Over the past few days, I have spent much of my internet time scrolling through the #ImStaying Facebook group. For those of you who haven’t heard or are “so over Facebook”, #ImStaying is an open group on Facebook where hundreds of people share their stories or experiences of why they are staying in South Africa, at a time where many people are leaving the country. (By the way, not everyone is leaving because things are going “downhill”.)
On Monday, a few colleagues and I had a brief chat about the group. The general feeling was that it was a refreshing side of South Africa, and it was good to see positive interactions and people choosing to be a part of something, rather than immediately unaligned. However, after emerging from a Twitter storm, my jaded self commented, “Let’s see how long it is before people find a reason to hate this group.”
I don’t know if I spoke it into existence, but enter stage left an article by Solly Moeng titled “Good for you, #ImStaying but why shout about it”. The premise of Moeng’s article is first that we need not judge people who are emigrating from South Africa for whatever reason, and second that we should not use the anecdotes such as those published in the Facebook group as a means of emotional blackmail towards people who leave South Africa.
“We should stop the negative and divisive narrative that consists of claiming that those who leave today have no love in their hearts for South Africa; or that they’re not committed to its well-being,” says Moeng.
He argues that such ideals are divisive. And perhaps many see them as such. But, often the argument of something being “divisive”, is the view that to align with the other is an absolute and definite stance against something else. Simple example (albeit potentially complex): supporting the idea of the freedom of Palestine does not qualify me as an anti-Semitic.
By the same token, I don’t believe that following and participating in #ImStaying, is an automatic and absolute response to people who choose to leave the country. There are many things that we can be angry about in South Africa; you don’t have to look far. It could be poverty, gender-based violence, toxic white privilege, corruption, State Capture, Eskom, racism, poverty, lying journalists, and… and… and.
There are so many microaggressions that we can all tap into at any point in this country, why on Earth would we choose to be angry about a Facebook group whose sole intention is to show connection, to show how humanity is still an important value, to show that despite all the things we can be angry about, there are some things that we can look at, and for a moment, even if it is fleeting, feel good about?
True, we are living in times where rage, anger and a lack of compassion are at the core of our existence. In a country such as ours, with such a complex history, one can argue that rage and anger are justified. People are allowed to be angry, they are allowed to feel betrayed, they are allowed to feel “othered”. These are not feelings, that I would wish on anyone, but the truth is some of our experiences legitimately bring us to these feelings. In expressing these feelings, we adopt certain boundaries and barriers, and we see things differently, but that does not mean we cannot see anything else.
Where things are unjust, we must rage against them, but as someone close to me pointed out to me recently: “You don’t have to be misaligned with everything”.
I can still be bothered by toxic spaces of white privilege, but I am also allowed to be happy to see a white person using their privilege to change someone else’s life. Whether it is by putting a domestic worker’s child through school, or something as trivial as giving two women a lift to work when their bus broke down.
And before you say it, I know. I can hear the naysayers screaming and hollering about the fact that people should do that purely because they want to, and not because they want to be part of a trend where they can post their good deeds and feel good about themselves. And that is true. People often say, you can do good and not post about it.
But, this is a time where all of humanity is screaming for connection, compassion, and kindness. Do we really have to be angry or annoyed that people across our country are making the effort to connect, to be more compassionate and to exercise kindness?
Seriously, you want to be angry at people who are sharing their positive experiences in South Africa, and then also be angry at the news for always highlighting the country’s shortfalls? Things are not always “black and white” and yes, I’ve used this term on purpose.
It is okay to be dealing with years of prejudice and inequality, it is okay to be angry about the looting of state entities, it is okay to be angry about the fact that two years after Life Esidimeni, Qedani Mahlangu and her posse have not faced criminal action.
Nobody is saying quit your battles, nobody is asking you to forget about the spaces of privilege. Bear your crosses, fight your battles, stand up for what you believe in. But where there are good deeds done, where people are choosing to see others and be compassionate, you’re also allowed to celebrate that. It doesn’t make you any less of a “freedom fighter” or any less committed to your cause. It makes you human.
If people are deciding to share their experiences that are underpinned by compassion, love, ubuntu and unity, they have every right to shout about it and they can shout as loudly as they want to, because their actions call for unity, they call for connection, they call for hope, and in this country where racial tensions are high, when inequality is extremely pervasive, genuine acts of unity, connection and hope are what we need to see, and share. As one person said on the group, we must choose light.
The world is a mess right now. Now more than ever, we should be chasing humanity, connection, unity, ubuntu and respect. And whether or not these deeds or anecdotes end up on Facebook, the main thing is that they are happening in our streets, in our shops, in our schools, in our communities.
Yes, Facebook exists on the internet, but the people sharing their stories of hope live among us. They go to our churches, sit in our bars and wait in the same traffic. I, for one, would rather know there are many of us, that we walk this Earth together doing our bit to make things a little bit better for those around us.
So, yes, things aren’t always great. I fight every day, to be seen, to be heard, to be respected – and there is no reason to doubt that I won’t win. I will stay to bear witness to this tiny little space of unity because it matters to me. You are not forced to stand with us, but it is completely up to you, whether or not you decide to stand against us. Remember, you don’t have to be misaligned with everything. MC
Nomatter Ndebele is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Maverick Citizen
Graffiti is actually the plural of graffito.