#ImStaying – love it or loathe it?

#ImStaying – love it or loathe it?

Terence Pillay explores both sides of the coin on the very popular #ImStaying campaign.

Screenshot: Facebook: #ImStaying

Listen to the audio here: 

Like most things in this country, there have been mixed reactions to the #ImStaying campaign, which now has eight hundred and sixteen thousand members on their Facebook account.

And while there has been a lot of good on the site, there's also been a lot of negativity about it. First of all, the initial reaction was, you have the choice to stay so it became a privilege thing of sorts. But then I think it started to grow, and obviously there's been an exponential growth over the last few months or so. And some of the reaction is that it's kind of a filtered view of the world and South Africa, in particular, in that it's only good news and any negative news gets censored.

So it's almost like a rose-tinted view of South Africa because people only share good news. And I think that might be true, but what's really helpful about it is that it makes people see that there really is a lot of good stuff happening. And you can't discount the fact that if you go out into the world with a slightly better mindset and attitude towards people by having read a positive story or interesting thing about other South Africans, when you encounter another person you might, maybe just smile a little bit wider or be a little bit more friendly, and not necessarily jump to some of the traditional conclusions you might have jumped to.

But conversely, what irritated a lot of people about that site is that every time someone posted something it was exclusively black and white. They didn't leave room for the multicultural melting pot that is South Africa. So the pictures showed people who were just black and white. And it was this kind of unity that they were talking about in the posts. They were also posting pictures with, say, a car guard they had met, when the reality was they wouldn’t even tip the man ordinarily. And the content was all a little too manufactured.

But if you consider the flip side of the argument, the only thing you hear from mainstream media is produced negativity, so that you elicit a reaction or a click or eyeballs on devices. It's the same thing; except it’s all negative. Just look at Panyaza Lesufi and his stupid tweet at the about the Rugby World Cup on Saturday during the match. He saw a picture of a guy in the crowd who had the South African flag draped over him, but the angle was not a great one and all you could see was a patch of red which apparently looked orange, and a white and blue stripe, and he immediately went to, ”You've got the Old South African flag draped around you” until such time as he was shown pictures of other angles of the same guy, and he actually had the current South African flag draped around him at the match.

He then apologised and everyone reacted, “Oh great. You did such a magnanimous thing Mr. Lesufi, by apologizing and seeing the error of your ways.” And I think that's the difference between #ImStaying and other things, is that you go to the positivity; that's your starting point, your baseline if you will, as opposed to mainstream media whose baseline is negativity. And I think South Africans - or at least eight hundred and sixteen thousand of them, actually prefer the positive baseline.

Sure, one hundred percent, I agree with the fact that I would rather have positive energy around me than negative energy. But we also need to be critical and we need to be pragmatic in our approach to things, because we can't look at the world through rose-tinted glasses all the time.

The #ImStaying proponents are saying you can't look at the world through muddy glasses, where you can't even see the world for your negativity. Everything is always processed through a particular filter and unless you open yourself up to alternatives, you're not going to see that.

So you can take that view. But I haven't seen anything else that is progressively moving people towards some kind of social cohesion out there. This is probably the only thing in recent times that is making even the slightest dent because all we hear are things that push us apart.

From what I understand, the initiative was started by a guy who woke up on a Sunday morning and was thinking about leaving the country, but then he reflected on his decision and said, “No, actually, I'm staying”. He created the group and it went viral from there and now it's got eight hundred and sixteen thousand people who have joined this group under the hashtag #ImStaying. I'm sure in retrospect, they probably want to call it something else. But I think #ImStaying has broadly expanded beyond the kind of, “I have the choice to leave and therefore I'm staying” to “There are a lot of reasons to come back. There are a lot of reasons to stay.” And it's actually just about a recommitment to the project of social cohesion and building a nation.

I think it's necessary in this country, more so than many other countries because we are a fractured country; we're a fractured nation. We don't see each other for who we really are. We have so much negativity that's often clouded by fake news, for one, lack of facts about who people are or what they're about. So I think we do need it. I mean, the government has a social cohesion programme in place. One of the objectives of the current government is to build social cohesion and that's even written into the freedom charter, if you go back. But is it doing it effectively? I mean I don't know what the evidence that it's happening is!

Many people are of the opinion that we have bigger problems in this country, but they're not mutually exclusive. The bailing out of the parastatals is a huge bug bear and people seem to lump an entire race into the failings of some politicians, suggesting that because of the failures of government in managing state owned enterprises, we shouldn't as a people try to help each other in our small day-to-day lives.

But they're not mutually exclusive. Yes, we need to fix state owned enterprises. Yes, we need to fix the machinery of government and, if the truth be told, our programs are starting to move in that direction. We need to fix the economy and all those sort of things, but at the same time we need to get together as a people. Otherwise we’re lost. What's the point? And I think that's part of what the project is saying - #ImStaying and so let's make it work. I mean I don't know what their agenda is, but I'd far rather have a dose of good news every day, alongside some of the practicalities and the realities than just be constantly bombarded by negativity.

And you can say that’s rose tinted and all the rest of it. It's fine, but it certainly helps put you in a better frame of mind to go into the next day. Some of the stories are mind blowing, and incredible – for example there was the story where somebody was driving along and saw someone begging on the side of the road and they went a kilometre down the road before being reminded of #ImStaying - and actually turned around to help that person. That's thought into action. And this from a Facebook group, which is just a bunch of ones and zeros in cyberspace, making a difference to somebody’s life.

And there are thousands of stories; it would take a big data scientist months to trawl through all that data to say exactly what the themes are. So there's obviously a lot of that kind white Messiah stuff, which gets to me, but we don't necessarily only want to focus on that. There are also a lot of real stories of people doing good and just generally getting along despite race, creed, culture or politics.

It’s a fact that we are still so divided as a country. And the economic disparity is one of the obvious reasons for this. We haven't solved that problem, we haven't sorted out all the issues with service delivery, and we still have differential education. The reality is that rich people have better education because they can afford to pay for it in the suburbs. And the demographic reality because we haven't fixed the past is that the majority of poor people are black. Until we fix all this, your future shouldn’t be defined by who your parents are and where you grow up.

Everybody should have equal opportunity; that's the society we’re supposed to be striving for. That's the society we were promised. And that's the objective. So I guess that's why we’re still so divided because access to opportunity and access to resources is still very much divided along racial lines.

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and tweet him your thoughts.

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