ways our democracy and society is under threat.*
I want to take ownership and take a stand when friends or family use language which is racist or biased and which reduces and person’s value or dignity.♦
I want to take ownership by listening and trying to understand the complex issues and realities of the people in our country… by being an ally and a follower rather than assuming I can be the hero and the the answers. ♣
I want to take ownership by refusing to take offence but instead doggedly engaging with what terms like white privilege, racism, inequality and so on mean and look like in my life.
I want to take ownership by putting my faith into action and faithfully praying God bless South Africa, guard her children, guide her leaders and give her peace.
And I want to take ownership by holding the mirror up to myself and asking what’s going on in my heart and my lifestyle that’s part of the problem.
To end I say only this, forgive me for taking this long to march.
♠ Janet Jobson, Facebook status, 6th April 2017
* Tristan Görgens, Facebook status, 7th April 2017
♦ Just Stories, Instagram
♣ Inspired by thoughts shared by @janine_j, Twitter, 4th April 2017