The last few weeks have found a great many of us angered, confused and sickened. With many returning to work, the one-dimensional conversations appear to all follow the same thread: people are… processing recent events.

And, process we must.

There is no doubt that even the most stable among us found ourselves fractured by the recent looting. I cannot imagine what it must be like for those who suffer from acute mental disorders, or even any kind of mental stress for that matter. The burden of recalibration in light of what we all saw must be terribly heavy.

But, process we must.

Irrespective of what conclusions we all make about our lives in South Africa, we need to give each other the room to feel. That’s it. The trend appears to be a simple shrugging of the shoulders in an effort to brush off the last two weeks as some kind of surreal memory. The events appear to have extricated themselves from our lives, suspended as a moment in time that remains somehow separate from actual history.

However, scratch with a question or two, and the average response is charged. I have seen hatred, fear, contempt, ignorance and disbelief carried on the backs of words, separated by mere sentences from inside the same throat. All of us, without exception need to be left to boil until we feel safe. Provided that boiling does not manifest in violence to others, we should all just leave each other well-enough alone. No piety, no agenda, just give your fellow man some space. We will all reach our own conclusions, as with all things.

So, process we must.

I want to leave that thought alone for the time being.

With the speed of maggots in summer, the media has come up with some fantastic spins on the looting. Of note is an ad campaign right now – insincere music playing loudly over vistas of our beautiful country – declaring how we will rebuild, move forward and come out of this stronger. The trending hashtag, #ThisIsNotUs has assumed the mantle of a socially-aware battle-cry. How can we not, as South Africans, ignore yet another opportunity to show the world that through good-will and cooperation we are better than the things life throws at us?

All fair and good, until you consider what a spectacularly tone-deaf and ignorant sentiment that is.

#ThisIsNotUs ignores with baffling stupidity, the fact that this is unequivocally us. There is no one and nothing else to blame. We are the sole cause of the miseries that will be visited upon ourselves for decades to come as a consequence of our own actions.

A campaign like this absolves us of the responsibility to do the correct thing and look inwardly at how our own behavior put us where we are. We do not deserve soaring chords and lofty sentiments in the face of the overwhelming evidence that we now know the degenerate short-sightedness of South Africa’s citizenry.

Please be dispelled of any notion that the looters were the problem in isolation. The panicked masses that deprived others of essential goods in the week of panic-buying that followed can make no greater claim to moral superiority. You, who capitulated to your fears, insecurities and hatred and waltzed out of stores with more than your share have as much in common as those who did so without paying. Your mentality is no different and your shame writ large.

The brush has tarred us all in the wake of these last few weeks. We have failed ourselves and each other to be met by a marketing campaign that has the gall to think it somehow wasn’t’ us.

To those who riled the crowds. It was you.

To those who joined in. It was you.

To those who turned on neighbor. It was you.

To those who burned. It was you.

To those who didn’t fact check their news. It was you.

To those who spun slurs and vitriol. It was you.

To those who stopped cars without the authority of the law. It was you.

To those who cleaned out whole shelves. It was you.

To those who did not stop, think, ask, and behave as our mother’s raised us to.

It was you.

South Africans have labored for too long thinking that they are always the victim of some circumstance beyond their control. We need to remind ourselves that we are to blame. There is no escaping responsibility from this one. To let an ad campaign – no matter how well-meaning – take away the need for us to sit with our own self-disgust is irresponsible when it comes to preventing something like this from happening again.

In the dark hours that will follow, there will be callous words and insincerity-stained imagery. These things will try distract us from what we should be doing. We will have to process the absence of an excuse for what we have done to each other.

Process we must.

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