What kind of human being has South Africa birthed?

A man pulls a trolley as he makes his way to a recycling place next to Newtown Junction, Johannesburg. The writer says South Africans are depressed by what we believe are our own failures, but we have been trudging through a quagmire of orchestrated inequality and systemic impoverishment since the first colonisers set foot on this land.
A man pulls a trolley as he makes his way to a recycling place next to Newtown Junction, Johannesburg. The writer says South Africans are depressed by what we believe are our own failures, but we have been trudging through a quagmire of orchestrated inequality and systemic impoverishment since the first colonisers set foot on this land.
Image: Kabelo Mokoena

This strange place we call home exists on a continuum of events that never seem to conclude.

The same social conditions that we have historically lamented and resisted have survived in spite of us. It is a disheartening reality to contemplate in the midst of the discourse of revival and resilience.

SA has produced a highly traumatised individual as its average citizen. The anxiety and paranoia induced by post-traumatic stress is a hallmark feature of black South African personhood.

Those of us who have lived long enough to see various transitions of power and the empty promises they made carry the deep disappointment of constant betrayal by those we trusted.

I think the abuse of civilian trust has been one of the most devastating blows to black South Africans who so desperately want to believe in a governing body that cares about their lives.

The repeated letdowns and betrayals of our faith has made bitter, angry and inhumane people of us. Taking the high road and turning the other cheek with no returns has tired us.

When apartheid ended, we believed that would be the last hill we had to climb to reach our egalitarian Utopia. We thought that was the last revolution we would need. We are afraid to admit we are far from done with fighting for this country.

We are also generally afraid of political realities, of what true freedom might require of us and of each other.

Our widespread battles with violence and crime are the consequences of a trauma that never got a proper chance to heal. In our quest for economic and political revival, we made a mockery of the healing needed by those most brutalised.

As time went by, we became consumed by our business-as-usual culture and have since tried to find healing in prosperity. In our capitalist slumber, we internalised the false values of meritocracy and equal opportunity while still in the grips of white supremacy.

Most of us have failed to reap the rewards promised by hard work and have internalised those failures as a by-product of our own inadequacy, further adding to the despair and hopelessness we try so hard to ignore. We are afraid to confront the lie we were sold.

The lie that we can all achieve prosperity in an economic gated community.

We are depressed by what we believe are our own failures, but we have been trudging through a quagmire of orchestrated inequality and systemic impoverishment since the first colonisers set foot on this land.

The sales pitch has changed many times since then, but the product has not. We have not reckoned with the truth of who we are as a result of what we have been through.

We are the quintessential dysfunctional family plagued by abuse and violence behind closed doors while smiling in public.

We are currently preparing for a nationwide lockdown in response to what could be one of the most devastating health crises in history. We have been here before, under different circumstances and we are already talking about how we will emerge victorious.

Our reputation for valorising sacrifice and suffering has not served us well. We should have stopped the merry-go-round long ago, and one can only hope that as we look to recovering our economy after this crisis, we prioritise rebuilding our humanity.

*Jamil F. Khan is an author and PhD Critical Diversity Studies candidate

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