We are angry. Our livelihoods have been threatened, the joy of opening a new store three years ago, a dream of financial freedom, destroyed in a matter of moments.
We are angry. That instinctual anger felt deep in our stomach. The lives of our families are threatened. Our children, our parents are at the full mercy of the threat we envision in our minds. We want to externalise it, villainise it, through the bias of our prejudices. But the threat is no longer outside us, it is within us, simmering over, blurring our ethics, our humanity; a thin line, growing ever thinner, towards actions that will haunt us for a lifetime. We are angry because we are scared. Of what those around us are capable of. Of what those not around us are capable of. Of what we are capable of.
We are angry. We don’t know where our next meal will come from. For some of us, this is a new experience. For most of us, it is not. We are angry because the majority of us must live within municipalities that allow our sewage systems to clog up for months. But that putrid smell of faeces pales in comparison to the agony of trying to fall asleep on a hungry stomach, of having a wet floor every time it rains, of ice cold corrugated walls in winter. Our country has allowed its majority to live in conditions that the rich would not accept for their dogs.
We are angry. We’ve allowed greed to dominate our media – and our spending habits. A couch for R70 000; a R10 000 flat-screen too excessive for our needs. Banks phone us daily to sell us the lie of borrowed money we can never pay back, to buy things we don’t need, to entertain lifestyles that disconnect us from the Earth and from each other. The few of us that can afford this masquerade advertise it on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For the rest of us who fall into the trap, our aspirations and ambitions are hijacked by goals that are not ours while we end up imprisoned by debt.
We are angry. Our anger is complex. It has a history. The pied piper of 1994 has returned, and he wants his pound of flesh. We are suffering from decisions made then that delayed his return. It was supposed to buy us time. We spent those decades with our heads in the sand. Now our anger is simmering. Try putting a lid on a pot of boiling water. It will not end well if we do not let the pressure out.
We are angry. We are a proud people. We love our stories, our meat, our kuiers, our dance.
Proud of our husbands providing, patrolling, protecting. Proud of our mothers nurturing, planning, holding. Drenched in traditions, in ceremonies, our lands are holy, our ancestors celebrated. Deep underneath us run the waters of Afrika meant for all of us to drink. We fought for freedom, for autonomy. Now we are traumatised. Trauma silences humanity, always has, always will. In the past, the words of Steve Biko, Chief Albert Luthuli, Rick Turner were banned through the might of the censors; today they sit on a shelf, gathering dust.
I am a psychologist, frightfully aware that anger may be both destructive and constructive. Anger fuels the motivation to destroy. Destruction can feel empowering in the moment. It’s a lie. It’s disempowering.
What we destroy does not always mend. Anger, in its healthiest form, serves to protect. Anger is the cure for apathy. It draws people into action. It brings people together. Anger creates leadership. Anger is like a phoenix: out of the ashes of the previous destruction comes the life of the new. Extreme pressure creates diamonds, extreme difficulties create leaders.
Those who like Nhlanhla Lux — hailed a hero after protecting the Maponya Mall from looters — speak of politics but are not distracted by it, can articulate the real hurt that our society has failed on its strongest symbol of all, ubuntu. My humanity is preserved through you and yours through us. What humanity have we preserved over the past few decades?
Anger comes from being denied the right to a better life. Those who hold the power hold the access. When they bar us from financial independence, degrade us to unemployment through lockdown restrictions, then blame us for the high infection rates, we become blinded with anger.
How can we socially distance in overcrowded townships or taxis? The majority live in inhumane conditions because apartheid was a dehumanising system: the violence remains within the infrastructure, the bureaucracy, the lifestyles.
Steve Biko wrote this in the 1970s, but has much changed fifty years later? “[I]n South Africa now it is very expensive to be poor. It is the poor people who stay furthest from town and therefore have to spend more money on transport to come and work for white people … it is the poor people who have no hospitals and are therefore exposed to exorbitant charges by private doctors; it is the poor people who use untarred roads, have to walk long distances, and therefore experience the greatest wear and tear on commodities like shoes. It does not need to be said that it is the black people who are poor.”
I am angry. Those who I work with live in unforgiving structures; Parliament discussions that seem far removed from ground level, that feel more ego driven than humanity- or service-delivery driven. I hear potential game-changers complaining from the comfort of their own keyboards about how incompetent this government is.
Waiting for politicians to bring change is a form of dependency. The independence of the “have-nots” is blamed on the politicians and not on the “haves”. The businesses we run fail on humanity. How many bereavement cases have I seen, complicated because of managers refusing employees leave to isolate, to attend funerals of loved ones, putting relentless pressure to return to work, instead of showing humanity and understanding? Denying the disempowered further buries our heads into the sand. This is not a war on laws, but on the spiritual poverty of our country.
I’m angry. Because I’m thinking of who I fear. My first thought is about my protection. I’ve forgotten his hunger. I’m angry because a psychologist’s purpose is to empower. Trauma disconnects. Thus, the healing starts with connection.
I’m angry, but that leaves me with a difficult decision. I need to understand, to learn to use my anger constructively, to be part of the solution. Yes, I understand that it’s important to stand and protect, even more so to stand with an open hand, a ready shoulder, and a listening ear.