This is year 2017. South Africa is celebrating 23 years of democracy. Many South Africans who were of voting age in 1994 will remember the anticipation in the build up to 27 April 1994. This is when for the very first time all South Africans had the right to vote. Some were anxious about what the unknown held. Many more were feeling victorious at the final arrival of freedom in their lifetime. Do you remember where you were on that day? Do you remember what your thoughts and feelings were? Do you remember who were you with on that historical day? It is the nature of celebration that allows the eye of the mind to revisit the time and place of the celebrated event. So go ahead and reminisce. Enjoy your celebration of South Africa’s 23rd year of freedom. It is an important milestone in our collective history.
Over the years and months since 1994, the architecture of our legal institutions have been tested. It is as if every conceivable event to test if they will indeed stand, has been brought to us as a gift, to see if indeed these institutions will stand. Their resilience has been phenomenal. So if there is nothing else that is worth celebrating during this month of SA’s Freedom month, it is the resilient democratic institutions that have stood the tested of time and the test of fortitude. They are still standing, firm enough to weather attempts at destabilization of our young democracy. Let’s be proud for a moment!
The recent cabinet reshuffle and related socio-political changes have stunned the nation and indeed the world. They have created a degree of instability that threatens what was fought for and achieved in the build up towards 1994. However, those very reshuffle events have become an unwitting unifier for South Africans across diverse walks of life. Beyond the boarders of the country, South Africans are also united in making their voices heard about these recent changes. This un-planned for unity comes at a time when South Africans were increasingly becoming polarized, particularly along race lines – where an increase in racial confrontations was reported with every passing week. Do you remember that? So the unwitting unifier of recent changes can be viewed as a positive thing. This unwitting unifier galvanizes national action towards a common goal – namely that of restoring order and calm in our land.
But while many are unified in the face of instability, each individual deals with the recent changes in their own unique way. Individuals might find themselves in one or more of the five broad phases of dealing with change of this magnitude:
Shock: and disbelief at suddenness and drastic-ness of the cabinet reshuffle
Anger: at the non consultative nature in which these events took place, anger at the impact of the changes on foreign direct investment, anger ultimately at the implications for ordinary lives and related bread and butter issues
Mental negotiation: I refer to this third phase as the “what if” phase. It is made up of thinking through all sorts of possibilities that have brought us to this point – if a different president had been at the helm, would these changes have occurred? If we had embarked on mass action sooner, would things have deteriorated to this level? If and if and if… so the phase goes on.
Anxiety/ depression: This phase is made up of feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and sadness about the status quo. Irritability and general unwellness of emotions is common. Motivation levels wane, lethargy sets in. In extreme instances, normal day to day functioning is negatively affected
Acceptance: Having gone through the preceding four stages, one makes peace with the events but is also thinking more rationally about where to from here. Energy tends to be directed at actions to mitigate the negative impact of changes.
While most people can be in more than one phase at a time, it is important to recognize where one is at, so as to pay homeage to your journey of dealing with the changes.
So what does this all mean for South Africans – both within the country and those abroad? It means we all need to be clear about our call to action. What is this call to action though?
- Focus on what you can control, let go of things that are beyond your sphere of influence. Your voice for example what you can and eventually do with your voice is your responsibility
- Be careful not to allow your passion to undermine the liberties of others who do not agree with what you feel strongly about. Remember that they too and their dignity are protected by the very same constitution that protect yours. In other words while protesting against one man who is chopping away at the fabric of what many have died to achieve, do not be offensive. Hurling insults simply lessens your moral high ground
- Intentionally work to create awareness to the next generation of how 27 April came about, how it nearly never happened as we stood at the brink of a civil war and that’s how we got dubbed the miracle rising. Remind them that their destiny does not have to be defined by decisions of government. Rather their destiny can shape government and transcend it, towards a new and democratic reality
- Continuously reflect on how in your corner of the universe you can contribute meaningful – through your tradecraft, through your demonstration, through your faithfulness to your purpose. Managing the changes within yourself are just as important as mitigating the changes outside of yourself
Let’s make this Freedom month a month of reflection of how far we’ve come and how much further we need to go to make a success of the once admired rainbow nation. Are you in? I’m certainly in!