Succulent flowers in my garden

Feeling South Africa’s Pain

Back in the olden days, I often used this blog as a vessel for my grief and sadness. I went through a lot of tangible pain in the early 2Summers years — losing a partner to addiction, among other things — and the blog was one of my coping mechanisms. (You can find those old posts under the grief hashtag — scroll back to the early ones.)

As the years wore on I blogged more about having fun in Joburg and South Africa than I did about pain and grief. My life got happier, and my blog became more popular as a resource for things to do and places to travel to. I took the ball and ran with it. I’ve loved Joburg and South Africa since the day I arrived here, and expressing that love through upbeat, informative blog posts came naturally.

I’ve received so many wonderful messages from people who have used this blog to get to know Joburg and South Africa. People thank me for my optimism — for showing them the “good side” of this city and this country. I’m incredibly grateful for those messages and I’m grateful I discovered a path that allows me to have a positive impact on this country that I’ve adopted as my own.

Lately though, I’ve been struggling. For several months, maybe even a year, exploring and blogging about Joburg has brought me less joy than it used to. Moving around the city feels like a hassle. I find myself going out less, doing less, blogging less — especially when I’m not traveling. Staying home has become my default.

As someone with a reputation for being an intrepid Jozi adventurer and explorer, the person who people count on to know what’s going on in the city, I feel like an imposter. I feel unmotivated and afraid. I’m hiding from something but I’m not sure what.

I feel hopeless, to be honest, and I haven’t been able to put my finger on why. I think a lot of it is internal — relating to my own blogging burnout, my relationships, and feelings of uncertainty about who I am and where I’m going in life.

But it’s external too, as the world doesn’t feel like the most hopeful place at the moment.

Succulent flowers in my garden
I’m sad but at least there are pretty flowers blooming in the garden.

This week my sadness has suddenly become more tangible and more collective. South Africa is going through a very difficult time; some might say it’s a crisis. The crisis has been building for years, even decades, but this week the country’s pain has exploded. Everyone is feeling it.

This seems like as good a time as any to share my own sadness, as it coincides with the sadness of South Africa.

South Africa has a problem with xenophobia. “Xenophobia” has become a loaded word and I’m not going into its meaning in this post. (Here’s a longer post I wrote in 2015, the last time xenophobic violence flared up in Joburg.)

On Monday, xenophobia flared again. Protestors marched through the streets wielding rocks and clubs. Shops and businesses, the majority of them foreign-owned, were looted and burned. Whole sections of the city were closed for business. People lost their livelihoods and some lost their lives.

Things seem to be settling down now but who knows for how long. Here’s a story about it.

Some people, including the South African Minister of Police, argue this violence has nothing to do with anti-foreigner sentiment — that it’s simply senseless crime. That’s nonsense. Ask any Malawian or Nigerian or Somali or Ethiopian person living in Joburg. Ask them to show you the WhatsApp messages that circulated last weekend, saying all foreigners must leave South Africa by September 2nd or else. Then look at what happened on September 2nd.

I am not a target of this xenophobic violence, due to my race and economic privilege. But several people close to me are at serious risk, for no other reason than the nationality printed on their passports. Their daily lives are consumed by fear. My heart breaks for them.

Another arbitrary garden photo to counter the despair.

South Africa has a problem with violence against women. Rape, murder, and domestic violence against women are epidemics in this country and that’s nothing new.

This week the news broke that 19-year-old University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana, who had been missing for several days, was brutally raped and murdered by a postal worker while trying to pick up a package at the post office. This news, along with news of several other recent murders and shocking national statistics, has brought South Africans — especially South African women — to a breaking point.

Something about Uyinene’s beautiful, smiling face, splashed across the top of so many news sites, has signalled to South Africa’s women that enough is enough. Women are tired of feeling unsafe in their own country, on their own streets, in their own homes. Me included. We’re tired.

The #AmINext hashtag is rolling like a tsunami across South African Twitter. Women are sharing their personal stories of rape, assault, and abuse. They’re crying, shaking their fists, gathering on the streets and screaming out the names of women who have been killed by men. Our fear has morphed into rage, and rightly so. But what do we do with this rage? How do we stop men from hurting us?

Yes, this blog is normally a place for optimism and fun. But today optimism feels like a luxury I can’t afford. Today I’m tired and scared for the country’s future. I want to share these feelings with the rest of South Africa.

Women and men, South Africans and foreigners, rich and poor, white and black and everything in between: Let’s all acknowledge the pain we’re going through, feel it, talk about it, listen to each other, and try to come out stronger on the other side. I don’t know how but we have to try.

A few links that helped me feel something good today:

  1. Graça Machel’s speech at the memorial service for Uyinene Mrwetyana.
  2. The Ndlovu Youth Choir performing on America’s Got Talent.
  3. The incredible story of Joburg tour guide Gilda Swanepoel and her adopted birdie friend, Jozi.
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27 Comments

  • Reply violetonlineisonline September 5, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    There is so much despair and anxiety.
    With you, and here for you, if you need a chat or a friend or time on a FRIENDSHIP BENCH.
    Which is something I keep thinking about at the Boxes, we have all those beautiful benches and nobody sitting on them.
    Community.
    Love.
    We will I hope come out of this united.
    But I too am very fucking worried.

    • Reply 2summers September 5, 2019 at 3:07 pm

      I love those benches! I haven’t sat on one for a while. We should do that.

      • Reply violetonlineisonline September 5, 2019 at 3:24 pm

        next week, let’s meet on a bench and drink coffee.

        • Reply 2summers September 5, 2019 at 3:31 pm

          Yes I would REALLY like to do that. Tuesday or Thursday?

  • Reply dizzylexa September 5, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    I hear you and feel pretty much the same. Just over the last two weeks I’ve spent time in Newtown as I really did miss being in the city. I had a great time and even began to wonder why I’ve been staying away…then this week happened and I feel like crawling back into suburbia once again. However we can’t let that happen as then crime has won, let’s just be vigilant and watch out for each other.

    I won’t let them take my FREEDOM away, I won’t let them push me behind high walls, this is my city and I have just as much right to access it as we all do, even those that have come down Africa to call this place home.

    Today I was proud to be a Mum of a boy child, as I watched the protest in Cape Town and knew my son was amongst them – standing up against violence on women and children – I know I did a good job.

    • Reply 2summers September 5, 2019 at 3:31 pm

      Well done for raising a good son 🙂

  • Reply AutumnAshbough September 5, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    Thanks for posting. I’ve been trying to follow what’s going on in South Africa through social media. It seems like nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise everywhere. Fed up women are also everywhere, and rightly so.

    Glad to know you are okay physically, even if your psyche is taking a beating. I, too, am not nearly as out and about as I used to be. Maybe we all want to curl up and hide from men? Or maybe it’s just getting harder and harder to find hope.

    • Reply 2summers September 5, 2019 at 6:14 pm

      Yeah. Lately I’ve been telling a lot of female friends that I’m feeling down. And almost every time their response is: Yeah, me too! At least we’re not alone.

  • Reply Micaeli Rourke September 5, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    You wrote about everything so beautifully. I am very grateful that you wrote this post. I hope it helped you to feel lighter, now that it’s published.

    • Reply 2summers September 5, 2019 at 6:25 pm

      Yes. It always does, thank goodness 🙂

  • Reply Lesley Clark September 5, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    Hi. Thank you for your – as always – truthful blog. It is ok to feel down and out once in a while. Where things that previously energized become a chore. You have had a wonderful time in SA but, it has not been without tremendous pain. That, together with the tangible fear and uncertainty we are all feeling at the moment, gets on top of one. You might just need to have a break from what is normal for you. Hang in there

    • Reply 2summers September 5, 2019 at 8:48 pm

      Thanks Lesley, I really appreciate that 🙂

  • Reply catji September 5, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    You can live somewhere else but your heart stays here.

    • Reply 2summers September 5, 2019 at 8:51 pm

      I’m sure that’s true.

  • Reply Margaret Urban September 5, 2019 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks for this post.
    I’ve been feeling it for months now too. Still walking my neighbourhood but even that less often; haven’t been to my usual places in Braamfontein for many months.
    I love the idea of friendship benches 🙂
    Not that long ago I had a very interesting conversation about medicinal plants near the sundial at The Wilds; a guy was sitting on the bench as I walked up to the top; I said hi and he said do you know that these berries from that bush are edible? We chatted for more than half an hour. It felt so normal but actually is not that normal, unfortunately, in Jozi …
    Hug

    • Reply 2summers September 5, 2019 at 11:00 pm

      I need to go back to the Wilds soon – it always gives me hope for Joburg 🙂

  • Reply eremophila September 5, 2019 at 11:06 pm

    Over in Oz, it’s not all cheery either. Lots of suffering. I’m steeling myself to write about it soon. So much heartbreak. Water, government corruption, and much more….. It’s dark times Heather, we just have to hang in😉

    • Reply 2summers September 5, 2019 at 11:10 pm

      You’re exactly right. There’s no escaping it anywhere 😢

  • Reply Louise September 5, 2019 at 11:14 pm

    It always feels good to write about it, then edit, edit again, edit some more then just put it out and say, that’s my truth right now. Right? It’s grim sometimes to feel only compelled to write about the negative things going on, but, these posts are always so powerful, you speak to what is on all our minds! Really enjoyed this in a cathartic way. Also – nobody comments on your captions, but they are always brilliant and mix the tone perfectly!

    I found 1st half of this year I was feeling very unusually negative for some reason, I even got homesick for the first time in like 10 years! But I’m on an upswing right now (maybe it’s a spring thing?), hope it comes that way for you too!

    South Africa is so full of trauma, I really think that that national trauma has to be collected up and everyone needs to be able to feel more free to share it, like a collective ‘it’s OK to not be ok’ kind of thing. I can’t help but feel sometimes there are so many refugees walking our city living with the aftermath of the same kinds of traumas as the South Africans who are so suspicious of them 🙁

    • Reply 2summers September 6, 2019 at 6:06 am

      That is sooooo true. Thanks 🙂

  • Reply Trish Warner September 6, 2019 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you very much for writing about how many of us are feeling.

    Something that saddens me too is the fact that it takes the rape and murder of a very pretty girl to get media and public attention. How many poor invisible girls and women are attacked or killed in squatter camps, but their pictures and stories go under the radar.

    Shame on us South Africans.

    • Reply 2summers September 6, 2019 at 1:02 pm

      Yes that is so true and so sad.

  • Reply catherine gallice September 6, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    thanks for being honest and truthful about how you feel with regard to SA…it is indeed discouraging even though we all want to see and feel hope! and there are a thousand reasons for that hope as well….

    • Reply 2summers September 6, 2019 at 9:31 pm

      That is very very true.

  • Reply Rosemary September 7, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    So well written- thank you. Sadly Sourh Africa is not alone. Right wing inspired xenophobia is sweeping the world- the US is not much different and it has a nasty presence in the UK also – just not as aggressive as SA. Brexit is chaotic and politicians behaviour unprecedented. I am even inclined to think that Apartheid’s exit was much more orderly and mature (I was in the country at the time) and that the violence of the 90’s was opportunistic and inevitable with such a seismic shift in just about everything. These times will pass although God knows how long and what we will have to go through to get out of it all. You are right in saying we are the lucky ones despite the despair we feel…vasbyt…often one has no choice but to keep going

    • Reply 2summers September 7, 2019 at 5:35 pm

      You’re totally right. It feels like there is no ‘good’ place to go in the world at the moment. No escape 🙁

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