TURNING and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer/ Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.”
This poem, The Second Coming by WB Yeats, was composed in 1919 after the First World War. As we might imagine, it must have captured a post-war mood, apocalyptic in nature and content that must have hung over the world like a heavy blanket over the spirit and mind.
The reason I am telling you that the poem was written in 1919 is simply to show you that we are not the first people in history to be visited by the demons of pessimism about the present and the future. Given what has happened since the poem was written, we are reminded of the fact that things have always changed for the worse and for the better.
So shall it pass that in our own country there will be an alternation between darkness and light. That is the rhythm of life, no matter the place or epoch. The darkest hour does indeed come before dawn, but what we must never forget is the fact that the dawn was preceded by the darkest hour.
We say in IsiXhosa, “Umhlaba ungamajingiqhiwu”: the world is not flat. This is a world of ups and downs. This is an attitude we must extend to the state of our nation. The Second Coming is, to me, not about hopelessness. It is about being optimistic that things do get better.
In matters of national importance, a sense of hope will, on its own, not deliver a prosperous, nonracial and nonsexist society at peace with itself and others.
Inequality, poverty and unemployment are realities of the human condition that we cannot wish or hope out of existence. We must make change happen and this must start with the acknowledgement that things are falling apart.
When students, protesting on campus, with their faces hidden under balaclavas, fire live ammunition at the police, something is rotting in the state of SA. Things are falling apart. Obviously, if things are falling apart, the centre is not holding.
However, the bigger question is whether there is a centre at all. Usually, it is the African National Congress (ANC) as a strategic centre that we worry about.
But the content of our responses to national challenges such as anaemic growth suggests that, at both the level of the ANC and the country as a whole, the centre is either not holding or has ceased to exist.
This in part is the reason finger-pointing as the main content of our responses to national challenges has become a national Olympic sport. What constitutes further evidence of this problem is the increase in frequency in calls for another Mandela or Moses to rise among us and take us to the Promised Land.
In the government, the centre at times fails to hold in ways that, at face value, seem innocuous, when in reality they betray a much deeper malaise.
A case in point is the outrageous posts of government ministers and spokespeople on Twitter and Facebook. An example is a Facebook posting by a government spokesperson on the Paris killings.
While, in my view, the Paris killings may be about conflicting truths that are, nonetheless, not mutually exclusive, I think it is callous to celebrate or not to be moved by loss of life because of political or ideological persuasion. That is why I am still shocked by this Facebook post: “The thing is, I feel nothing for and about Paris. I’m eating Niknaks and I don’t give a hoot about them and their bombs.”
The author mischaracterises her feelings. In this case, feeling nothing is to feel something — the joy of eating Niknaks. The centre is not holding maybe because both the falcon and the falconer are deaf and blind and are bereft of the powers of seeing and hearing.
What is the solution? There are many possible solutions but, for now, I wish to limit myself to a change in attitude.
We must remember that emotions, and the thoughts we focus on most, become decisions, actions and things. More important, our fate must not be that of the best lacking conviction, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.
• Matshiqi is an independent political analyst