A train burns at Muizenberg station after angry commuters went on the rampage in  2015. File picture: Michael Walker/African News Agency (ANA)
A train burns at Muizenberg station after angry commuters went on the rampage in 2015. File picture: Michael Walker/African News Agency (ANA)

Destructive, volcanic and mean-spirited: South Africa is an angry nation

By WILLIAM GUMEDE Time of article published Jul 1, 2019

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South Africa is an angry nation. Destructive, volcanic and mean-spirited anger has become legitimised. Chronic mass societal anger undermines democracy, social cohesion and peace.

South Africans at almost every level: individual, community and public - generally feel threatened.

Individuals are angry within personal relations, whether because of unequal power, unreasonableness of partners or because of disappointed expectations.

Workplaces are angry places. Bullying managers, inconsiderate colleagues and threats of job losses keep people continuously teetering on the brink. Everyday racism, tribalism and sexism riles.

In neighbourhoods violent gangsters threaten the safety of law-abiding individuals, families and communities. Many travel to work daily in dilapidated taxis often driven by violent drivers with little care for the lives of their passengers.

Trains are rarely on time, unreliable and unsafe. Motorists drive violently. Road rages are now routine, violent and increasingly deadly.

Political leaders are running the country because of their supposed “struggle” seniority.

In many cases competent people are excluded from appointments in public, private sector or politics because of their gender, colour or lack of “political connectedness”; while incompetents in charge destroy the well-being, futures and sense of self of all South Africans.

Elected representatives and public officials freely loot public resources leading to the collapse of hospitals, schools and closure of companies; which in turn leads to job losses, loss of opportunities and broken families.

Pent-up anger causes differences in everyday encounters regularly exploding into anger. Political discourse is conducted angrily. Populists are exploiting the angry by stoking further divisions.

Adult angry behaviour is becoming normalised; and is being passed on to children. Not surprisingly, there have been rising incidents of child anger turning into deadly violence in schools, playgrounds and homes.

Anger is a human trait that biologically serves as a protection from harm, to force change and to secure or provide a sense of control. The challenge is how to express anger in non-violent ways.

Anger is increasingly expressed in violent protests, destruction of public buildings and mob justice against suspected criminals.

US researcher James Averill in the 1970s showed in research that if people expressed their anger in non-violent ways, others will understand their anger better, and are likely to co-operate with them more easily.

The African-American rights leader Martin Luther King said that “it is not enough for people to be angry”, the challenge is to make “anger a transforming force”.

How can anger be turned into constructive action? At the individual level greater self-awareness, self-care and sense of purpose are crucial.

South Africans of all colours appear to be culturally inclined to bottle things in. Within intimate relationships individuals have to regularly express their personal expectations, worries and their toleration limits.

As individuals we have to learn to become kinder, more caring and more considerate to others, and ourselves. In the everyday struggles for survival self-care must remain paramount.

Become the leader, you seek in others. Do get involved in community activities to create safe spaces, for oneself, and others.

Organise community park runs, festivals and get-togethers. If every community established a community police forum, it would greatly help with making local spaces safe. For those with time, volunteer in social justice organisations, causes and charities.

Do not vote for political parties based on emotions, family pressure or past performance. As members of political parties, become active, vote for individuals you share values with, push for policies that are in the interests of all South Africans and shame corrupt leaders.

Reject populist leaders, simplistic and race-based, ideological-based and scapegoat-based solutions to complex problems. Do not support autocratic, prejudiced and corrupt leaders. Reject authoritarian, harmful and dignity-crushing aspects of culture, traditions and customs.

Citizens must hold government more accountable by protesting - without being violent - against poor public services, mismanagement and corruption.

* Gumede is chairman of Democracy Works Foundation (www.democracyworksfoundation.org), and author of SA in BRICS (Tafelberg)

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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