No Confidence in the No Confidence

No Confidence in the No Confidence

When i hear the words ‘secret ballot’ i immediately change them to ‘secret ballet’ and feel like there is some kind of underground mysterious quite-possibly-Russian dance extravaganza happening that i wasn’t invited to. And will there or won’t there be need for the traditional tutu?

But then i hear that it’s a No confidence vote in the president, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma and i instantly realise that his middle name is a lot more creative than mine, Peter. Which is my dad’s name. Which is cool in its own way, because i think my dad has left behind an incredible legacy. Mistakes aplenty, but someone who lived out what he believed. When i return to thoughts of Jacob Zuma, that is not the first thing that comes to mind.

Hence the vote of no confidence. Which, as my friend, Nathan Taylor declared brings us to this point:

There is no confidence in this vote of no confidence

We are at peak irony

To which i responded with this status:

So there in no chance that Zuma is going to be ousted by the No Confidence vote, we all get that.

Just like we all got that there was no chance of Brexit or Donald Trump becoming president. And we know how those ended up.

But also the Proteas and there really was no chance there. #SadFace

i think a lot of people think that if the Vote of No Confidence goes through then somehow all of South Africa’s problems will be solved and the magical rainbow will mysteriously appear, but there is not a lot of evidence for that – hard work done in the right direction by more and more people and communities through bridges being built and sacrifices being made [i’m looking at you golf spaces, and you holiday homes that stay vacant for much of the year, and churches who only use their buildings once or twice a week] and particularly steps being made towards those we see as ‘the other’ – which starts with learning an African language, looking at the mirror when it comes to living wage vs minimum wage that we pay people who work for us, examining our thoughts, words and actions when it comes to privilege and racism and sexism and a whole lot more.

But i think movement on the ground is going to trump [yes, yes, i did that] movement from the top and while both would be preferred, we don’t have to wait til the top changes to get moving from the bottom.

My bottom line being, i think, that if you are cheering loudly for the removal of Zuma but not engaged in any kind of activity or investment in rebuilding or dismantling or creating or critiquing and probably a number of different things in those areas, starting with yourself and moving out, then you are a noisemaker, nothing more.

It starts with me, and we, and us. 

The end of Zuma will not be the rainbow we were all looking for [which by the way is just an illusion – sun glinting off water or something like that and you know how our water is looking right now…]

Here are some simple thoughts of ways we can help bring that elusive rainbow closer:

[1] Be intentional in terms of prioritising and building your friendships with people who don’t look like you. One way to do this if you are white is to become very aware of the spaces you inhabit – if your gym, church, workspace, store where you buy groceries, neighbourhood is full of white people then consider moving somewhere else. If you live in an all white suburb for example [hello, Cape Town!] and you say that you are serious about change, then unless the rest of your life is absolutely drenched with people who don’t look like you, i don’t think i believe you.

But changing gym, church, store where you buy groceries and places you hang out is a lot easier to do in the meantime. So work on those things. Work on who is invited to sit around your dinner table or hang out at your public holiday braai. Or whether something other than a braai might even be a better idea for the people you are wanting to gather.

[2] Create spaces for honest conversation. tbV and i have hosted a number of Deep Diver Dinner Conversations in different parts of the country and have always seen some level of depth at these events in different ways. Questions being asked, stories being shared, frustrations and struggles being laid bare and so on. You can invite us to host one with you, or you can be less informal and just invite a bunch of diverse people around for a meal. This is not rocket science stuff – it is taking a step towards the ‘other’.

If you’re a parent then get your children talking about the country. My friend Joanne Peers is excellent in terms of how she looks to grow her children up within the context they are living, not apart from it and i hope i can get her to write a piece for me sometime. But talk to your children about diversity, learn a new language with them, get them to invite their friends who don’t look like them and possibly their families too around for dinners and things. Speak life and love and co-operation and unity and celebration of diversity [please don’t teach your children to be colourblind – that is nonsense!] and journey on these things together.

[3] Look in the mirror. What is there in my life that needs to change. When we came back from Americaland and i started entering more race conversations one thing i knew i needed to do was catch up on an alternative history of South Africa and start reading some local writers who don’t look like me – start with Robert Sobukwe’s ‘How Can Man Die Better?’ and give Steve Biko’s ‘I Write What I Like’ a chance to transform your thinking. But also Antjie Krog’s ‘Country of my Skull’ to get a glimpse into the happenings of the TRC. If you are a novel reader, extend your reach to stories written by Africans as there is some amazing talent all over the continent.

Look at the words you use – if you are still calling a 50 year old man who works in your garden ‘boy’ for example, you need to STOP THAT. Look at the spaces you are part of creating – if people who don’t look like you feel the need to speak differently, look differently, act differently to fit in with you, then that needs to be dismantled and reworked and transformed.

Look at the privilege you have – not to feel guilty, but to see if there are any advantages that you have purely based on the luck of your birth or skin colour, that you can leverage to help assist those who haven’t had the same advantages. Not as a saviour who swoops in to save the day but someone who walks alongside someone else in a way that helps both lives to look a little more balanced and even.

i have a short series of videos called ‘Race with me’ that you can watch and share and discuss if you need some other ideas about privilege or if you want to chat to your children about any of these things.

If you employ someone to clean your house, look after your children or take care of your garden, then look at the way you treat them a little more closely. Are you paying them a living wage over a minimum wage? What is the cost to their family life for them to work for you? Is there any way you can work to transform that? Is this the dream job that person had or is there a way that you can work with them to help them move towards that in terms of some kind of study or skills or whatever. Do they get holidays and opportunity to go to their children’s special events? Be creative. Listen and learn and act.

[4] Develop a #NotOnOurWatch mindsetThis is a commitment to interrupt racism [and sexism and other negative isms] when you see them acted out in front of you, both online and offline. A friend makes a racist joke – you step in. A family member calls the cleaning woman ‘girl’ – you confront her. A colleague speaks down to someone in the office who doesn’t look like you – you intervene. A stranger starts shouting at a car guard and using his privilege power to bully – you insert yourself into the situation. A restaurant manager tries to move a black family so that a white family can have their table, you make a scene! Your farmer friend tries to put a young guy in a wooden coffin YOU STEP IN THERE AND SAY “THAT IS NOT OKAY!”

There are various different ways to do this but with incidents being reported on a regular basis, the more often the more of us commit to getting involved and letting people know “that is not okay” – gently or otherwise – the sooner we can move on from those kinds of things being the norm.

[5] Stop making excuses. No one is saying it is all your fault personally, whatever colour you are. Stop being so defensive when there are conversations about ‘white privilege’ and terms like ‘white tears’, ‘white fragility’ and ‘give back the land’ are spoken, quite possibly with some creative keyboard characters – #&!$% – in between. But rather see it as an opportunity to be quiet and Listen. Rule number one for all of us in this crazy country context right now [see all the alliteration it is producing!] is to Listen more. You can never get into trouble by listening too much. Unless you have your ears right up to the speakers and Megadeth is playing at full volume, but then just stoppit.

If you’re on the Facebook then join a group like This Dialogue Thing, Rainbow Racist Rehab or Know the Past to Walk Justly Into The Future and really just listen. Try and hear the pain that is being shared as well as hearing what kind of struggles are being faced or frustrations felt.

Do whatever it takes to be part of a community of people who are committed to change.

And then, you can get excited about a vote of no confidence in the president – because imagine if all of this stuff really was happening from both sides…

But don’t you dare cheer the vote of no confidence or join the one particular march that affects you economically or wear black when it suits you, if you are not prepared to get more deeply involved in the ways and places and areas where you can and should be making a difference.

[This post is littered with links to other posts that have been written on the different things i’ve been writing about here so click on some of them and learn some more and if you are interested in more posts written specifically to the South African context in the last while, then click here]

If you found this helpful, please share on your social media and tag your friends and let’s get talking about and moving on these things…

About the Author:

Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world’s most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn’t bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.

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