Standing too close to an elephant?

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The night of the 2nd of September 2019, was like no other night for me as I lay in bed struggling to sleep. Earlier that day, we had received the shattering news that a young woman we were searching and praying for, for over a week, was long dead after being beaten and raped by her murderer whilst collecting a parcel at her local post office. The young woman’s name was Uyinene Mrwetyana . I pray that her name is never forgotten.

She died on the 24th of August – during Women’s Month in our country leaving me and many others asking ourselves if the month means anything at all to some. You see, it is estimated that Uyinene’s senseless killing was among 30 other reported similar cases; all at the hands of fellow human beings in male bodies in South Africa just this August.

Thank God for comedy, because surprisingly, this difficult night where nothing seemed to access my broken heart, I found deep comfort and a sense of awakening in a comedy show on Netflix. The comedian, Dave Chappelle, tells a moving story of a 14 year old boy, named Emmett Louis Till, who was brutally murdered in the early 50s in Mississipi for whistling in appreciation of a lady that came out of a store he and his friends were hanging outside of. The lady happened to have been white at that time in American history.

Official records say that he was murdered after being “accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store”. Coincidentally, Emmett also died in August, on the 28th of August 1955.

Dave, in his dramatic comedian way, describes what was done to Emmett’s body as “hideous”. But then, *and here’s the part, that made me sit up straight*, Chappelle says: “lucky for everybody in America… Emmett’s mother was a fucking gangster“. In all that pain, it is reported that Emmett’s mother insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket. In Chappelle’s brilliant way of telling the story, he points out that the mother whilst in the very midst of a mother’s worst nightmare, she still had the foresight to think about everybody else as she said:  “Leave my son’s casket open.” …….. “The world needs to see what they did to my baby.”

Coming back to us, in a lot of ways, I feel that there are many South Africans who deserve the “gangster” status right now (some more than others of course). Uyinene’s friends, family and UCT students handled the social media campaign around her disappearance with such excellent vigour that in the period of her disappearance; no-one, of mature age in South Africa, would say they do not know her. I call that gangsterism of note and I want to give a high 5 to all those great South Africans. It is because of your publicity campaign that even President Cyril Ramaphosa called this “the Dark period for SA”. 

Chappelle’s elephant

Justifiably feeling devastated, as I was, about Uyinene’s murder which brought the reality of the plight faced daily by many of our girl children in South Africa too close home; Chappelle woke me up when he suggested that all the emotions I was feeling, justified as I was, may be due to me “standing too close to the elephant”. This is a phrase/phenomenon that he further explains brilliantly as “the analogy that if you stand too close to an elephant, you can’t see the elephant. All you see is its penis-like skin. You gotta step back and give it a better look”.

Following this, he helps us step back from the sight of the bludgeoned body belonging to Emmet Till on display during that highly publicised funeral to look at where African Americans are in America since then or as a result of that. History records that “Till’s murder was seen as a catalyst for the next phase of the Civil Rights Movement” including the Montgomery bus boycott in December that year. It is alluded that our dearest mother, Rosa Parks, might have been moved by the injustice suffered by Till a few months earlier when she refused to move from her chair on that bus. 

Our own elephant?

It may be too soon for us to even want to acknowledge the good that could come from this horrific “dark period” in our country but I am happy to acknowledge that I am consciously standing too close to this elephant because I choose to. It is at this close range to the elephant that I can channel my anger towards positive change – a moral regeneration of some kind, a call for the harshest punishments to the perpetrators of these evil deeds while crying for more decency from the human race in general.

The good news is that I am already aware that the elephant is not just this “penis looking” skin with an eye. Whilst I choose to stand close, I can take breaks and step back to evaluate progress; hopefully, it won’t be too long before we all see and appreciate the beauty of the whole animal in the fruits of our work. May Uyinene Mrwetyana’s death and the many other women never be in vain.

My prayer is for all the loved ones that are impacted even more closely by these heartless killings and/or rapes during this dark period to find comfort in knowing that what they are seeing thorugh the pain and anger is not the whole elephant. The truth as I have come to know it personally is that, indeed, “all things (do) work together for good” and sanity, morality, humaneness and love will rule again in our beautiful South Africa.

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I love.