It Takes Courage…

Life in South Africa is becoming increasingly volatile, and it requires courage to maintain a positive outlook in Mzansi. It takes courage to keep one’s head above water and survive in this ever-dynamic country, where there’s never a dull moment.

In South Africa, we often find ourselves wondering what the next drama will be. The media, both social and traditional, has been and continues to be an influential force in conditioning society through the news they share daily. The constant bombardment of negative and salacious news can be discouraging.

Our lives have become characterised by uncertainty with various challenges plaguing our nation: 

  • A political and governmental state of disaster in Mzansi.
  • An overwhelmed security cluster struggling with incompetence and corruption.
  • An energy crisis leaving citizens in despair and those in power perplexed.
  • Social and economic inequalities, accompanied by a lack of empathy.
  • Repeated interest rate hikes affecting food prices and financial security.
  • Inequivalent and inequitable salary increases. 
  • Health concerns, including the recent cholera outbreak due to poor service delivery and a rising mental health crisis.
  • Moral leadership failures across multiple organisations.
  • Syndicates and collusion which nullify efforts made to mitigate various societal and national ills.
  • Climate change impacting investments that people built over many years of sheer determination. 

Yet, despite these uncertainties, we are expected to show up and contribute as productive members of society, whether from home or in the workplace. This constant atmosphere charged with fear, pain, and trauma poses a psychological threat. This makes us wonder if we are unconsciously accepting the status quo and succumbing to a sense of helplessness.

Consider the scandal of Thabo Bester, the convicted Facebook rapist and killer, which led to the violation of basic human rights, including the burning death of Katlego Bereng, who was used as a decoy in Bester’s jail escape. Imagining how Katlego’s family copes with such grief is heart-wrenching.

It takes courage to believe that a loved one will recover while on a ventilator in a public hospital when someone has intentionally collapsed the gigantic pylons that carry electricity to such essential services. Grief takes a different tune when it knocks directly at one’s door. Coping with political corruption is one thing, but when combined with societal crime, it becomes demoralising.

It makes one wonder whether we will ever truly obtain our freedom as a country. Nevertheless, it takes courage to believe that we will endure this prevailing uncertainty and look forward to better days ahead. 

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, humans have basic innate needs, including physiological, safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualisation. Maslow advocates that the first three needs are crucial for the psychological safety of humans. Thus, when these basic needs are violated or threatened, people tend to feel vulnerable. The threat against the first three needs challenges individuals and societies to find ways to manage and protect what is in their control – which are the last two of Maslow’s human needs. But to manage self-esteem and self-actualisation in these times of perpetual peril requires great courage. 

Dr Myles Munroe defines courage as the mastery of fear, not the absence of it. Thus, fear is a stimulant for courage, enabling us to remain hopeful amid terrifying experiences. Courage is an antidote to fear. The constant presence of fear necessitates us to be prisoners of hope through personal mastery which encapsulates the much-needed self-esteem and self-actualisation. I believe we can courageously master our fear through the following measures:

  • Courageous leadership: Both personal and collectively. As an individual, one needs to create and cultivate a muscle of self-leadership to survive the odds. Collectively, businesses and civil society have the potential to work together to influence the socio-economic status quo of our country.
  • Social entrepreneurship: Citizens who have experienced the unfortunate consequences of economic meltdown due to a plethora of reasons have had to be innovative for survival. When one’s back is against the wall, the creative juices for sources of income are induced to flow. Additionally, hustling has increased to create additional streams of income for the working class due to the skyrocketing cost of living. Others have resorted to downgrading lifestyles to bear with the financial demands of the day.
  • Connections: People have realized more than before that we need one another and are making use of existing and new support systems and structures at their disposal. Thus, the phenomenon of Ubuntu has become a critical source for interdependence. It is in seasons of crisis that we are unified through collective action across various spheres of society for a common goal of preserving humanity.

We have faced paralysing fear during events like the COVID-19 pandemic, where uncertainty loomed daily. It took immense courage to envision life post-pandemic. Despite stringent isolation measures, we relied on each other for hope and faith. A collective strength emerged amidst despair, and we survived. Currently, we are collectively navigating the roller-coaster of loadshedding, a consequence of deeply entrenched corruption. Businesses of all sizes have been forced to allocate unforeseen resources in their budgets for alternative energy solutions to ensure their survival, adversely impacting their triple bottom line. Some have had to adjust their production schedules in line with the load shedding timetable to stay afloat. Businesses have collaborated through collective action to partner together and with government to mitigate this challenge.

In his leadership podcast, John Maxwell discusses the “Courage to Continue” during uncertainty. Personal mastery becomes crucial as we collectively safeguard our self-esteem and self-actualization while pursuing the three basic human needs. As Mzansi, our strength lies in our unity across various spheres and our unique sense of humour amid adversity. Let us embody courage as we stand together, believing in a better tomorrow for the sake of our offspring and future generations. It takes courage to lose sight of the familiar shore and venture into uncharted waters. We owe it to those who will follow in our footsteps.

About the author: Palesa Mashabane is an ethics subject matter expert at The Ethics Institute.