The South African December holiday is one of my absolute favourites, as most of the country shuts down over this time of year, resulting in a quiet inbox and some quality downtime.
Many of you reading this column have just returned from a good few weeks holiday and are feeling rested and ready to tackle 2018, after a 2017 that pulled the rug out from under you.
The new year has, however, started with a bang, as it usually does. Protests. A reminder that there is still much work to be done in South Africa (and indeed, around the globe) in terms of equality, transformation and socio-economic development.
During December, I volunteered at a Park Run held in an informal housing area. The route is beautiful, but what makes this Park Run one of the best in the country is the people.
The volunteers all arrive at the crack of dawn to start setting up. Everyone is there on an equal standing – no one knows whether anyone is a CEO, a student or a household helper. Everyone greets each other and gets to work. After some camaraderie and chatting about the holiday with the loud music coming from a nearby shebeen, the conversations move to family and work.
These volunteers are photographers, house helps, academics, waiters and many more all giving up their Saturday morning to serve other runners and portray the South Africa that we love – one that is not acknowledged and celebrated as often as it should be.
As the hours ticked by, we all started to share our joys and fears for 2018 with one another. There were people saddened about leaving a country they had fallen deeper in love with as they embraced what had become a volunteer family at the Park Run, as they were going on a 2-year study bursary to another country. Others were sharing how education is all that they desire for their children and the hardships and struggles that they have, and continue to endure, to ensure this for their children. And everyone celebrated a teenage girl who had been awarded a study scholarship in another country.
It was touching to watch the unity in the diversity that took place over those three hours. This kind of beauty takes place every week, not only with the volunteers but among the runners. Runners from all backgrounds are peers on the mountain. Their fitness and determination, rather than their status and financial standing, win the race.
It was this reminder of the South Africa that is so easy to miss, that has prompted my New Year’s resolution. I consciously want to seek out regular opportunities where I can engage, as a peer, with people of differing socio-economic standings – building friendships, understanding and ultimately building our nation.
I encourage and challenge you to move out of your comfort zones this year and do the same. It may feel awkward at times, but it is guaranteed to stir up your hope for our nation.