Telling Our Stories (Not Shouting Them)
Its been a while since my last post. I planned to write this post in multiple sittings instead of one. So hopefully I did. After our recent trip back to South Africa, my better half and I had a number of conversations about perception of South Africa and the general negativity we meet when meeting and talking to South African expats. I do not classify us as expatriates. We are here (In the USA), for all intents and purposes, for a short space of time and we still pay taxes in South Africa. As always I will try to break this down into multiple parts. Hopefully they will Gel.
Everything is Awful
Perception is a powerful thing. The perception we are sold about South Africa, even when I lived in South Africa, is that it is full of rampaging murderous gangs that kill everything in sight. If not it is like the rest of Africa, in that we as the continent are full of starving children and corrupt governments that cannot get anything done. It's always fascinating how Expats (who have been outside the country for a decade or more) or even Americans describe how South Africans are all miserable and everything is awful. I mean really, everything is awful.
EVERYTHING is AWFUL. Thank God we got out when we could.
Granted it is hard to say that they are wrong. A lot of people experience crime in SA on a daily basis. I would go so far as to say we are also complacent about it. It has become part of the South African experience. The problem with this narrative thought is that when people see everything through it they turn off all critical thinking about subjects that have to do with South Africa. We can never have constructive discussion in trying to understand where we have been, where we are and where the country is going as all of it is within this one narrative. In this narrative, there cannot exist South Africans who are doing great things in South Africa. In this narrative, race says more about you than anything else can. In this narrative the government is too corrupt to ever do anything good. Every government action must have a nefarious hidden goal.
I will give an example: The comment on proposing mandatory National Service for South African graduates. Read about it in this poorly titled MG article. Read even more about National Service Around the World. The long and short of it is that this proposal aims to partially solve a number of problems.
- South Africa has high youth unemployment: The proposal would act as a first step for graduates.
- A lot of employers complain about lack of experience of graduates: After spending a year in National Service, one would have some experience not none.
- We have a shortage of capacity within government departments: If the government plays its card well and really gets departments to see the benefits of such a program this could transform civic service.
- The average South African does not understand how the government functions: Intended or not this program would allow people to see behind the curtain. Hopefully also increase citizen participation on government.
- Our growing privileged class is very much removed from the majority (poor) South Africans: If people are required to work within government this would also give them a glimpse of the challenges facing the country and hopefully give them ideas on where thy can fit in, in assisting. Notice I tried to stay away from race in that last one. Reason being that the privileged class is mixed, as it should be.
After breaking down this proposal for you in a somewhat optimistic view, it has a 100001 weak points for sure, we can have interesting discussion about it all day. Lets see discuss how then this is received when we look at it through the blinders that are EVERYTHING is AWFUL. This would come from a News24 type commenter, special Everything is AWFUL type.
- I did not qualify for financial aid and my parents paid for all my fees, I do not owe the government a cent. If you attend any major university in South Africa, your fees are subsidized by the TaxPayer.
- Why does government want to take my children who have worked hard and use them as cheap labor in the middle of nowhere? This is a fear of the otherness of "others" mixed with government is just trying to do something nefarious
- This is all part of the communist conspiracy <- The more I learn about the Cold War, the more I think future generations are going to judge the collective world for its stupidity.
- Nothing the ANCorruption touches will ever come to a good end. Need I say more.
The "EVERYTHING is AWFUL" world view affects everything, no matter how small or innocent. It's all AWFUL, very AWFUL or beyond AWFUL. It doesn't matter what it really is, it's all AWFUL, that's why I left/am going to leave the country. Okay I am getting a bit repetitive here, but that's the whole point. This all seems to boil down to consoling ones self on why X person left/going to leave Y country. So even if something positive comes out of country Y, to X it doesn't matter, it's awful.
After writing this far, I had chosen not to publish this (its been month sitting as a draft). I thought about it and thought it to be a very useless post in my mind. But today in the morning, while catching up on my normal news cycle that is auto-curated by those I follow and Twitter and some great machine learning algorithms trying to figure out the stuff I like reading, something happened.
That something was this MyNews24 article. It had no place being in my reading list. I opened it without reading its title and what followed was "Everything is Awful". At the crux of that blog post is just pointless shouting and noise. The commenters seem to confuse it with discourse. Discourse it is not. The writer just meant to throw factoids at the reader without any expectation of critical thinking from the reader. Just meant to shock people into submission or inspire their anger. Nothing more nothing less. You can actually skip the whole article and just read the comments. Actually the article itself sums up most News24 comment threads. So if you are not familiar with News24 comment threads, read the article. If you are, read the comments. Cyclic isn't it? BTW, News24 Comment threads are 101% "Everything is super duper awful". Some say 4chan is the dark side of the internet, those people have not stumbled upon News24 comment threads at their prime.
Unfortunately the good stories don't sell papers. Worst of all the good stories in our land won't get that many hits and don't generate the emotions needed to keep those hits coming. Unfortunately I can't offer a remedy. All I can say is that the quality of your interaction of the internet in the future depends on how well you treat others. Our internet experience devolves very quickly when we have too much trolling, so much reluctance to actually understand others. We are an interesting bunch us humans. We hold on so much to our little feeling of superiority among ourselves, our feelings of being better that we forget to connect with one another. Shouting loud at one another, not talking. At the moment there is not thoughtful ending to this, it's just way too depressing and disruptive. I leave it as is. Comment below if you do have the thought.
This part almost seems like it shouldn't be here. All be damned, I will finish this post. I read Jacob Dlamini's "Native Nostalgia". I enjoyed the book a lot. It reminded me of Growing up in Ga-Rankuwa, a Township North-West of Pretoria. It is part oft the Tshwane municipality. Growing older makes your forget (not really lose the memory) a number of things as our brains re-prioritize our fast access memory banks. I enjoyed the book a lot because it did remind me of the things I miss about living in the township. It was not an AWFUL experience living there but a great learning and growing experience. As time goes on, it always does, places change, people change and we change too. Hopefully for the better. That's life. We grow older. But going back to ones roots always gives you that grounded feeling.
We all make do with what we are given and no matter where you grow up you will make do. There might be a bit of naïveté in me making that statement but I believe in it. My ideal South Africa is where anyone can be born anywhere in the country and be able to make due and pursue their hearts desires. I have become more cynical growing older but I keep my optimistic side too. I would die without it. We have to tell our stories. In the next few weeks lookout for my post on my 3 months in Silicon Valley and my
misadventure working for Meebo Google.