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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