Cape Town real estate entrepreneur Jarette Petzer who started the Facebook page #ImStaying. Picture: Supplied
Cape Town real estate entrepreneur Jarette Petzer who started the Facebook page #ImStaying. Picture: Supplied
The Facebook page #ImStaying.
The Facebook page #ImStaying.
Durban - What is up with the South African psyche that one Facebook page can change much of the national social media conversation from negativity and despair to hope and love?

#ImStaying, which Cape Town real estate entrepreneur Jarette Petzer started this month, had by late yesterday acquired 250000 members, and touched many hearts.

“I didn’t realise how desperately hungry my soul was for a post like this,” read a post shared by Faith Jannaway. According to a KZN psychologist, who did not wish to be named for professional reasons, the success of #ImStaying is probably because of confirmation bias.

“That is, when human beings struggle with a dilemma, when a lot is at stake, and they have to make a choice, they need encouragement in support of that choice,” he said.

He said the reverse was probably happening in Auckland, Sydney and London among groups who say “we did the right thing by emigrating”.

The psychologist added that in spite of it not being a litmus test result of the psyche of this nation, it was “heartening”. This week, the launch of #ImStaying prompted a Daily Maverick analysis article titled “the Economic Power of Good News”.

“Why is this so important?” analyst Sharon Wood wrote in the online publication. “Not only is the stream of positive news about South Africa in this small, but growing online community encouraging, but it is also a keen reminder that it is confidence that builds economies and nations.

“That is why consumer and business confidence indices are viewed as such important leading economic indicators the world over.”

Petzer said he started #ImStaying after an epiphany while feeling desperate about the state of South Africa, then deciding he was being more part of the problem than the solution.

He said he sourced some “cool scenery shots and local South African jokes” to accompany his message to encourage people to tell their positive stories. “Within an hour 600 people became members. Then it became 1000 a day, then 1000 an hour.”

People were feeling fuzzy about it even before the numbers reached their present level.

Last Sunday, Karen Grobelaar posted: “Just imagine all 82000 of us having a braai together? Kids playing, music, laughter, hugs, joy, sunshine, fires, good food and really good company. Can you picture that?”

In addition to Petzer having to expand his team of 15 volunteer moderators, to check that posts exclude bullying and any banter related to politics and religion, he plans to make #ImStaying a catalyst to entrepreneurship and job creation.

“I’ve not fleshed it out 100% yet. I am still busy with initial discussions,” he said, adding that they involved “people who are smarter than me” who had come to the party.

Meanwhile, the posts flood in with testimonies ranging from people receiving help from Good Samaritans after running out of petrol on remote Free State roads to Mokoma Maake’s, “The positivity here is contagious, I love it. Hello everyone.”

And Quinton Stander’s: “So let’s talk race and division, for the past four years I’ve been working in a plant where I am the only white guy on my shift, all my colleagues are of a different ethnicity (mostly black).

“Before I started working there I had no idea how to approach them, as I was raised in a different culture and environment and I was always aware of the ‘division’ among races and cultures that I saw all around me growing up.

“All I can and want to say is, we are only as divided as we WANT to be. We’ve shared stories and made jokes, the one guy I work with (Molefi Mamatela) calls me Skhokho (maestros) and he is one of the best people I have ever met.

“We had a work function and we had a braai at one of the guy’s houses in the location, his wife chased everyone out of the kitchen and let me make sauce for the pap. Now the entire shift gets along perfectly, we help each other with personal stuff and we are more like brothers. There is a lot of stories I can share, but I’m not going to post a book here. My point with this post is that it doesn’t matter what stigma or illusion the government or the hateful racists put before us, coming together and learning about each other we will see that we are all human, God just painted us differently. I f*****g love this country!”

Then there was Preshalya Govender, who like many others, wrote about reaching out. “I went to Fordsburg yesterday and drove straight to the tailor I go to all the time. I rolled my window down and was hit by all the wonderful food smells on Mint Road. As I left the tailor I couldn’t help but make a stop.

“Bought three containers of vegetable breyani and went on my way. As I walked to my car I noticed a man sitting on the pavement, not only did he look like he’s had a hard life, not only did he look hungry and tired but he just looked sad. Really, really sad. I greeted him, ‘Good morning sir’ and it took every bit of strength he had to look up and greet me back. I handed him two of the breyani containers and he received it warmly. Tears then came rolling down his cheeks without any effort, and I shed a few too. I gave him some tissues to wipe his face and I told him, ‘I hope you enjoy it because it’s really delicious and I’ll be thinking of you when I have mine too’.

“I will never know what he’s had to face, how much he’s had to give up, how hard he’s had to work, who he’s lost, what he may be grieving over or the depth of the sacrifices he’s made.

“But in that moment we connected as human beings and that’s why.” Angel Jones, chief executive of of Homecoming Revolution, which aims to bring expatriates home, said: “We are very excited that our beloved country’s narrative is becoming more balanced. It is great to see people from all walks of life coming together to celebrate our motherland. Let’s not lose the momentum.”

The Independent on Saturday