Rage is an instinctive, automatic response to unfairness. When we feel angry, it tells us that there is something wrong because rage carries knowledge and insight. For a time, rage can be our teacher, a thing not to be guilt-ridden over but something that can be shaped into something useful. After all, South Africa was born from a useful rage. We have to see rage as substance waiting for our transformative efforts. Attention to and listening to rage begins the process of transformation. Rage provides the energy required to course-correct where we have gone off track.
Since the beginning of class divisions and oppression, unfairness has incited protest. The have-nots live with resentment that periodically erupts in open rebellion. From the slave uprisings, the peasant revolts of the Middle Ages, to the resistance against colonisation and apartheid to the rebellions that rock our world presently, people have always fought for an equal share and against injustice– that’s how it will always be.
The problem is not rage itself but what I refer to as chronic rage. The problem with chronic rage is that it can confine access to our collective imagination. It risks us creating the same thing over and over again. Untransformed chronic rage can be a constant mantra of how oppressed we are. It can corrode our belief that change can happen because what lies behind chronic rage is a loss of hope and loss of one’s imagination. We have to see rage as substance waiting for our transformative creative efforts. Creativity may seem a quality belonging to artists more than to lawyers, but creativity is essential to all of us working to change the status quo. I, like most people, have had moments where my creativity lost out to chronic anger.
In recent times I have noticed two kinds of rage gripping our country. One is the rage against the State for its abuse of power and unresponsiveness and the other is the rage against the Constitution and its facilitation of the preservation of the status quo. South Africans have a lot to be angry about, from corruption to crime to pervasive violence in our society to an untransformed private sector and the unmet dreams of black talent. Unfortunately, I have learnt that even though we are justified in our anger, the role of anger is limited; it does tell us that something is wrong which is very important, but it doesn’t tell us how to fix it. There are moments that feel like the laundry list of things that ail our society is unchangeable but for a country with the biggest change story of the 20thcentury– a change from apartheid to a constitutional democracy– our history makes it hard to believe that change is impossible.
A place that is the epitome of our journey of change as a country is Constitution Hill– it is where I have found access to some kind of creativity when facing today’s problems. Constitution Hill as a whole offers many lessons on what meaningful transformation is and what transformation should feel like. Constitution Hill is a case study and blueprint of how a country can go from a culture of exclusion to inclusion and from pain to purpose. It should not be forgotten that before Constitution Hill became the home of the Constitutional Court it was a prison that caged the anger of many of our Struggle heroes. Instead of remaining a place defined by injustice and anger, it has become a place of justice and hope.
Constitution Hill has provided creative direction to my anger as my own south, if south is understood as the cardinal direction where all life begins. Spiritually, Constitution Hill and the Constitutional Court are my points of departure, it’s where I can locate the heartbeat of the world. This place has taken a place of importance in my life of my activism because of what it stands for. It has saved me from chronic anger by showing me that reincarnation is possible – life can begin where death once reigned.
There is a courtyard at the Constitutional Court that has emblazoned on its walls the last words Nelson Mandela said before he was imprisoned for 27 years: “It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to achieve, if it needs to be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Although always dignified, especially as he delivered this statement from the dock at the Rivonia trial, make no mistake that Mandela and his fellow Rivonia triallists were angry.
In some of us, anger can manifest in a contained simmer rather than a rattling boil. It’s all anger all the same. It is that anger and that of the whole mass movement that brought an end to apartheid. Apartheid carved an anger so deep in our collective being as South Africans, but that also means the creativity we can contain, because it is this deep well of creativity transformed from anger that saw the Constitutional Court rise as the guardian of our Constitution from the ashes of a prison. A place that was once known for locking people up is now a place where the aspirations of all South Africans are defined.
The story I have learnt about who we are as a nation through the history of Constitution Hill means that the anger I carry now co-exists with hope. South Africa has reclaimed this space just like we have reclaimed our country. It is unusual for a court to be built on a site of a prison, yet this epitomises the South African story– not an erasure of the past but a future creatively built upon an honest acceptance of the past no matter how painful. Constitution Hill and the Constitution itself should be the South on our moral compass– a point of departure for all of us.
Anger is an instinctive, automatic response to unfairness. For a time, anger can be our teacher, a thing not to be rid of fast but something that can eventually be shaped into something useful. The message is yes, it’s okay to be angry, but chronic anger can corrode our belief that change can come because what lies behind chronic anger is a loss of hope.
Our charge is that the product of our rage should go towards narrowing the gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of our time and that requires vision and creativity– and South Africa abounds with examples of bridges from anger to creativity.
If our collective creativity cannot be accessed, the rage will only eat away at us. DM
"Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth" ~ Aristotle