Abusive relationships create (and are fueled by) a lot of cognitive dissonance. The abuser typically justifies their actions through the use of false logic, problematic rationale or selective memory. The abused may indeed do the same – cruelly justifying their need for “punishment”, as if they deserved it, or contribute to maintaining the status quo for fear of escalation. This cruel cycle of violence might play itself out for years, decades, or even a lifetime… But one day, if they are fortunate, through any variety of methods, the abused “wakes up”. And not only that, they find they have support. And not only, but they make a plan. And not only that, they get angry

And not only that, they get brave. And not only that, they do something about it. And then things change. Maybe bit by bit, or maybe all at once, in a cascading waterfall of emotion, resentment, fury, liberation, dreams, desire, sparks, flames and (re)awakenings. EmaSwati did not just suddenly wake up angry one day. This has been a slow-burn decades in the making. We may very well feel genuinely surprised at how things have played out in the country this week, but, in all honesty, we shouldn’t.

[Photo Credit by Nsey Benajah on Unsplash (Creative Commons)]

We’ve all gotten so used to muttering that “mxm, things will never change” that we’ve actually forgotten that the phrase has been maliciously whispered in our ear for decades. We’ve forgotten all the collective beatings, the passive aggression, the emotional abuse, the tears, the loss, the broken promises and the missed opportunities. We thought we had no other option and that maybe, just maybe, we deserved what we got. We forgot to remember that we don’t deserve this at all. We forgot to remember that there are other ways to live. We forgot to remember that there is strength on the inside, and support on the outside. We forgot to remember that nothing is forever, and that anything can change. But we’re remembering now. And it’s scary, but it feels good. And the abuser? Well, typically they have two choices; Deny or Accept. The unfolding sequence of events, and the final destination, are dictated by this choice and what happens next.

Violence Versus Violence

Are you only focused on the violent protests that we’re seen around Eswatini - The looting, burning, shouting, vandalism, tire-burning, homemade roadblocks, and general chaos? Do you question its relevance? If so, then there’s a chance you may be looking at things through a very narrow lens. Ok sure, you might say “Yes, I understand the anger, I support the protests, and I think that things need to change here”, but you might also follow this up with something like “but I disagree with all the violence – that’s not protesting, it serves no purpose – it’s just criminal – issues should be addressed through proper channels”. And yeah, in some ways you’re kind of right – it is illegal.

[The ruins left by the recent protests]

But if that’s all that you’re concerned about then you’re also missing the point entirely. What if there are no remaining channels for peaceful dialogue – what if they were always an illusion? What if you realized all your basic rights to hope and dream never existed in the first place? Violence breeds violence, and we live in a country where systemic oppression is a snake with many heads. Whether it’s through oppressive patriarchy, cultural oppression, gender-based violence, corruption, nepotism, greed or straight-up malevolence, an invisible war has been waged on the majority of emaSwati for generations now. If you have managed to create a safe, prosperous and comfortable life for you and your family in Eswatini, well done – you are one of the lucky ones.

The majority of the country has been steadily backed into a corner, and they have had enough. There is anger. Real, uncontrollable, genuine, unapologetic, raw anger. And when we open that Pandora’s Box the rules of engagement go out the window. The genie is out of the bottle, and there is no putting it back in. The so called “chaos” on the streets all around the country has been simmering for a long, long time. The proverbial frog in the boiling pot has jumped out – and it’s pissed off. Of course, we should not condone violence for violence sake, but we do need to understand the rationale behind what is going on.

[Students in Pretoria protesting the recent]

On the one hand anger knows no bounds, and the resulting aggression has been cast in many different directions without coordination or decision, with many unfortunate, even tragic, consequences. But, on the other hand, chaos, whether accidental or purposeful, is itself a tactic – a tried and tested one that has spotlighted or dismantled oppression in a myriad of ways throughout human history. It’s often a last resort – we should not be jumping to chaos as a first port of call – and we need to appreciate that many, many, many people feel that they are not being seen, heard, understood or considered in Eswatini, regardless of what they do. And so, after being invisible for too long, something else is happening.

Noise is being made. Things are being damaged. Flames are igniting. Chaos is on the streets. And you know what? It’s working. Change is in the air like it never has been before. The spotlight on us has never been brighter – we are shining it on ourselves, and the whole world is now watching. What we do with this now is up to all of us. The flame has been lit, and we want change. There is no backing down, and there is no going back. Where we go from here is up to all of us. It will not be easy, but it is definitely possible. We have been very vocal about what we don’t want – now let’s start uniting around what we do want. The future belongs to all of us, equally, together.