Of course, I didn’t pay any attention to the lyrics, it was a slow song, the lights were dimmed and the girl was in my arms. Little did I know that the lyrics of the chorus would stick with me for 19 years, popping up every so often- giving away both the truth that I am no longer considered youth, as well as my tendency to find poignancy in life’s moments.
I did not work on Friday. It was supposed to be a day off but instead I sat in front of the television watching scenes unfold at the Union Buildings. I was on whatsapp constantly with my digital team making sure they were posting images from reporters on the ground to make sure The Citizen was capturing the moment.
Being aware that it was a watershed moment in South Africa, and supporting the cause of students demanding education be treated as a right and not a privilege, I was watching the fires and underbelly of violence with utter sadness.
Driving on the N3 later, listening to Xolani on 702 coming under fire by the police in real time, trying to explain to my 5-year-old son that it wasn’t really a war, I developed a distant stare and started singing the song that has been stuck in my head for 19 years.
“Where do we go from here, why is my heart filled with so much fear?” Over and over again; and it only sunk in much later on Friday evening what I was actually asking myself.
The cause, as reflected by the large number of academics and alumni on my Facebook timeline, is brave and noble, and reflects the power of free thought and an understanding that citizens should demand change. It reflects revolution, activism and all things nostalgic we learnt about when unpacking Steve Biko, Percy Mtwa and Barney Simon all those years ago at Rhodes.
Highly respected analysts such as Steven Friedman have been at pains to lambast reckless commentators painting the protesters as thugs. But my question remains: are the thinkers of our land, the activists and teachers, so preoccupied and involved in the excitement of being part of a new struggle that they are not seeing the criminal element that is undermining their cause? Are they not afraid of the minority with the power of delegitimising everything they stand for? A simple social media analysis will show the shifting sentiment every time activism becomes looting.
And the police? What was that? A big sweep up, swatting people off the Union Building lawns as if it were a warzone? Unacceptable. And where were all the leaders who were so tactfully leading peaceful crowds in the days leading up to what happened in Pretoria? Where were they with their loudspeakers? Who knows. Instead thousands of people with varying agendas descended into anarchy.
Leaders let themselves and the country down. Where was the president or his men? Doing a press conference behind closed doors for whom? Those students were abandoned and it all disintegrated into chaos. And so I sing again: where do we go from here, why is my heart filled with so much fear?