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Johannesburg - Anybody can be angry; that is easy. But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.
This pearl of wisdom by Aristotle is not only most relevant now, but talks to the asymmetry of our emotions and actions about the multitude of things that rile South Africans today.
In the past few weeks, many South Africans have had cause to be angry, to vent, to go out in the streets and protest about what we do to each other.
The world has watched and recorded for posterity our reactions. Others have sought to understand us, while some used this as an opportunity not only to point out the fault lines of our so-called miracle nation, but to show how divided a house we remain. It didn’t help that we had bigots like Henke Pistorius in our midst, who blamed the ANC for white folks’ problems.
As a people, we have poured our hearts out following the senseless killing of Anene Booysen and the pointlessness of her mutilation. We have been angry, perhaps too angry, at the unnecessary violence with which criminals rob us of our loved ones. Mido Macia stands out as a recent example of how cruel, perhaps barbaric, we can be to one another. We’ve been mortified by the vanity at display when some youngsters were arrested following their rape of baby Dikeledi, calling her, at age five, a slut.
Others have been angered by the damage that Oscar Pistorius’s killing of Reeva Steenkamp has caused our country. Alex Perry’s deeply flawed summation of our serious challenges in Time magazine stands as one such example.
Well, my dear friends, it is easy. Anybody can be angry. There are too many things that one can point at if one wanted a source of, or justification for, one’s anger.
The challenge though is how that anger, if it’s of the right degree, is channelled. Much of what ails us as a people is that when we become angry, our anger becomes directionless. Plato, Aristotle’s student, teaches that “there are two things a person should never be angry at: what they can help, and what they cannot.
It is, therefore, too simplistic to say we are merely an angry people. The issue is what gets us angry and why certain things that should make us angry do not. Why does our anger manifest only when it is time to unleash wanton destruction?
Service delivery protests and concomitant destruction of community centres come to mind. We bottle up our anger. We do not seek to correct, in time, before we unleash chaos.
Take the story we published last week about a priest, Justin Masombuka, who sent SMSes to a 13-year-old with whom he had sexual relations. He asked the girl why she was not happy after “sex” – well rape if you consider her age – and she responded: “I was happy, but after we made love, I felt bad because of the way I go on and on about how sore it is when you come in and I get sad… and mourn about the pain”. For many out there, it was just a story. There was no anger against Masombuka. This is a man of the cloth.
This is someone who is supposed to be our moral compass. Yet he rapes girls. On Sundays, he tells his congregation how Jesus was a great man, how virtue is important. During the week, he is busy with a girl. Our anger escapes us. This has become a statistic. And ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa tells us with a straight face that it is to the church that we must look for our salvation.
When eight police officers appear in court today for tying Macia behind a police van, assaulting him and dragging him down a tar road to his death, many of us, comfortable in our middle-class existence, will watch in horror. But, sadly, it will not be enough to jolt us into action.
Yet it is to the very killer cops that we must look for protection, safety and justice. These very people who gifted us the Marikana massacre, Andries Tatane, the Catz Pyjamas attacks in Melville et al. To cap it all, they’re the very ones who, when a helpless woman came to report domestic abuse against her man, found it in them to undress her and feast themselves.
What we do, when these incidents are reported, is opt for the easy part: we get angry. We condemn. We hope someone elsewhere will stand up and do something.
Yet, Aristotle taught us, what we need is to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way.
Let me be clear: we should indeed be angry at the police, at the pastors who rape, at Henke Pistorius and also at Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.
We have way too many people looking for buckets every time they experience the urge to relieve themselves. You have way too many people in Zandspruit, Alexandra and many other areas in Gauteng without services that accord people some modicum of dignity. You would imagine that someone like Mokonyane, our alleged Mama Action, would have motherly empathy, would know that ostentatious display in the midst of so much want is bad. Yet she finds it fit to budget R7 million for renovations to her already palatial house and says nothing about those who relieve themselves in buckets in her province. How insensitive can you be? What kind of renovations require R7m?
It doesn’t help that many of us do nothing with the anger we express. To be angry in the manner suggested by Aristotle means that we need to support those raped by the priests, find something more than just to condemn Henke Pistorius and to make the spendthrift that is Mokonyane know that to prioritise her own luxurious existence without a care for the poor comes at a cost.
Without consequences, the police will continue to give us more victims. Each year, there is a commemoration of Tatane, of the Marikana victims, of Mido Macia. Who will be next?
If we can do something about the things that make us angry, if we can move beyond just condemning, if we can take concrete steps to ensure there is no repeat of the things that made us angry in the first place, then, my friends, we have learnt something from Aristotle and Plato.
* Makhudu Sefara is the editor of The Star. Follow him on Twitter @Sefara_Mak