Defend Truth


#ImStaying: Let’s all fight the good fight together


Mike Abel is a leading marketing and advertising practitioner. He is Founder & Chief Executive of M&Saatchi Abel and M&C Saatchi Group of companies operating in SA. He is former CEO of M&C Saatchi Group, Australia and before that, co-led the Ogilvy South Africa Group as COO and Group Managing Director, Cape Town. Mike has been awarded Advertising Leader by the Financial Mail and Finweek and his company was named Best Agency in SA in 2015. His company is home to The Street Store, the open-source, pop-up clothing store for the homeless which has become a global movement. He is a speaker and writer.

Besides what social media tells us, people are exhausted by the divisive narrative and behaviour of many – across race, age, gender and sexual orientation. The silent majority just want to get on with it, to ‘love their neighbour’ and build their country, their home, together.

A number of conversations have been raging on Facebook and other social media platforms around privilege (rightfully so) and the often ill-considered manifestations thereof, such as being patronising, paternalistic, unfortunate tokenism – and “some of my best friends are…”

It’s a labyrinth because so much of our collective past determines so much of these actual experiences.

I’ve read a number of posts and related criticism of late, particularly as regards the latest #Facebook SA phenomenon #ImStaying where more than 400,000 people within two weeks have pledged “allegiance to the flag” – if not physically, then emotionally.

It’s been a balm or salve for many of the weary, disillusioned and frustrated to put up their hands and say, “This is my home, I love it, and I’m staying.”

When I said to friends that I’d joined the group, some commented, “Well it’s easy to say you’re staying, when you can leave whenever you want Mike”. This is a particularly odd observation, because surely if I could depart on a whim, then staying has even more significance?

Then there are those who weighed in that, “Those who have joined, have no options, that’s why they are pulling together.” Again, this would be an extremely narrow-minded perspective, possibly even their personal projection, because there are many incredible things about this magnificent country to stay for. It’s possibly not Stockholm syndrome that keeps people here and loyal – it may just be their very real, lived experience.

There are those loyal South Africans who live outside of South Africa because they have jobs overseas, were promoted or transferred to other offices who feel equally aligned and loyal to this country and its people. I know a number of people who emigrated because they couldn’t make a go of things here and found jobs in other markets and geographies. But you’ll always get those who preside over what people say and do as the final judge and jury – and arbiter of what’s right or wrong.

A number of these experiences and memories being shared do arise out of the strange nature of our tragic past. A past not too dissimilar to that which has plagued all countries, in one form or another, throughout history. Whether one is referring to any of the great hates, be it gender, religion, race or sexual orientation, ancient and modern history are littered with examples of intolerance and murder.

In some countries, women are murdered for being raped as they’ve brought shame on their families and gay people get hanged for being in love with someone of the same sex. In the past, people were gassed for their religion, women dived in front of racehorses for the vote and people refused to get off buses or move, for sitting in an area reserved for whites.

It’s dishonest not to acknowledge that we have fractured pasts and presents, and that one needs to look towards motive and intent as more telling of behaviour, than possibly adopting an emotionally dishonest response or worse still, silence to a movement (imperfect as it currently may be) that is, at its heart, intended to bring people together, rather than drive them apart.

Recently, there have been many deliberate strategies to drive another racist and divisive narrative by many into our fragile, wounded and young democracy. There are those who feel passionate about a flag that for the majority of this country, represents suppression, subjugation and even murder.

A world-renowned PR firm, Bell Pottinger, was brought in and paid handsomely to deliberately sow racial division and more importantly, distraction, through its construct of “white monopoly capital” while our country was being pilfered and plundered at every possible turn, denying the very victims of our tragic past the prospect of a better future.

Every day we read about dairy farms, tax dodges, constructed theories of third forces and stratcoms, “cutting the throat of whiteness” that are part of a deliberate and well-funded agenda to sow hate – and again, distract.

So, out of nowhere, a relatively unknown estate agent creates a movement called #ImStaying to give voice to his emotions and commitment, when many can discuss or offer nothing better than simply leaving, and within two weeks, has over 400,000 people, from all races, ages and walks of life, saying: “So am I” and joining in. Many did so not through a lack of options as some may inaccurately observe, but because it’s their home.

And then you get a number of people, who rightly or wrongly, feel affronted by the posts.

Me and my loyal and loved domestic worker”. “My white friend”. “This incredible car guard”. “Me and my gardener’s child who is like my own”. “My black friend at my wedding”.“My white friend at our braai”.

Now, I can’t say whether one should feel insulted or not, as everyone has a right to his or her own feelings. They are deeply personal, and they are shaped by our past and present.

My mom had an unfortunate saying, however, that is sadly, mostly true: “People judge you by their own standards.”

Well, who else’s standards would they be judging you by?

So when people get affronted, hurt, angered or humiliated by other people’s post, the question I think we need to ask, is: What is their motive? Is this woman posting how much she loves her domestic worker like her sister:

  • To make her look good?
  • Because she actually does?
  • Because she wants people to see that she has black “friends”?
  • Because of our tragic, racist past, she wants to overtly move beyond that?
  • Because she thinks this picture of her and her “maid” will upset and hurt people?

Warning: the answer you select will talk entirely to your own perceptions if you don’t know this woman very well. It has nothing to do with her – and everything to do with you. You see, many people, of all races, ages, genders, religions and sexual orientations, are exhausted by the divisive narrative and behaviour of many others. The silent majority just want to get on with it, to “love their neighbour” and build their country, their home, together.

So when #ImStaying is on the radio, people will phone in and say what they could be doing better, should be doing better, should be doing differently. My view is, cut them some slack. It’s intended to be positive, patriotic, to fight hate, to fight racism and to build hope in our society.

They will make mistakes as they have gone from one person’s post two weeks ago, to over 400,000 members, no paid employees, only volunteers, and people posting that which is important to them. There will be mistakes, plenty of them. In fact, they wouldn’t upload my post of The Street Store calling for people to drop off clothing and donations for the homeless on the day my company was hosting them in Cape Town and Joburg because “they don’t allow advertising and promotion”. I could have been angry, as The Street Store is a way of clothing those most in need, but I realised the moderator didn’t understand what it was, was untrained and out of their depth. This will happen. Often.

I’ll try and help this organisation wherever I can. Imperfect as it is. And I encourage you to do the same. Because, in the words of Burt Bacharach and probably sung best by Dionne Warwick, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.”

So, by all means, please send them your constructive suggestions and builds, but my God, isn’t it good to have over 400,000 people trying to pull SA together and build, versus political parties, fools and anarchists trying to break the country?

Let’s all rather fight the good fight together – and if we make mistakes, which we will, help us rather than condemning us. DM


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