Last year on a Friday like this one I walked into one of the bigger public hospitals in Pretoria to visit my maternal grandmother.
We found her face resting on her left hand. Her breathing laboured, her eyes glazed and unmoving.
My mother checked her pulse and it was still there, pumping. I was relieved because as we approached I thought we had come too late. So, I tried to speak to her; hoping that something would register and wake her up. Her lips were parched, dry like crackling and her mouth was agape.
We’d been given instructions not to bring her anything on our visit. No water, no juice, nothing. While standing by her bedside I began to worry. I was concerned about her condition which didn’t look good. So I decided to step into the nurses room to ask.
I explained to the nurses that I was her granddaughter and had travelled for over 600 kilometres to see her that day. I wondered if they could explain what was happening to her, why she was not responsive to our voices or why she was not moving at all.
My question was met with dead silence. For a while I stood there in front of them alone and baffled. The nurses sat back and stared at everything around them. Others looked straight at me, their hands folded neatly below their bellies in resignation.
Then one of them answered. She said her doctor will be back on Monday, and we should come back then for answers.
My voice was hiding somewhere in my belly button and I didn’t have the strength to fish it out, it had become too painful to speak. Monday was too far to wait for answers.
So I slowly walked back to my grandmother’s bed and saw her file still on the table. I opened and read it. She had cancer of the colon, which had matastasized. They had operated on her a day earlier hoping to remove what they thought was one tumor but on opening her up they found many more blocking her entire colon. They failed to remove one and the operation was unsuccessful. She was 78.
I watched my mother as she spoke to Gogo, telling her that we were there, sitting next to her, loving her. I cancelled all plans for the rest of the day in my mind and decided to wait. I sat next to her and listened as her breathing became shallower, and shallower until I could no longer hear it.
I looked at my grandmother’s feet which were uncovered and wondered if she didn’t feel cold and why she didn’t have socks on. I looked at my sister and my mom who had her back on me. Then looked at her again, this time she was starring right back at me, and for a second I thought I saw signs of life. I thought she had come back. So I started to joke with her, asking why she’d been pretending not to recognise me.
As I was busy giggling and laughing at my own jokes my mother looked back at me -her disapproval shaded her bloodshot eyes, the veins on her forehead were protruding violently beneath her skin and her mouth didn’t move. I was confused. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I leaned my head to the side and my mother shook hers from side to side. Then she let go of grandmother’s hand and walked to the nurses room.
A few minutes later, she came back with a troop of nurses following behind her. My grandmother had been resting her face on her left arm, and when they removed it her head didn’t move. They checked her pulse and then began to draw the curtains. Her hand had left an imprint of a fist on the side of her cheek.
It is only then that I realised what had happened.
I felt the world go black, my sister held me up before my body could reach the ground. The nurses came to assist her and held me up while my mother gave me tough love: “don’t do this,” she ordered.
My sister walked me outside for some fresh air as I held on to her for strength.
Eventually we were called into the doctors room where the intern on duty explained everything which I had already read in her medical chart. It had been a risky operation, especially on someone so old – there was nothing they could do about her cancer which had spread. In short the operation had failed and the doctors had issued an order not to resuscitate in the event that she struggled to breathe.
“So unfortunately” He said while leaning back on the table. “she has expired”
Last week I had an opportunity to attend The Gathering, a media event organised by the Daily Maverick to raise funds for it’s online news publication and to discuss some of the pressing socio-political issues facing the country.
I listened as Zimbabwean Politician Tendai Biti, Mmusi Maimane and Zito Kabwe of Tanzania discussed Democracy and Autocracy in Africa. I listened as they told me yet again that the solution to the continent’s problems still rest in a change of political leadership.
I couldn’t help but think of my grandmother and her her lifeless face. I couldn’t understand how my mind could trick me into believing that she would live even after reading her medical chart and seeing all the signs with my own eyes. I still held on to the hope that she would still live even though the doctors said there was nothing more they could do to help her, they should not have operated when they did.
Even in my own life, as I board the train back home from work in the afternoons holding-on to the rails as sweat warms my face when the train grinds to another stop in the middle of nowhere – because of some malfunction. Even as I take a cold shower in the morning because there is no hot water. As I hear colleagues tell me about the lack of interest from the police to investigate criminal cases of corruption and fraud or as I hear of how disinterested government officials are in solving anything because their hands are also tied, so we all have to wait until the next election to get the answers. I feel my stomach churn.
I wonder if it’s not too late. I wonder if I am not fooling myself into believing things will change like I did when I watched my grandmother die. I wonder if I am not watching the dream of a better South Africa die right in front of my eyes and there’s nothing I can do about it. I wonder if I am not ignoring the signs. I wonder what is the right thing to do for right now.
Corruption does not affect those who steal and pillage. It affects us ordinary, non-aligned citizens – the dreamers and believers. People who want to live in peace. Corruption is so corrosive; it eats away at people’s core values, their raison d’être, their spiritual, emotional and soul anchors, it obstructs their guiding principles. It pulls the ground from under our feet.
It kills people while they are still alive. It makes it hard for people to make an honest living. To get an education, meaningful work, food, clothing and good health care. To have a higher quality of life. To care, about anything or anyone.
The ANC, the EFF and all those political parties and their leaders are not trading in rands and cents, they are trading in peoples blood. They are killing our children, our elders and able young people. They are not stealing cash, they are taking the very breath out of our lungs. They are killing what makes us all human.
This makes me angry. Watching them pout with disinterest and pride at such critical moment in the history of the world and our democracy makes me angry. While anger is often an unwelcome emotion, sometimes it is necessary. So after a week reflecting on this truism from Paolo Coehlo’s blog, I can agree that;
I have also learned that sometimes when I am angry, I have a right to be.
Because no matter what we do, we can’t recycle wasted time. Corruption is a waste of time and of people’s lives. And this is unacceptable.