By: Akwu, Nneka Augustina
The average South African citizen knows a significant amount about his or her rights, however, access to certain fundamental human rights is still a struggle. Rights such as the provision of basic services e.g., healthcare, housing, and education to all citizens, but the reality is that many people still lack access to these essential services due to systemic inequalities and corruption. The South African Constitution obliges the Government to protect and promote the rights of every individual. This is specified particularly under the Bill of Rights that; everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. Former South African president and civil rights advocate, Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to fighting for equality and ultimately helped destroy South Africa’s racist system of apartheid to an extent. In South Africa, activism has a long history that dates to the 19th century, and the most significant and well-known era of activism was the battle against apartheid, which started in the 1940s and lasted until the early 1990s. Activism is one of the ways through which young people express their feelings and interfere in social, political, economic, and environmental reform in society in order to make changes. Advocating for a cause one believes in can be one of the most rewarding feelings of all time. In addition, making a difference in one’s community can be exciting and encouraging and at the same time, it can be stressful leading to fatigue. Activism fatigue is a common phenomenon among activists who experience emotional and physical exhaustion, burnout, and a loss of motivation to continue their work. Activism is still prevalent in South Africa because of the country’s systemic failures and history in the past few decades. It is also a fight for citizen equality for social justice, e.g., the demand to include the majority of the black population in its affairs, to demonstrations against gender-based violence, and campaigns for free tertiary education. These activities are usually time-consuming and hence take a toll on the participants’ or activists’ physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Nonetheless, due to the prolonged and occasionally emotionally exhausting nature of activism, many activists eventually succumb to “activism fatigue,” in which they get demoralised, exhausted, and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the causes they are fighting for. Activism fatigue is also known as social justice burnout. To avoid total burnout, it’s critical for activists or participants who are campaigning for social or political change to identify when they need to take breaks.
Strategies that must be adopted by activist to relieve activism fatigue in South Africa
It is crucial to consider certain potential viewpoints that might assist in relieving activism fatigue in fighting for equality for all in South Africa. These include:
Self-care, empathy and self-compassion: Taking care of one’s physical, emotional, and mental health is referred to as self-care. Self-compassion entails treating oneself with love and understanding, whereas empathy is the capacity to comprehend and share others’ feelings. Taking care of oneself is essential to avoid burnout and fatigue. South African activists must prioritise self-care to minimize burnout. This includes getting enough sleep, exercise, and eating a healthy diet, partaking in enjoyable activities, and asking mental health specialists for support. Other activities, such as meditation or mindfulness, can also help manage stress and improve mental well-being. When pursuing social justice causes, compassion for oneself and others is crucial.
Seeking support: Activists can seek support from like-minded individuals, organizations, or mental health professionals. Being part of a community can provide a sense of solidarity and motivation to continue the fight for equality. They receive emotional support and are not worn out in their fight for equality.
Taking breaks: Activists can take breaks from activism to recharge and focus on other areas of their lives. This can help reduce burnout and provide a fresh perspective when they return to their activism work.
Recognise and celebrate modest successes: When new legislation in support of a noble cause is passed into law after a long-term activism endeavour, it can occasionally be difficult to recognise progress. Therefore, it’s essential to recognize, and honour triumphs whether major or minor.
Reflect on actions: To prevent fatigue or burnout, activists must make sure that their acts are consistent with their principles; remain focused and committed to their struggle for equality and social justice. In addition, activists should reflect on their actions, i.e., challenge presumptions, admit errors, and analyse biases.
Encourage a sense of communal duty: Fatigue may be minimized when a sense of collective responsibility is in stilled in all citizens and the distribution of tasks is encouraged by activists who fight for social justice and equality.
Managing expectations: Activists can manage their expectations and that of their followers by acknowledging that change may take time, setting realistic goals and communicating clearly about the progress and challenges of their cause. This can help prevent feelings of burnout, disappointment, or frustration, even among supporters when progress is slow, or setbacks occur.
Celebrating small wins: Activists can celebrate small victories and milestones along the way to keep themselves motivated. This can help them feel a sense of progress and accomplishment, even if the overall goal of equality has not yet been achieved. More so, in order to help their followers, overcome challenges and maintain motivation, activists can also offer support and resources. This can ultimately help followers achieve their goals more successfully. Recognizing and applauding minor victories along the road can also keep everyone motivated and concentrated on the primary goal.
Staying informed: Activists can stay informed about current events and changes in policies or legislation that may affect their activism work. This can help them stay up to date and adapt their strategies as needed.
Prioritizing mental health: Activists can prioritize their mental health by taking breaks when necessary, asking for help from family members or mental health specialists, and practising self-care techniques like exercise, meditation, or hobbies. Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and trauma can be common among activists, and seeking professional help can be crucial to managing these issues.
In conclusion: Activism in South Africa may sometimes play a significant role in the societal struggle for social justice. It is important for citizens to prioritise self-care at every stage to address the problem of fatigue or burnout. In the struggle for equality, political and social justice activists maintain their enthusiasm and motivation while putting a check on their mental health and wellness.
Dr. Nneka Akwu is a postdoctoral researcher at the North-West University, South Africa. She writes in her personal capacity.