It’s alive today. Not in a perfect way. In a broken, hurting, raging way, for a pile of different reasons. Standing in the middle of Main Road, a chain of people line the sidewalks and streets in a nationwide protest against the current president, Jacob Zuma. Car horns are sounding, flags are waving and there is something alive in the air. I am standing mostly beside elderly white people holding South African flags almost too big for their frail bodies. The wind whips and twirls the flag but these old ladies can hold their own against great white sharks during a morning swim. A rambunctious flag is no problem.
It’s not perfect, this protest. It should’ve happened sooner, for more humane causes. It should’ve been easier to call these voices to action when injustice sneered but people couldn’t be bothered.
But, there is today. Today, I saw a glimpse of the spirit of the nation-the nation that I read about in newspapers 23 years ago-I saw it, first hand in all of its colorful glory.
It’s unlike anything I can describe to you, this presence, this moment. It’s bulky and awkward and moves like a lumbering monster on a crowded street, appendages flailing, causing collateral damage in its wake. But moving it is. Rising it is. Roaring it is. The spirit of South Africa and her people, all their glorious diversity and rainbow nation-ness. This young republic, cumbersome with pain from the past, daring to wrestle with its future.
I see different people groups standing together. I see each one, balancing both their wounds and their rage, each riddled with injustice or exhausted from fear.
I see the toyi-toying rhythms and hear the deep, low chanting. It gives me shivers and brings tears to my eyes. People born to sing and dance, well-practiced in the language of resistance. Their dancing and chanting need no instructor or guide. Each one innately knows the dance, learned from a small age. This is who we are. Powerful. Beautiful. A call to action that resonates from the soil itself.
I see the posters and cardboard signs outside the Coloured community, reminding passerby’s that they are there, right where the government left them 50 years ago. They are there, a community born to celebrate and laugh, burdened with violence and invisibility. But they are there, standing proud, taking their turn in the protest, voices heard, faces seen. They are aching and beautiful. They hold the healing answers. They are all of us.
I see the red, blue, green and white colors of the flag waving, just a baby in the life of this new South Africa. There, under the shadow of Nelson Mandela’s mosaic, stand the crowd of thousands reminding themselves that it was here, in this space, where the nation learned the power of a unified voice. Today, I saw a nation rise, lumbering and shaky, sore from the sitting. Together, the rainbow nation made a collective statement. This nation is more important than an empire, the people more valuable than a demagogue.
Today, I felt an electric jolt of hope that whispered of possibility as it winged its way through town.
And I marvel at how much this struggling nation will teach the struggling world.
*video Michael Bullock