Choosing to do Hope

It was an icy cold day, due to the snow falls on nearby mountains, that followed the cloudy and stormy weather of the last few weeks. I watched and read with increasing horror the reportage of the violent destruction and looting by angry mobs of shopping malls, businesses, factories, even clinics and pharmacies in KZN and spreading to Gauteng. Even though we are used by now to violent protests in townships due to the failure of municipalities to deliver basic services, the scale of this was never witnessed before. This while we are in the midst of the terrible Delta-wave of COVID infections! The chill that I initially sensed on the surface of my skin, turned ice-cold as it settled in my soul. We are lost, I thought. How are we going to recover from this, if ever? I felt the last sparks of hope that flared up again recently, die away.

A good couple of years ago, also on a stormy winters’ evening, we met my beloved late friend, Shakti Malan, for dinner at Harbour House Restaurant in Kalk Bay. This restaurant is built on rocks practically in the sea. From where we were seated, we saw the enormous waves raging in the storm beneath us. White spume regularly beat up against the windows, and I asked the waiter serving us if the restaurant is safe against the raging waves. Yes, he assured me, the windows are double strengthened. I was contemplating the value maintaining calmness in the midst of a storm. A few minutes later, as I was enjoying the crayfish soup I had as a starter, a monstrous wave smashed the window at the far end of the restaurant. The fire in the centre of the restaurant was immediately extinguished, the whole place flooded amongst shards of glass, and I had crayfish soup splashed all over my chest. The lesson from this little adventure: never to be too sure that your security measures against a raging storm are sufficient.

In retrospect, we were sitting on an enormous tinder box in South Africa, with more material added for fuel over the years: the dream of a Rainbow Nation after 1994 quickly fading, the plight of the poor not improving as promises of job creation failed with every election, the government increasingly descending into a cesspool of incompetence and corruption, especially in the Zuma-era with the looting of state resources, plunging the poor communities even deeper into poverty. The signs of what happened the last few days have been there for a long time. Over the years we saw service delivery protests in our townships becoming increasingly violent, as municipalities continue failing to deliver basic services like water, sanitation and electricity. The rising unemployment rate worsened with the arrival of the pandemic, which now rose to almost 50% as businesses closed down and people lost their jobs. Communities now suffer hunger on a scale never experienced before. And government officials even looted COVID relief money meant for relief packages to support the jobless. Anger kept escalating, and the situation became ripe for a revolt. “Free Zuma from jail” was merely the slogan painted on the match that lit the tinder box, igniting the devastating rampage we witnessed the last few days.

How do you keep doing hope in a situation like this, is the question that plagued me the last couple of days. Are you not supposed to HAVE hope before you can DO hope? I have gradually experienced my hope for our country dissipating over the last couple of years, and I think the looting of COVID relief funds was just the final straw for me last year. For long I thought of what I would say to young people regarding making a living in this country. I would say pack your bags and leave as soon as you can. For long I thought that those South Africans that emigrated years ago, did the right thing just in time. For long I thought that I have no option but to plod along, as I at my age have no means to opt out and start a new life elsewhere in the world, so I am sort of stuck here in the southern tip of Africa where everything is falling apart. Thus enters angry cynicism which is poison for the soul.

I had to think long and hard about continuing to do hope, which I see as the core of the work that I do. I realised as well that hope is not something external, something you pray for and then it is magically there. Hope is internal, something that exists in the fibre of our being. It is hope that plays a vital role in resilience, which we saw kicking in amongst fellow South Africans immediately following the looting rampages. We all experience times when it feels like we lost hope, and we all, although under different and varying circumstances, go through terribly difficult and very dark times in our lives. But if we really lost all hope, that deep seated thing in our being that allows us to bounce back at some point in time, there is nothing left but death.

All is not lost for South Africa. The country is not going up in flames. There is no civil war. And what happened in the last few days was not in support of Zuma. This week we saw the spirit of resilience kicking in during one of the darkest moments in our history since the late 80’s and early 90’s. We saw hope in action. Communities that ranked together to start cleaning up the mess and taking care of each others’ needs is doing hope. Communities that ranked together, united across racial and cultural barriers, including taxi associations, to support the Police and Community Police Forums in other provinces to take a stand against and protect their communities from looting, is doing hope. When a mother trusts strangers in the street to catch her baby that she had to drop from a burning building, as there was no other way out, is hope in action.

I had to take a long and hard look at my own attitude. If I want to continue doing hope, I need to stop thinking about escaping this reality at the first opportunity possible. I choose to stay in this country where I am born. I am attached to this soil. This is where I belong. This is where I can make a difference.

I have said this many times before and I say it again: the majority of the South African people reflect goodwill and a desire to create a prosperous and safe country for all. We are resilient and courageous, as was proven during the last week. The majority of us stand against evil corruption and crime. This is where I choose to live and do hope.

I am aware though that the euphoria will blow over, as many times before. There is work to do. The shocking scale of the violent looting this past week proves that we as a nation can no longer allow the current unemployment rate, poverty and hunger in our communities to escalate. We can no longer allow government corruption and inefficiency to continue. The challenge is at hand to prevent further deterioration of the moral fibre of our society. If this is not addressed, we might see a repeat of this tragedy playing out again and again, becoming even more destructive. How I don’t know, but I know I have to find ways to build on the current positive energy and take hands where possible to help build the nation we all dream about, marked by peace and prosperity for all.

My well-meaning prayers and meditations for my country will be meaningless if it remains done from the comfortable distance from my little safety bubble, while the storms of discontent are raging beneath me. My prayers need to translate into doing. Doing Hope. I choose to do Hope.


© Johann van Greunen, Cape Town, May 2020