Opinion / 6 October 2019, 4:21pm / Terry van der Walt
“One day it’s fine and next it’s black, so if you want me off your back. Well, come on and let me know Should I stay or should I go?”
These are the lyrics to the 1982 hit song Should I Stay Or Should I Go by London outfit The Clash, capturing the timeless “go-don’t go” angst that usually goes with love relationships everywhere.
For many South African this seems to be the sentiment with their country. With a marked peak in emigration in the past 12 months, thousands of South Africans are flying the flag high in their posts to social media group #ImStaying.
And on Friday the group’s founder, Jarette Petzer, announced plans for a national event that will take place soon, as well as a registered website, merchandising and funding platform.
Crime statistics, an economy in poor shape and revelations of how the public purse has been plundered through State Capture, are just some of the reasons South Africans take into consideration when making the decision: should I stay or should I go?
Since it went live four weeks ago the page has shot up to almost 500000 members, all united under its stated intent: “This group is dedicated to the South African women and men of all races and all religions, who remain loyal to South Africa. This group is to honour all those who still believe that we as a nation can turn things around. To all those who choose to stay and work together to save this beautiful country we call home! This group belongs to all willing to make a positive difference! #ImStaying is our hashtag.”
Petzer, a Cape Town estate agent, posted a video update on membership approaching the half a million mark.
“We have seen a coming together of people, and changing of mindsets and attitudes towards one another. In four weeks we have managed to achieve social cohesion among half a million people.” #ImStaying has captured the imagination of SAffers with a good spread of people from all classes, races, and all parts of the country, giving it a big thumbs up and sharing snippets of what makes them resolute in their belief in our country and its people to overcome obstacles in our way.
Some argue that the name itself is questionable, giving the impression that there is an exodus of people leaving en masse, and that the option to leave is reserved for the privileged few who have the resources to up sticks.
Our brothers and sisters who have bought one-way tickets end up in the following countries in the greatest of numbers: New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Canada, US, Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
But those not packing for Perth, are feverishly posting loads of positivity about why they will be staying put.
Reb3lious_S0ul wrote on Twitter: “I love #ImStaying hashtag and all but let’s be honest as soon as any South African has enough money to leave, we leave. Its been a trend for many years and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon. People are tired of corruption, lack of improvement and crime.”
Sandra Hendriques da Silva wrote: “At a time when my life unexpectedly imploded in the ugliest of ways, my then domestic helper showed up at my door one morning with suitcases in hand. She told me that there was no way I could manage my two, very small children, a demanding, full-time job and my heartbreak all by myself.
“She’d decided. No discussion. She just moved in, unasked and unpaid, for 18 months until my life stabilized, sharing the night shift and picking up when I needed another pair of hands. She became a beloved Gogo to my kids, a surrogate mom to me, and a fierce force of nature who took it upon herself to show me how to piece my life back together again with strength, dignity and love. An old lady now, we look after her in retirement and always will. Next week she’s coming over to visit the kids, now teens, of whom she is so proud. I will forever be humbled by her selflessness.”
But not everyone is falling over themselves to embrace the feel-good group.
Adrian Fleur wrote: “I can’t help but be wary of the kumbaya rainbowists, the colourblind purple people, the ‘We are one viva Mzansi!!!’ folk - where does it all go once the likes are forgotten and the shares have stopped making the rounds? What happens when we switch off our phones and shut down?”
He believes it should be followed up by actions that truly make a long-term difference, like calling out your friends who make racist jokes or dismiss the pain of apartheid.
Lerato La Bahlakoana wrote on Twitter: “ the fake ‘Khumbaya-sm’ of that #ImStaying page is a bit nauseating for me. I get the impression that its people who want to be applauded for not using the privilege of having the option to leave.”
Tonya Khoury, a director of Acument Media, which offers media insights and tracking tools across all media in 175 countries, had this to say about the group, which she described as a “safe space for all patriotic South Africans”.
“There has been some negativity around the group, many saying (particularly on Twitter) that the name “ImStaying” is disingenuous as most people don’t have the ability to leave SA anyway, but if they had taken time to read the group you would see that it is not the elite or fortunate (by some’s perception) that occupy the group, it’s a bunch of SAffers without regard for race/creed or financial status who are fed up with bad news and negativity in SA,” she said.
On the half-million milestone, Khoury said it was a phenomenal achievement in a short space of time, and posed the question: “Imagine if they all voted for one political party?”
The downside, she said, was that it risked dying down once the frenzy was over.
Some posts are cringe-worthy and blatantly patronising towards black people, while others expose members for their deep-seated fear and suspicion of black people, an aspect that has the potential to sink the feel-good ship.
The negative posts prompted Patty Donaldson to throw shade on the doom and gloom crew: “It really saddens me that this group is now being mocked on social media. #imstaying has united us more than anything else, and just when I was feeling helpless about S.A. I will not react negatively. I will enjoy all the good things this beautiful country and its people have to offer.”
Réjean Viljoen posted: “For those who think this is a fringe group or unimpressive, let me put it into perspective: If we were to fill the largest stadium in SA, this group can do it 4.4 times. If we were a political party, we would be the 5th biggest in Parliament...to all the haters out there.... watch this space!”
Interestingly, there have been no serious attacks on those citizens who have decided to emigrate, giving the impression that many have indeed asked themselves whether it might not be wise to move abroad, but have chosen to stay, and not judge those who have chosen otherwise.
Whether or not you have the capacity to leave or ever considered leaving South Africa, the #ImStaying phenomenon highlights that there is much to be positive about living on the southern tip of Africa.