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Opinionista

Fear becomes our worst enemy when politicians peddle it with impunity

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Zukiswa Pikoli is Daily Maverick's Managing Editor for Gauteng news and Maverick Citizen where she was previously a journalist and founding member of the civil society focused platform. Prior to this she worked in civil society as a communications and advocacy officer and has also worked in the publishing industry as an online editor.

The anatomy of fear is something I think about and grapple with often. What is the value of fear? What does fear tell you? Is it sometimes worth giving in to fear? How does one overcome the inertia that fear can create?

It occurs to me that the psyche of many South Africans is rooted in fear, much of which is premised on a deep sense of distrust of each other.

The most pervasive of these fears is felt by the formerly oppressed majority of our society, who fear that it may happen again. The converse is the beneficiaries of our previously oppressive system fearing that the same oppression will be meted out to them.

I won’t debate the validity of either, but I accept that both exist and are being manipulated for political gains. This has especially been ramped up as we look towards our national elections next year.

Sociological studies have found — and political critics have warned — that fear can be used as an effective tool of social control. By keeping people in a state of fear of imminent threat, they are easier to manipulate.

One such critic was the American political journalist and cultural critic Henry Louis Mencken, who wrote: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

It is undeniable that our country is undergoing a difficult time in our political history, with the euphoria of the mid-1990s to early 2000s having been swiftly replaced by fear, corruption, pessimism and deepening mistrust.

However, it is at times like these that steady and critical thinking by people is required to rally around a collective and inclusive vision for the country and not the pursuit of narrow political interests.

Last Sunday, I attended the 40th-anniversary celebrations of the United Democratic Front and was not unmoved by the spirit and ethos of what the movement represented.

It was fully inclusive and representative of the interests of all South Africans, and there has yet to be a movement of its calibre to date. Its success was not based on fear, division or members’ personal gain, but on advancing democratic ideals of equality, non-racialism, non-sexism, non-classism and people’s power.

The pursuit of and belief in “people’s power” is the only thing that will wrestle fear from the South African psyche, opening us up to the possibility of there not actually being scary, imaginary hobgoblins, as is being peddled by the current crop of political parties and their discourse.

If we are to have any hope of turning things around in South Africa, we have to look beyond party politics and soberly chart a way forward that isn’t premised on false narratives that drive a siege mentality and make us see each other as enemies.

Jack Canfield, the internationally known coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Soul, once said: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear”.

I understand this to mean that if you can look at fear, sit with it and then work through it, what awaits on the other side is the life you really want. In this case, a South Africa we can all be proud of and thrive in. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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