I am going to try and write my feelings out about my experience at, and around yesterday’s #ZumaMustFallMarch even though they are mixed, and confusing and emotional and probably even unfair to some extent. I am going to try and write them out and then think of a course of action for myself. I am desperate for a political path, voice and action.
Yesterday I woke up in a state of terrified paralysis. I had felt the creeping approach of the terror in the days preceding, ever since Facebook had publicised the event; the gathering, a picnic here in Cape Town, to protest against Zuma and his firing of Nhlanhla Nene. My first thoughts about that had been, people will laugh at us. We will be the laughing stock. Then there was going to be another march, an actual march, not a picnic. People asked, on Facebook and twitter, was this the real march? Was this instead of the picnic? Was this in place of the gathering to honour the Arch, Tutu? And every time I looked I noticed that the conversation here, in Cape Town, was very, particularly white. I should have known. I should have known, since I had marched with about 250 others against corruption, and, regardless of what anyone says, that had been a dismal failure. However, I had been intense and jealous about the magnificent, organic, dangerous student protests that I so badly wanted to be part of. Those student protests had given me hope, energy, a new commitment, and a view of the potential change we could engender. Maybe?
Here is an excerpt from an email I wrote to my best friend overseas yesterday.
I have woken up totally scared today. I am frozen with indecision. Do I march knowing that I do so alongside white racists who know not their own bullshit selves? Do I stay at home on this pseudo day of reconciliation and drink a healthy dose of denial with my tea? I feel like anything I do, or don’t do, has the potential to fuel a rage and hate and support an otherness. We live in a time of maximum suspicion and cynicism. We live in a time of separation and bitterness.
See, I did know. I knew. We walked the dogs and on the way I spoke to Big Friendly about my total indecision. Good people were going to be marching; people I care about, but all of them were white, and this made no sense. I believed in the cause of the march, of that there was no doubt, but I did doubt the efficacy of a march, particularly one on a public holiday, that meant that most people would have more of an issue getting into town, and it would be an added expense, and most people longed for a public holiday to be with their families. A march isn’t a jolly family outing on a public holiday, like a parade, or carnival.
Big Friendly said some amazing things, when I finally let him speak. He reminded me that it was just a march. He said it was part of the process, not an event. He was pretty clear that he was not going to attend. I wish I had had that same clarity.
I came home in a state. As the time of the gathering drew nearer I started panicking. Would I forgive myself if I didn’t make an effort and go? I spoke to my brother who was on his way to the march in Jozi. We had always been marching buddies in the 80s. I longed to be in Jozi. I decided to go.
And here is where it gets interesting. Stop reading if you don’t want to hear my own, possibly self indulgent, navel gazing agony. I confess. I took an Uber into town. I knew that I wouldn’t find parking, because the people attending this march would be arriving in their vehicles, and not by public transport. I got out of the car outside parliament, already having shared my misgivings with the Zimbabwean Uber driver. It was clear. Everyone arriving and jostling for parking in their 4x4s was white. (I need to segue here and make it very clear, and double explain. Of course whites need to and must march, protest and be visible in their discontent, and of course, I am part of that. I am in fact white. But there is a deep and dangerous problem if it is only, or at least 95% white.)
I started walking up the road, and because I was on my own I picked up bits and pieces of conversation, and my pulse increased. “Did you speak to David? Did he say where we should meet?” Then, “Ja, bru, dis amazing, dis ongelooflik, maar dis fokken warm, kom ons gaan koop ‘n paar Redbulls.” Then, “Hey move out the way, I wanna take a selfie here, outside the National Gallery.” Then, “I made a booking for lunch at 1245, do you think we’ll be done by then?” I saw a man on a designer bicycle with an expensive shower head taped to his forehead. I saw another man carrying one. His wife was trying to take a picture of him but he didn’t know where to hold it. It was obvious he had never seen the cartoons. I heard, “This is what South Africa should be like.” I thought, 97% white? I tweeted it. It got retweeted 50 times by black twitter. White twitter was enraged and critical, calling me negative. Why did I have to make it about race?
I approached the crowd gathered in front of the Natural History Museum, searching for black faces. A group behind me started chanting “hamba Zuma hamba.” It was shrill. Women tried to find shade. I saw a black woman comforting her little girl who was crying. As I passed I heard her speak in a foreign accent. They were tourists, who had come to the company gardens on the wrong day. I couldn’t. I moved to the outskirts of the group as the speakers began. Some white guy, the organiser I presume, started warming up the crowd. The content of his speech was, enough is enough, and how amazing it was to see so many people from all walks of life. The cynic in me was, these people do not walk. I saw a couple I knew, and their baby. They were scurrying away. They had felt as uncomfortable as I was. We were embarrassed to be there.
I moved even further away and started crying. I was now back outside the gallery. I saw two more people I knew and burst into harder tears. They were just arriving. They had no idea what was happening to me. I decided to leave. I made my way back, moving in the opposite direction of the late comers still arriving. I was almost knocked over by a couple on their Vespa.
I bought water at a shop in Plein Street and sat outside and started tweeting. Young people were also already leaving the ‘march’. Their concentration for something like this was done. “I started the chant, did you hear?” said one girl in designer jeans to her mate who was scratching in her handbag for her phone. Two bearded boy hipsters came past on their skateboards. They were wearing matching black printed #ZumaMustFall t-shirts.
I waited outside the Kimberly Hotel for my Uber home. Morning drinkers mingled with ‘marchers’ at wooden tables on the pavement. Much more like the usual Cape Town CBD I know.
So, on reflection, what was my problem? Mainly, it was this. So many (not all, but a lot) of the white people I saw yesterday were gatvol and were marching for the first time ever. This was the march they chose to march. Not in solidarity with the poor, not against corruption, not for the environment, not for housing, or health or against poverty. Not ever before. And they were happy that there were so many white people there. They felt safe, and self righteous, and proud. And the amount of coloured and black people present (6% coloured and 0.5% black?) was very comfortable for all whites involved. And there was no understanding of the irony. I was told on twitter and Facebook that I should get over myself, and stop being negative, and that it was not about race, by white people. So, clearly, it is actually, 100% totally about race. And denying it is 100% the problem.
I have woken up in a different paralysis today. My instincts tell me to go into town and sign up and pay to become a legitimate and card carrying member of the ANC. Can change happen from within? Can I then justify my criticism of msholozi? Am I being naive and desperate, wanting to do anything to change my whining, complaining self into someone who acts? Am I ready to commit to this course of action and then suffer the shame of a party going to every length to justify even the most blatantly self serving and corrupt actions of number 1? Is this all about me? How can I better serve my beliefs and the people of this country?
What I do know is that this paralysis is terrible and terrifying and I need to shit or get off the pot. I am desperate for advice, engagement, discussion and action.