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Op-eds

We shouldn’t need to proclaim #ImStaying

  • Howard Feldman 2018
On 7 September 2019, a new Facebook group sprang into existence. At the time of writing, #ImStaying had 118 000 members, and was growing every hour.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Sep 26, 2019

“This group is dedicated to the South African women and men of all races and religions who remain loyal to South Africa,” according to its Facebook page. “This group is to honour all those who still believe that we as a nation can turn things around. To all those who choose to stay and work together to save this beautiful country we call home! This group belongs to all willing to make a positive difference! #ImStaying is our hashtag.”

It’s a positive, happy, courageous environment where people share stories and the reasons they have decided to continue to make South Africa their home.

I love the group. I love the enthusiasm, the heart-warming stories, and spirit of ubuntu that speaks to our emotions, and the fact that we get to make choices.

But I hate the fact that it needs to exist.

South Africans have long found themselves justifying why they have decided to remain in the country. Intentionally or unintentionally, emigrants who have settled all around the world unsettle us. We think back to only a few generations in our past, of Jews who remained in Europe when the signs seemed so obvious.

In the late 1800s in fact, when millions of European Jews left their homes for the “golden medina” of America, many rabbis were horrified. They often spoke from the pulpit, and lamented the fact that a large number of those who had left had given up their religious observance and embraced the new secular culture. This theme continued to the extent that when the “unsinkable” Titanic did just that, it was compared to the Tower of Babel that had challenged G-d; the idea being that if G-d chose to sink the ship, then it would. From some pulpits in Eastern Europe, the Titanic was used to “prove” that leaving Europe wasn’t as good an idea as everyone said it was. It became a symbol of materialism, arrogance, and of course G-dlessness.

The sad thing about this approach is that history proved the folly of those who advocated that Jews remain. Many would ultimately succumb to either the Nazis or the Russians.

With this background of justifiable anxiety, it’s little wonder that South Africans are easily rattled. Add the nuance that immigration isn’t easy, and that many who have moved to other parts of the world miss South Africa terribly, and another complexity arises. Unhappiness or struggle in a new country might mean that there can be a tendency to undermine the “old” country as a way of reaffirming the choice to leave. This is by no means the approach of all who have left, but it takes only a few comments to make us nervous, and make us wonder if what we are doing by staying in the country is smart. Or dangerously stupid.

Add economic uncertainty, fear about crime, and the scary language of NHI (the National Health Insurance), and it’s a wonder that more of us aren’t permanently and chronically medicated.

What’s interesting to note that whereas the Jewish community might have its own reasons and history to view life with scepticism, the #ImStaying group has a very broad appeal. It’s not demographically weighted, and the stories shared are not particular to any one racial experience. It’s all about individual nuance that makes South Africa a continued choice for many.

The fact that more than 118 000 people have joined since 7 September speaks to the desperate collective need for positivity. My own experience bears this out. Daily, I’m asked to either present talks or assist companies to shift towards a more optimistic outlook. No one succeeds in a negative and depressing state, which is why this type of group has emerged.

South Africa is the home of choice to many. Whereas #ImStaying is a wonderful initiative, it’s important to note that no one needs to justify why they have chosen to do so. Just as anyone who seeks another home shouldn’t have to explain their decision, South Africans need to be confident about the decisions that they have made. It’s also worth noting that #ImStaying today doesn’t mean a commitment to tomorrow. The magnificence of being human is that we are all different, and that none of our situations and personal circumstances are the same. In essence, that means that no one gets to tell us where to live. And no one gets to demand an explanation as to why.

As we head to Rosh Hashanah, my wish for us all is that we have the courage to live the life we choose, that we are confident enough not to have to justify our decisions, and that when next year comes around, we will have the peace of mind of knowing that we did the right thing.

Shanah tovah!

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