What being part of a collective for 9 days taught me

Transformation is a messy business, and no. this is not a revelation, I have always known that change in shape or form is uncomfortable, but what  I guess what I haven’t realised is that Transformation is more than just uncomfortable, it is ugly and it is hostile.

South Africa is changing. At every corner there are people engaging in change, either by calling for it, resisting it or facilitating it. But the thing about change in South Africa is that it is everything, sometimes for the wrong reasons.

It is sexy to be a revolutionary now. The cool kids used to be the fashionable kids on the corner, but now it’s the woke crowd. The pseudo intellectuals and pseudo revolutionaries who grace our local bars and sit together in groups throwing ideas of the revolution between them. The woke crowd dictates who is in who is out, whose struggle is worthy and whose is doesn’t even need to be engaged. With this crowd, the lines have long been drawn, you are either with them, or a sell-out. You must be the example of radical at every interaction- otherwise who are you really?

My greatest frustration with the self-appointed “leadership of the movement” is that they genuinely seem to think that a person can only be one thing. Apparently you cannot date a white girl and be part of the movement, you cannot be too close to white people and think that you are a legit voice in the movement- apparently it doesn’t work like that. But its okay to be problematic in other ways, you can be the quintessential example of sexist, but for as long as you are the movement, you will have a home anyway.

Anyway, I digress. This is about collectives and transformation.

So a few days ago, I found myself part of as part of a collective. A movement of young people who wanted to lead the call for transformation. But I guess what we didn’t realize is that transformation is not one thing. And so the cracks started to show, I found myself looking from the outside in, completely mortified at what I was supposedly representing.

Collectives are complex things. For one, they provide protection. For those who want to speak, but whose voices are a little shakey. But at the same time they provide protection for people who will make sweeping statements, knowing that they cannot be held accountable as individuals. After all, this is a collective right.

Collectives become even further complicated when you realise what it is that you are actually aligning yourself too. On the one hand, you align yourself to often very legitimate struggles (A call for transformation), but by virtue of being part of the collective you also align yourself with their unreasonable demands.

Transformation is many things, but it should never be a “Them vs Us”- because that sets a hostile tone for any sort of engagement. It also baffles that people imagine that we can have conversations of transformation without engaging the very people whom we imagine to be the “keepers of transformation” that we so desperately want to be a part of. I am not here for a hostile takeover, I’m here to build a country.

And herein lies another complexity. What kind of transformation are we looking for? Because to seek a solution that caters for an exclusive group of people, is not actually a solution. And in this country, we know better than anyone else how dangerous solutions aligned to exclusive groups can be. Surely the call for transformation needs to extend further than the corridor of your own office, because otherwise, why are we doing this really? Because in a few years, all we will have is a group of young black professionals who have reaped the benefits of transformation, but at its core. The country we live in will remain unchanged. There will be hundreds of people in the streets who will always be incredibly far away from transformation. And if that is what this is- Just a start? Then we must be honest with ourselves and say what it is.

So, in the words of the great philosopher Banksy, keep your coins. I want real change.

In conclusion, this is what being part of a collective has taught me:

There are certain battles that we must all fight, but we must pick them carefully. Because sometimes our energies can be better used elsewhere. When you align yourself with a collective, you align yourself with the good, the bad and the ugly. And while there is strength in numbers, sometimes there is even more strength in standing alone.



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