The law enforcement teams are unleashed on the ravaging violence that consumes our land. Everyone sits, glued to their televisions, watching the chaos unfold. In the distance, the sound of sirens wailing and gunshots pierce the air, shattering whatever mirage or sense of safety we might have, tightly locked up in our homes. We are not safe, and we know it.
What started as a fight for one man’s freedom has evolved into a nations unrest. Monsters from within unfurling their bitter tongues. Tongues, made of fire, that licks at every corner and leaves every building scathed.
“Jacob Zuma has been found guilty of contempt of court and has been sentenced to fifteen months behind bars. Officials say he has until Wednesday night to hand himself in,” the voice reverberated and resounded through the country. It was this voice that plunged our beloved land into heart-breaking chaos.
“It is getting so bad out there, we might not have access to groceries and petrol soon,” Priyanka says with grave concern looming over her features.
“Do we have enough food stocked up to last us for the next couple of weeks?” her mom asks, panic gripping her from within.
“Yes, well, luckily I did a monthly shop about two weeks ago. But what about those out there that aren’t as lucky as we are?”
Mikaeel walks into the room. He is heavily involved in community development and the community policing forum. “It’s getting bad out there. What started off as a protest to release Zuma, has turned into an opportunistic free-for-all.”
“What do you mean?” his wife asks, cross-legged sitting on the bed nursing their infant child.
“It started as a political ploy, or at least that’s what the idea was. Then, the criminal element got involved and looting began. Then, with our poverty and unemployment rate that has increased with the pandemic, the poor jumped on the band-wagon to feed their families. That I understand, but then additional criminal elements got involved and the looting stopped having limits. It wasn’t just groceries that were taken but also TV sets, furniture, we even saw them breaking into the blood bank donor centre.”
Priyanka watches her husband get ready to join community members on the front line in attempts to protect the residential area in which they live. Their attempts to, as a community, protect what they have worked so hard to build up. She watches him don his bullet proof vest over his multi-layered jersey that will protect him from the cold. She watches him strap on the holsters for his guns, and stock up on his ammunition in his back pockets. He reaches for the closet handle, undoing the multiple locks with metal clinking against itself, before reaching the fire-proof safe buried deep within the closet. From there, he pulls out his multiple weapons, ensuring the safety is turned on on each of the guns. He tightly secures his knife, a last resort, to his outer thigh. It really looks as though he is a soldier preparing for battle.
Watching her husband sends her back in time where she has watched this same sight so often in her younger years. More than 20 years ago, she sat cross-legged at the foot of her parent's bed and watched her dad get ready for battle. It was a different time and the battles her father fought were vastly different from the one her husband was preparing to fight.
Attending political rallies that were deemed illegal by the apartheid regime, Priyanka’s father had become a notorious activist and freedom fighter. Because of the role he played in the fight for freedom, he was a sought after figure, even by the oppositions who made sure to keep eyes on his place of residence, his place of work, and even his children’s school.
But the battles he was involved in ran deep. It ran in the blood of the black man that was slaughtered by extreme right-wing white supremacists. It ran deep in his own soul and his own mind, the idea that he doesn’t want his sons to be called on by their political leaders to fight a war that he himself could win. It ran deep in his heart as the idea that his light skinned wife could sit with him in public without police separating them because their skin colour didn’t match, according to sick and twisted political standards.
With that motivation, her dad fought. His blood watered the soil of this nation, his sweat built up what would’ve only been a dream if they did not succeed. But they did.
Or did they?
Now, decades on, the same political powers that her dad so fervently fought for is divided among itself. One man’s arrest has sent the divided population fighting against themselves and against a president that they themselves elected; looting and destroying stores in which their brothers and sisters work; in the name of poverty and justice, the criminal element runs wild, all while the deadly pandemic prowls through and grips the heart of the nation.
Once again, the streets flow with blood. A nation cries out to the leaders that once brought it out of the depths of racial discrimination. And here we all are, equal, above the surface, fighting and destroying ourselves. Those who fought to give us this freedom are below the surface, their struggles tainted by the chaos the we create.
The tears well in Priyanka’s eyes as she watches the same scene, once again, under very different circumstances. In that moment, all hope seemingly out of her reach, she loses faith in what her father once fought for. She loses faith in the institution of freedom and democracy. If he were alive today, her father would be anything but proud. And not just him, but hundreds and thousands people who fought for a freedom that ends in poverty, corruption and ultimately culminates in the nation destroying itself. On the ground level, it is the children and grandchildren of those who fought for us. And yet here we are, disregarding everything our ancestors have done and sacrificed for us, all in the name of freedom. The freedom of a corrupt man.
The irony is a loud, blaring wail, that comes from the throats and chests of the people crying out for a help. Those throats and chests made vulnerable and weak by the powerful fist of Covid-19.
“I don’t think you should go. I don’t think you should be in harm’s way to protect something that might not have any gratitude in the years to come,” she tells her husband, the pleading in her silent cries are almost deafening.
“I know. I know that’s what it might seem like. But I am doing this for love. Because I love you and our son. And because I love the land in which we live. And if twenty years ago, you begged your dad not to go because this is what would happen in the future, he would tell you the same thing. I’m going to do it for love, for the world and the country I want my son to live in,” the words of her husband shatters the mirage of a war ravaged country and peels back the surface of a young and immature nation being led by those who are trying their utmost best.
We are all new to this freedom thing.
But alas, through it all, the chaos, the violence, the heartache and the fear, on the television, she sees an old lady with a broom in hand. Amidst the chaos and a ransacked mess that seems to flood the street, in a wave of overwhelming and never ending looting, the old lady begins sweeping and cleaning the mess left in the wake of the disaster. A task far too great for one woman’s hands. But still, there is hope.
Cry, my beloved country, for with your tears, we will grow. We will rise.
[This story is written in light of the events taking place in South Africa at the moment. Please keep our nation and our beloved country in your thoughts and prayers.]