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Kopano Matlwa

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE


I’ve felt many things as a South African, but never shame. I’ve felt pride, when I’d look back on our history and seen what we’ve overcome, so courageously. I’ve felt joy, like the day it was announced that we’d be hosting the world cup and we all ran into the streets and leaped into the air. I’ve felt hope when I’d visited primary schools and seen the many Colgate smiles hard at work. But never shame. Ya sure I’ve felt sadness, deep sadness when another news report writes of another raped little girl, sure I’ve felt fear sometimes, when looking out the window and locking the doors at night, but never ever shame. The crime, the unemployment, the politics all those you could explain away, hypothesize about, debate about. But this? What is this? Go etsagalang ka rena batho ba bantsho? What are we doing?

Each time I bump into someone, an aunt or an uncle that perhaps was not born here but lives here now and is thus family, I find myself casting my eyes down pretending not to have seen them. I am so ashamed to be South African today. I do not know how we got here nor care to understand, because no reason will suffice the horrors that have been and are being committed towards ‘foreigners’. I do pray though that somehow all this mess can be rectified and that someday our cousins, grannies, nephews and sisters from (might one note) not so far, will be able to forgive us.


Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    May 21st, 2008 @11:39 #

    It leads one almost to despair, doesn't it Kopano? Or, to quote Njabulo Ndebele, who wrote about mob violence in Lesotho in 1988:

    Indeed, it was a spectacle calling for the end of all thinking. For isn't it true that when the mob has got its victim it is totally consumed by the smell of blood? That when the victim finds himself in this untenable situation he is totally consumed by fear, disbelief, and utter bewilderment? And that the public, when they see the spectacle, are totally consumed by the horror of it? So the collective social mind is bludgeoned into apathy. Nothing much can be expected of a terrified mind.

    Thanks for throwing off apathy and writing about it, K.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    May 21st, 2008 @12:23 #

    Thanks from me also for breaking the silence, Kopano. But horrified speechlessness is not the same as apathy. It's true, I've found it impossible to write an adequate instant response to events like these. They are fundamentally jarring. I can't be witty, I can't be chatty, I can't even be sincere. In fact all these "I"s have no place in the crisis. I went yesterday to get some provisions that were requested for the people at a shelter in Jeppestown. One of the items on the list were baby clothes. We sorted through our son's old things and I bought some cheap new clothes from Ackerman's. The thought of these tiny babies, so small that they would fit into these little babygros (have you ever seen a newborn babygro?), chased out of their homes (such as they are) at the start of winter. These babies and their parents evidently sinned by having the wrong name or the wrong accent, sinned by being desperate enough at home to want to live in this squalid shithole of a city.

    It's disgusting, it makes me feel smeared in filth. It makes me think of Rwanda, of Nazi Europe. Images of burning people with nothing but the bedding they are being burned with belong in fiction for the unimaginative, they don't belong on the streets of my country. What the fuck can all us intellectual, theoretical, witty people say?

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    May 21st, 2008 @13:48 #

    No witty thing to be said, just an acknowledgment of shame and an impotent incapacity to make any real difference besides buying cans of beans and bars of soap to take to the church around the corner.

    Thanks for stating it plainly, Kopano.

  • Sven
    May 21st, 2008 @13:58 #

    I echo your sentiments, I started writing a blog post when I saw the picture on the cover of Monday's Cape Times online, but pulled out of it.

    I think it can be explained, if not rationalised or excused, to some extent, and that the situation is not unique to South Africa. The world has hundreds of millions of starving people, with a billion on the poverty line.

    If the price of fuel doubles every 18 months, the value of money drops because of debt fuelled inflation, and food shortages start appearing, people are going to become desperate.

    At the end of the day those who are most vulnerable are probably often also those who are least educated, which means responses to the problem are likely to be fuelled by very visceral perceptions of the nature of the issues involved. It is not really surprising that desperate people are lashing out at the 'other' who they perceive as immediately responsible for the problems they face.

    I read a compelling article yesterday about the food crisis, and the way that this is being allowed to happen, if not promoted by the corporate elite. It can be found">here.

    This may be an intellectual response to the problem, but honestly, this is all going to get a lot worse unless people start asking questions about how and why this is happening.


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