It’s a warm summer’s day on the Highveld, the Springboks are playing, and the braai is in full swing. Just as the Boks are about to run out onto the field, a thunderstorm breaks out, electrifying the clouds before pelting down. As we move to the comfort of our living rooms, the players are momentarily drenched by rain and accosted by thunder. Fortunately, the storm quickly blows over, leaving behind the lingering smell of soil in the air and towering white clouds etched against a dark blue background in the distance. It’s a feast for the senses as we stand idle around the smouldering fire discussing the new, improved Springbok side.
Your friend remarks that a cloud in the distant looks exactly like an antelope, and soon everyone is seeing different creatures and taking pictures of amorphous sky hieroglyphs. The next morning you wake up to another sunny Sunday, clear skies, and a message on your phone. It’s a picture of a cloud that looks like an antelope, titled “Springbok.”
You reply with something like; “nice picture, those clouds were truly amazing”. To which your friend replies, “there must be a misunderstanding, I sent you a picture of an antelope. Why do you pretend it’s a cloud !!!!?” At this point, you could question your sanity, or you could do the sensible thing, drive over and make sure your friend is compos mentis.
The promise of a big sporting event like the Rugby World Cup is an opportunity for society to abandon the labels of race, gender, and status to unite under a common brand of celebrating human excellence. Shoulder to shoulder like the Springboks, we experience the highs and lows of the Boks-kick. We cherish how far we have come as a nation when our captain shares a locker room video of a reformed team heading to the finals. It’s an incredible achievement to be competing on the biggest stage in the world, at the highest level of the game.
Yet, for some reason, several bad-faith actors convinced themselves that clouds are animals. Even more perplexing is conflating a picture of a cloud with an animal. As illustrated by the master of shape and colour manipulation, Gauteng MEC for education Panyaza Lesufi, accusing South African fans in the stands during Sunday’s match against Wales of sporting an old South African flag. Sadly, this is only the latest incident of let’s-jump-to-conclusions.
We celebrated an inspired Bok side trashing Italy with a standout performance by Makazole Mapimpi, commanding us to a bonus-point victory. Enter social media, and a cohort of individuals hell-bent on finding racism in everything accused a huddle of white players for snubbing Mapimpi after the post-match celebrations. The original version of events was clarified by Mapimpi saying that the reserves, also called the bomb squad, were preparing to make a victory chant, he realised that and turned away.
“I wasn’t part of it, but there was nothing wrong there with what they were doing – we are united as a team.”
Despite clearly laying out his version of events, the ideologically possessed shapeshifters still insisted on their version for him.
The case against Eben Etzebeth, the first casualty of we-are-all-racists, is yet to unfold. Perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt. Of course we should, and so should every social media user and citizen acting on half-knowledge based on imperfect information. To quote Mark Twain, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
The majority of people are not inherently bad actors. It’s ordinary people who convince themselves uncertainty is definite, that bad actions are justified in a context which they create.
We are all prisoners of our own perspective and vulnerable to triggers, but we can choose how and when to act.
A cloud is still a cloud, regardless of what you see.