(Written for the Daily Dispatch column, 14 April 2014 on print)
MY MOTHER on Sunday night said something to me over the telephone very similar to what I once overheard my grandmother say: “The world is ending!” I was 5-years-old and not ready for the world to end. It simply could not.
Then yesterday I read a similar view on a status update on the social networks. A bright young woman was scolding those saying the country was coming to an end with the removal of Cecil John Rhodes’ statue at the University of Cape Town.
I wondered why she cared enough to respond. I had overheard the same view but was not about to be bothered by those words.
But then my mother said: “When I saw the statue fall (on television), it seemed as though the world had come to an end.”
The evil xenophobic attacks in KwaZulu-Natal asserted that view.
But if a statue is representative of a specific perspective of a particular era, then its successful removal has surely only served to uncover what has always been.
Like the KZN naturists who made history on Easter weekend by celebrating what is apparently the first official nudist beach in Africa, our nakedness has been rudely laid bare for the world to see.
Afrikaans commentator Max du Preez has said that the rainbow nation is now more fractured than ever and called it a “mosaic nation”. I disagree. These events have simply uncovered the deep fault lines that were always there. The statues are, in fact, a false covering; beneath them lie uncomfortable issues that need to be addressed about land, poverty and wealth, race and ideology.
The statue conversation has been started by a generation that is demanding the decolonisation of spaces in favour of Afrocentric curricula and spaces. But even before the Rhodes statue had been removed xenophobia had lifted its hellish head in KZN.
Africans attacked other Africans.
What does this say about us as we seek to reclaim our identity? Are we so lost that we cannot recognise our own faces reflected in those we attack?
I was in the crowd when the Rhodes statue was lifted off the ground. I wonder if the shouting that day was like the shouting that sounded when Jericho’s walls fell.
It was truly the end of one world and the beginning of another. But this new world must be so African that we no longer see other Africans as foreigners who must be burnt. We need to remember who we are – because right now we are the ones behaving like foreigners in Africa.
The world has been coming to an end since I came into the world. I would like to believe that with the born frees, a new world is emerging. But it is one that needs to be nurtured tenderly.
The road to democracy was as polarised as the statue conversations are. But anger, belittling of others, complacency and racism will only poison our potential.
We need to be creating new spaces that are not painful reminders of the past but a celebration of a shared future.
That 50 000 young people from across the nation across all lines of politics and race are expected to meet in Newlands Stadium to mark our 21st Freedom Day is surely a sign of hope, evidence of what is to come.