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Our take: Dark days can give way to light

It’s been an impossibly difficult few days for South Africa. We, like many of you, are grappling with complex feelings: we’re sad, uneasy and struggling to hold on to positivity. 

But as the week has progressed, there have been tiny glimmers of hope; green shoots that suggest there’s a way out of the quagmire if we’re willing to have hard conversations and hold each other close while holding ourselves and our leaders accountable. We know we can do this. South Africans, even when we’re enraged and in pain, have a hidden compartment in our hearts: it’s called compassion, and it burned brighter in some places this week than the flames of unrest.

In Durban, BBC cameraman Thuthuka Zondi captured the horrifying moment when Naledi Manyoni threw her daughter Melokuhle from a burning building – and safely into the arms of a crowd that had gathered below to ensure the toddler was unscathed. Manyoni later told the BBC: “All I could do was trust complete strangers.” 

Elsewhere, people banded together to guard shopping centres. Referring to Soweto’s Maponya Mall, The South African reported:

“The efforts to stop the violence was recognised by locals – as some even arrived with coffee and refreshments for the mall defenders. In such worrying times, scenes like these need to be amplified, because they reflect the true heart of South Africa that we all know and love.” 💫

Taxi associations emerged as perhaps the most unlikely heroes of the week. The men whose driving often raises temperatures came out in force to protect businesses and shopping centres from looters. Sure, closed shops mean fewer fares and that’s bad for their bottom line. But their pragmatism likely spared many businesses additional heartache, so we salute the drivers-turned-security-guards!

The likelihood of food and medication shortages has us all worried. Some individuals and organisations have set up collection points for those who need groceries and other essentials, bank accounts have been opened to help businesses get back on their feet and neighbours are reportedly helping each other out as much as possible. 

It would be naive to pretend there’s no dark news amid the light. Vigilantism crept into some communities, with racist undertones – and overtones – as some black people were reportedly denied access to their own streets and homes. Panic buying will leave those who can’t afford a large pre-payday shop hanging. Agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo has also assured people it’s not necessary.

This week has exposed SA’s faultlines, which are always close to the surface given our turbulent history and the growing pains of the past three decades. When the smoke clears and the slow, painful process of rebuilding begins, we must seize the opportunity. Things cannot go back to the way they were before. We need to have tough conversations and push for big, systemic changes. It will be hard. But you know what, SA? We can do hard things. Together.

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 15 July 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.