By: Beverley Dias
I was just four months old when the Soweto uprising of 1976 took place, so I have no recollection of the landmark event which lent significance to the year of my birth. In defiance to being taught in Afrikaans, around ten thousand learners from Soweto high schools took to the streets to make their intentions known. The aftermath: bloodshed and loss of lives; the apartheid government of the day being seen by the world for what it truly represented and, nonetheless, a victory through the pain and loss. When I was old enough to fully comprehend the impact of this milestone in our history, I felt gratitude for the sacrifices made for me and future generations, although we still had a long way to go. The famous Sam Nzima photograph of Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying a dying Hector Pieterson, with his sister, Antoinette Sithole running alongside is probably the most famous image which captured the essence of the occasion and resonated with people around the world. For me, this image personifies the ‘he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother’ ideal. It speaks volumes about camaraderie and collective success; upliftment and encouragement; all for one and one for all. Sadly, it seems we dropped the ball somewhere and each runner is headed for the finish line solo, eyes on the prize and no intention of sharing the spoils of victory.
Somewhere in our quest for personal glory, we forgot about ‘united we stand, divided we fall’. I grew up in an era where it took a community to raise a child and winning meant that everyone held the title. Now, we make our way out of the ghetto and never go back to pull others out. Our narrow mindedness is the reason why the broader Black community is stagnant. We hog the corner office and it never occurs to us to mentor our potential successors to keep flying the flag when we bow out one day. I was part of a debate where the topic was why Black people’s progress is so slow when we have so much at our disposal. Needless to say, there was concensus on one embarrassing fact. We do not support each other! We are quick to cry foul at other races for nepotism and favouritism, yet we fail to extend a hand to our own. We have a crippling fear of assisting a fellow brother or sister, lest they succeed and exceed our own achievements. My neighbour’s child could be the perfect candidate for the internship at my company, but if they get in, they could quickly climb the ladder and leave me on the bottom rung. When I uncover a winning formula, I keep it to myself and dangle my success in the face of others. All the while, other races are pulling their own onto the bandwagon and pretty soon everyone is singing the same song. We look down the bridges of our upturned noses in disdain at our brothers on the ground who are out of sync with our rhythm. We pass judgement because it is free of charge and tramp on the heads of others on our way to the summit. Ubuntu is an overused term because it is en vogue, but we fail to practice it in its simplest form. We sit on soapboxes, but we have blood on our hands and until the day we understand that many hands make light work, we will forever be a nation overshadowed by the dark cloud of untapped potential and spotlight gluttony.
I hope that one day we will heed the call to do what we can, where we are, with what we have. I pray that our awakening comes sooner rather than later and that we start to view progress as a collective endeavour, not a luxury for the privileged few. I beckon the spirits of our predecessors to re-install the mindsets which were erased perhaps by oppression, that we may be restored to the beings we once were, who thrived on symbiotic relations which elevated the masses. It is possible and although it might take a while, it can be achieved.