It has been said that leaders are not made during a crisis, they are revealed.
The events that have gripped our nation these past few weeks and months has left many of us deeply worried and fearful for our future as a country. The story being told on TV, social media and in offices and homes is that there is a sense of despair and hopelessness. We’ve been left wondering how will these current issues be resolved, and even whether there is a solution at all. We’ve looked around and wondered who will lead? The anarchists and prophets of doom have promoted the story about a nation under siege and that it is only a matter of time before we descend in to a failed stated, or even worse, civil war.
I won’t lie – I’ve found myself even contributing to these conversations in offices and at home. I have laid awake at night nervous for the things that are gripping the heart of our beloved country.
The story continued unabated as the horrific events at the University of the Free State broke out this week and the unspeakable violence and anger that created such lawlessness and destruction at the University of Pretoria left us shocked and speechless. No one has had an answer.
And then, the North West University story unfolded. Aggrieved students, unhappy with the disbanding of the SRC President took it upon themselves to show their unhappiness and burnt down a major building on the Mafikeng campus. Rubber bullets and tear gas resulted in blood flowing on the campus as some students were seriously injured in the cross-fire. Rhodes University students began a protest by barricading a road last night, which was then removed under instruction from the Vice-chancellor.
Who will lead?!
But there is another story that has begun to emerge – a new chapter if you will of genuine peaceful and hope-generating student activism. A group of young people, full of faith and a desire for peace, joined hands across the widening racial divides. Together, for the past few days in growing numbers they’ve gathered at the University of Pretoria campus and sang their songs and prayed their prayers. They have stood together, hand-in-hand, some on their knees, some crying, some shouting, but as one their message is clear: “We can do this without violence”. Then yesterday it spread to the University of the Free State. Again, the same picture of hope, peace and racial unity emerged.
Here’s the thing about these two stories: They both ultimately want the same end result. The only question is which story should we be re-telling? It is very easy to be caught up in the hype that the media creates around devastation, violence and hatred. That sells, I get it. But it doesn’t change a nation, it doesn’t transform a campus and it doesn’t bring peace to the fearful parent whose child is caught up in the middle of all this.
Is it not time we start looking for the story that will move our country forward; that will bring hope to the hopeless and peace to the restless? It isn’t too difficult to see if we just step back and look, because in actual fact the majority of our students are choosing to be part of the second story.
I don’t know what the next few weeks and months hold for us and this letter isn’t penned with abject naivety that all will be well, but I do hope that at the very least it will cause us all, black and white, student and staff, to lift our heads and look beyond the first story of despair and join the majority in being players in the story of peace and hope – even if it is to just for one brief moment to take a breath, smile and silently rekindle the belief that South Africa can be great again.
By Grant Abbott
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