North star on a midnight sky

Konke kuzolunga

Author: AM Scott

Words fail often really. At times, our language just doesn’t fit our expressive needs. That’s when we borrow from others. We loan words and phrases, like “nachas” when we are bursting with pride at the achievements of our children or “lekker” when the temperature reaches a perfect 21o on a lazy, Sunday afternoon. Only South Africans will understand reference to someone’s “babbalas”, or ask for a “dinges” in the hardware store and exclaim, “Eish!” when astounded, or “Ja, well… no, fine,” when perplexed and unsure.

2020 is a “Ja, well… no, fine” kind of year.

Covid & Co. brings us reflections that need succinct language to communicate their essence. Certain people might describe their unique and personal learnings as positive. For some, the lockdown highlights the need to “chill”, reset, slow down, be still, live in the now, not the “just now” or “now now”. Many are innovating or developing different skills to get around the limitations of regulations in our new normal. For others, loneliness, depression and “angst” borne out of isolation and social distancing are presenting as intrapersonal confrontations, which demand unprecedented personal resilience. Ironically, with so many people actively experiencing the negative mental health impact of the quarantine, there may be a positive spin out of this. It seems that there is less stigma and more empathy towards those who suffer from mental health difficulties generally as this aspect of the pandemic trends on social media and talk shows or webinars.

Our personal lives are rocked without exception. Trauma is described as an event or experience where there is plausible risk to life and safety. COVID-19 threatens us all. Our masks shout out ‘protect yourself’. We are all traumatised and recovering to some extent. Our collective existence is shaken too. South Africa is plummeting into its unique circumstance, like any other country is into theirs. Hours into the lockdown, chasms of inequality in our nation screamed louder than ever. Over the weeks, politicians showed their true colours, shamelessly and brazenly. Historically inept officials and their dysfunctional departments could not operate let alone lead through the crisis. Special announcements on Channel 405 are met with skepticism in most quarters. Sadly, stories of escalating violence and social ills abound, where women and children face their own domestic war running rampant and unfettered in an ongoing, parallel national disaster. Currently, mouths are fed, children schooled, women protected, the elderly and the sick attended to because ordinary citizens are kind to one another and are mobilising in response to the humanitarian need. Truth be told, we are going to have to rely on one another for a lot longer. We must be the “I” in kind. The president was right when he said, “It is in our hands.”

The disruptive events of the year to date, of which the pandemic has been only one, arguably bring us to a point of greater appreciation for community and social connectedness. There is opportunity for us to live out “ubuntu”, or our humanity towards others. Perhaps we have learned that propaganda is real and fake news abounds; that we should engage critical thinking diligently now and always. Hopefully, a greater appreciation for artists, faith communities, musicians, educators, health care providers and essential service workers is developing. It would be wonderful if we found value in one another not measured on a scale of wealth.

It is possible that we are learning to live certain of uncertainty and that the hazy, blurry vision of our short and long term reality rattles us less. Our need to self-determine, to function independently and to own our future is challenged perpetually. Our ability to relinquish control over that which we have no dominion is developing. Some might ask what normal is anyway, and what of our previous existence do we want to return to, if at all?

We are pointing back to our North Star, our deep set value system and our sense of purpose in this life.

So, “ja”, in many instances, we have found one another and embraced every opportunity to reach out to help each other through the crisis; “well…”, we can’t commit to hope in the future but we know we must find our way to do so; “no”. we won’t roll over; and, “fine”, we will surrender to what we cannot control yet rise up to push back where we can; to counter injustice, corruption and despair; to care for others; to deploy our talent; to innovate; to build a brighter future. That’s what South Africans do.

That’s #speakSAup. That’s “gees”. And if we do it with all our might, “konke kuzolunga” – everything will be alright.

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