Forgetting Nelson Mandela
This past ‘Mandela Day’ in South Africa, a radical left-wing acolyte of populist politician, Julius Malema, dumped a whole bunch of dead rats at the feet of the Mandela statue in Sandton. (Those of you who applauded the guys throwing their own shit around in Cape Town should have seen this coming.)
The implication is fairly clear. Mandela ratted out black people by reconciling with whites. Therefore our problems can be blamed on him. We could be living in a socialist utopia if it were not for Madiba going soft while in jail.
There’s no point to even debating the merits of such an argument, as many South Africans attempted to do with the Cecil Rhodes statue. Once people are throwing rats and feces around, debate has left the building. Nobody ten years ago would ever have dreamt of seeing a young black political activist put rats at the feet of Mandela. But there is simply no end to the process of playing the victim. That is why I think we all need to be brave enough to speak up now before the problem gets worse.
Things are escalating on the identity politics front, and victimhood has become the most valuable currency.
I understand the concept behind BEE and I accept it as a given considering our political realities. I understand the need to treat women with respect and as equals. I understand the need to be conscious of the damage institutionalised racism has done over the years. I understand the need for homosexual people not to be oppressed.
But in the political and social currents of the current age, we have gone far beyond looking to be just and fair.
It almost seems that identity and victimhood have become twin pillars of a kind of secular religious movement. Increasingly, we all find ourselves avoiding a modern day form of blasphemy – saying the wrong thing to offend the wrong group of people, because they will put you on Twitter and make your life hell.
We have lost all sense of the idea that we are all victims, that we all make mistakes, and that we all suffer.
A perfect example of this in my mind is the never-ending list of letters in the gay rights movement. LGBTQI*. Not ‘gay rights’, or even basic ‘human dignity’. No, instead to be the right kind of person in the intellectual world or on social media, you need to cover every possible base of victimhood. It’s almost a parody of itself.
Yes, we want a more humane society, but I can tell you this much, such a society does not and cannot come into existence by tiny little identity groups all squabbling over who has the least privilege, and which so-called oppressor group has the most.
Here’s the hard truth:
Everybody suffers. Everybody is a victim of something.
What’s the solution? Forming a political activist group? Maybe sometimes in extreme cases, but in by far the majority of cases the solution lies within how you choose to live your own life.
Do you use your suffering as an excuse to blame other people for everything wrong in your life? Or do you try to improve the situation?
Ultimately, life is not lived in neat categories of guilt and innocence. We used to believe that what we all had in common as human beings far outweighed what made us unique. We seem to have reversed the formula. Old people can’t possibly understand the youth. Whites can’t understand blacks. Straight people cannot understand gay people.
I say we can.
We all suffer. We are all victims of something. Everybody has a story.
The solution to our suffering is not to make an enemies list – even if we do have real enemies.
The solution lies in controlling what we can control, bettering ourselves as we can, being grateful for what we do have, and moving past our pain towards a kind of truth. Then we have a shot at working together with others to solve problems.
We need to remember a peaceful society is a miraculous thing, tenuously held together by layers of culture and civic habit. If we keep fragmenting into victim and oppressor groups the whole thing will start to unravel.
I have always been a person who was slightly more sceptical of the Madiba Magic than most.
But by God the thing he really got right, the one thing we are now taking for granted, is his notion that if we don’t get along and move past our own circumstances, we will all lose.
And what is true of our country is true of our own lives too. Live your life in anger, if you must, but then you better get used to the stench of dead rat.