Considering our future during this festive season

Former US President Barack Obama meticulously expressed: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Picture: Dario Ayala/Reuters

Former US President Barack Obama meticulously expressed: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Picture: Dario Ayala/Reuters

Published Dec 10, 2023


By Tswelopele Makoe

THE festive season has once again set in, and the nation has begun to rumble with excitement in anticipation of the Christmas holidays.

In Africa, Christmas takes place during the peak of the summer season and is observed by more than 650 million people. As schools and businesses close for the holidays, scores of South Africans are taking to the outdoors to revel in the summer sun and reconnect with their families.

It is not only Christians who are celebrating during this festive season. There are about 17 holidays celebrated during this time, by groups ranging from Christian and Jewish to Hispanics, Germans, and even Zoroastrians.

A few of the notable holidays that are celebrated during the festive season include Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, Kwanzaa, honouring African American culture, Bhodi day, the celebration of Buddha’s enlightenment, and the Day of Ashura, the day of fasting and mourning for Muslims.

In South Africa, more than 81% of the population is Christian. As such, a plethora of citizens, particularly in the bustling metropoles, journey home to small towns, villages, and other nations across the globe, to spend time with their loved ones.

Among the liveliness, it is a heightened time for consumption in South Africa. From shopping, to alcohol, to major events such as weddings that are predominantly held in December, the festive season is certainly an eventful time in the nation’s calendar.

Although the atmosphere of the season is certainly a spirited one, we need to pay great attention to the dangers that consistently lurk alongside it.

From the high rates of road accidents, to heightened criminal behaviour, to the overburdened hospitals, to the proliferation of domestic and gender-based violence, sexual assault, as well as child abuse cases – we cannot afford to disregard the dreadful behaviour that often occurs around this period of time.

Countless families often take leave or embark on vacations at this time of the year, which triggers the amplification of many types of crimes, most popularly house break-ins, and car hijackings.

Security in the country has been extremely precarious in light of the load-shedding (power blackouts). It is vital that citizens take extra precautions at this time of the year, in order to avoid any losses as the New Year ensues.

As such, almost any household or business is vulnerable to crime during December. However, the overarching disturbances are credited to excessive alcoholism. Not only is this a rampant issue in our society, but it also worsens the plethora of challenges that citizens contend with.

Excessive drinking oftentimes leads to road accidents, violent behaviours, increased health problems, withering productivity, driving under the influence (DUI) charges, amongst other criminal charges.

According to the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA), road accidents are “a national crises”, that are intensified during the holiday season, and that leave approximately 14 000 citizens deceased ever year.

All of these challenges only intensify the precarious situation that millions of citizens live through. South Africa is notorious for holding the position of being the most unequal society in the world, for years now.

As of 2023, more than 18.2 million citizens are living in extreme poverty. Although it is nearly three decades since the end of the abhorrent apartheid system, inequality and systemic discrimination continues to pillage the nation.

In fact, Al Jazeera underscored “race” as a “key driver of high inequality in South Africa, due to its impact on education and the labour market”.

According to the Land Audit Report by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, although white people comprise of merely 7% of the population, they continue to own over 72% of the land.

The minority white demographic also dominates the residential market, and private sector ownership. It is painfully evident that the legacy of colonialism and apartheid is still deeply rooted in contemporary South African societies.

The modern national context is ravaged by socio-economic challenges that hinder equity and access, for the scores of underprivileged people in the nation.

From a highly racial labour market to extreme poverty, to proliferating rates of unemployment, it is pertinent that South Africa mitigates these challenges as we move into the future.

We need to take the time to hold valuable discourses, particularly with young people that highlight the dangers of our society, the challenges of our nation, and explore the ways in which we, as citizens, can contend with these.

From employment, to education, to cultural diversity and progression, to empowerment and collaboration, it is on the onus of the citizens to manage their communities and society at large.

Next year, South Africa will hold its seventh democratic elections. The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has already begun the voter registration processes, both physically and online via their website.

It is the opportune time to be holding valuable conversations about the state of the nation, the leadership of the nation, and the future of the nation.

We have a plethora of challenges to content within this society, but we also have a social responsibility to uphold, to educate, and to assess the future of our nation. From health systems, to education, to empowerment, to culture, to the economy, agriculture, issues of access, and so many more.

December is a time when people come together. It is pertinent that we grab this opportunity to foster unity, collaboration, and participation as we think about our future.

We need to consider how far we have come since the advent of democracy, and more importantly, how much further we need to go to reach the level of freedom that was expressed at the beginning of our democracy.

South Africans everywhere are struggling to stay alive under the weight of the current misfiring economy. The cost of living has proliferated, and there is virtually nothing being done to minimise the impact of this.

We have scores of graduates that remain unemployed. We have a plethora of students who are forced to choose between education and physical survival.

We have generations of elderly people who fought earnestly for liberation but have reaped no rewards for their lifetime-worth of efforts. Is this the South Africa that they imagined? Is this the South Africa that we imagine for our future generations? These questions should be the theme of the holiday season.

As we venture towards Christmas Day, a day of family, community, and love, we must uphold our values and visions of the future. We must be intentional in our collaboration as a society, not only to achieve equity and access, but to achieve a society that we can be proud of.

Yes, there will be much to celebrate as we come to the close of another year, however, let these discussions promote collaboration and unity, whether in the home, at a party, or at a religious gathering.

There is a duty that is bestowed upon every citizen of the nation, to ensure a society that we can be proud of, by any means necessary. We need to be consistently mindful of the valuation and upliftment of our communities and our loved ones.

We have outlined our nation’s challenges extensively over the years; it is truly time to tackle them with the veracity that they deserve.

Our societal challenges, much like the challenges that come about during the festive season, are, in fact, controllable. As former US President Barack Obama meticulously expressed: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

* Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender Activist. She is also an Andrew W Mellon scholar, completing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.