This post is my first in this series of tandem blog posts with other bloggers. Brett Anderson gave seven of us this title about a week ago, and I have had a million distracting ideas about stories I wanted to write, moments I thought could be this post, things that happened to me that reminded me of the title (including losing my voice at a strange moment), but all of this has been my way of avoiding a deeply personal/political conversation I want to try and articulate here. I want to write about The Missing Voice in South Africa – How Blame has taken the space of Accountability. So, here goes.
One thing I have learned when running improv workshops in the corporate environment, with school kids or other learners, or even just with ordinary folk, is how difficult it is for people to say the words “it’s my fault”. There is a silly warm-up game called that, where people throw a plastic bottle around and if the bottle hits the floor the thrower and person who missed the catch have to lie down and shout “it’s my fault” before getting up and continuing the game. It is a no-risk, no-consequence game and still, people choke up. They struggle to say it. Into that gap comes everybody else, pointing fingers of blame and completely at ease with shouting, “Lie down. Say it. It’s your fault”. We always spend ages analysing this game after we play it. It’s ridiculous.
We live in a culture of blame. Social media is full of it; designed for it. We blame everything on everybody. It’s Kanye’s fault. It’s the Oscars. It’s Tim Noakes’ fault we thought he wanted that mother to feed her baby animal fat. It’s the plastic surgeons’ fault that people who have multiple plastic surgeries look like freaks. On Twitter you can play the blame game in 140 characters.
Our politicians (all politicians, regardless of party) deny all, blame all, point fingers, accuse. It is unheard of for anyone, ever to say “It’s my fault. I did it. I take responsibility.” I am amazed at how many committees, investigations, inquiries, commissions and reports have to be established, held, postponed and then appealed before someone is forced to be found guilty, responsible, accountable. Apologies always come only after there is total, undeniable proof that cannot be gotten away from. Apologies that look like last ditch excuses because there is nobody else on the list left to blame.
There are holocaust denialists, apartheid denialists, rape denialists, murder denialists. There are corporate denialists and NGO denialists. It is vile. And it is dangerous and immature and self-serving and time wasting. Everybody needs to get out of the terrible habit of defaulting to “it wasn’t me!”
Media is as foul a culprit as the politicians it reports on, particularly when they get it glaringly, horribly wrong. They are almost unable to say so. Take this latest M&G joke of a lead story ‘accusing’ Mmusi Maimane of taking president lessons from FW de Klerk. It’s moronic. And yet it was defended so passionately by the editor. Why? Because she was utterly incapable of saying, “I made a horrible mistake.”
We witnessed some of the worst of this behaviour from Oscar Pistorius. At every step of his miserable and pathetic journey he looked for a way to absolve himself from all blame and responsibility. Instead he had a list of people he blamed. And the rest of South Africa bayed for his blood, screaming from the rooftops, “it’s him, he did it, he is to blame”, instead of acknowledging, or taking responsibility for, the monster we had all created; the hero/cripple who, because he was able to get away with other crimes so regularly, thought it would be possible, and likely he would get away with murder.
Our president is another example. He has been accused of so much, and is so used to getting away with things just by saying, “it wasn’t me,” or “I didn’t do it”, from being accused of rape and corruption in the arms deal before he even took office, to the legendary (and ongoing) Nkandla debacle, the unforgivable Marikana massacre, and the “it-wasn’t-the-reason-the-economy-plummeted” excuse for his terrible finance minister replacement scandal. This man seems to have never taken responsibility for anything, ever.
There is another terrible cousin to the “it wasn’t me” cry, that follows its heels, showing off its snotty nose and its bloody wounds to anyone who looks. It is the voice of offended victim. This is a cultivated voice. This is a different voice from the genuine victim. This is the voice of the Israeli government making the excuses for killing an unarmed granny, or defenceless children because of the threat they posed. This is the voice of offended whites who complain that they are being discriminated against and can’t get jobs. This is the voice of corporations whose profit margins decrease and are then ‘forced’ to pay people less than a living wage. And this voice can only exist in the world where blame is the currency and accountability is avoided at all cost.
We have to get used to the sound of our own voices owning up, taking responsibility, being accountable. We have to start this ourselves. It is hard. We need to be brave. We need to shift. It is the missing voice.
There are eight fantastic writers all writing on this topic this week. I am sure each post will be totally, outrageously different. Check out Trevor Black swartdonkey.blogspot.com/ for his, and then he will have a link to the next person. Read as many as you can, and let us know what you think.