by Niza Jay (he/him) | Edited by Ines Euston (she/her)
Image by Михаил Секацкий
TW: mentions of rape, drugging and assault.
Taking responsibility for our actions and for our contribution to the conflicts in our life is a task that many of us struggle with. Why is this so? I have lived a very conflict-filled life, as have most people, and it took me a while to realise that in all the turmoil, the common denominator was me.
It took me even longer to understand that I was the only one who had the duty to change what had been my narrative for most of my life - that negativity was constantly following me, and I had no hand in it.
Think of all the times you've felt wronged, be it rightfully so or as a matter of ego. Maybe it was because you didn't get the mark you deserved in an exam, or because of family members who want to move on from a fallout without addressing it, or even when you are unhappy at work/in a business arrangement.
Most people know what it's like to feel like you've gotten what is unduly yours or vice versa. With that said, how often do we admit that in most, if not all cases, our own actions ultimately contribute to the manifestation of eventualities similar to those described above? Very often, there is a considerable amount of accountability that we ought to take for wherever we find ourselves in life and those who are reflective will always realise that they play a part in any conflict that they are involved in. Ideally, this realisation should also lead to them formulating solutions to resolve said conflict, while ensuring that they fully understand that owning up to their part of any dispute is the key to maintaining their own peace and sanity.
The question then becomes, “how does one attempt to take responsibility and accountability?”
It starts with being honest with yourself about prior decisions, subconscious thoughts, where you choose to place yourself, who you choose to associate with or how you react to the events in your life, and how those may or may not contribute to moments of "feeling wronged". We choose who we become, we show people how to treat us, and we are the only ones who can clearly articulate what we do and don't want. That being said, in our pursuit of self-assertion, we often encounter adversity - whether it’s others who may also be articulating their boundaries, or those who exist solely to protect and uphold structures of oppression. Nonetheless, we owe it to ourselves to rationally and reasonably overcome these factors as that is the only way we can create the world we desire.
For most of us, this is a tall order. It’s a difficult and emotional process that we would much rather bypass altogether. Most of us prefer the route that arguably seems easier, which is to point fingers and cast blame. Coincidentally, we live in an age where many assume that the act of calling out /whistleblowing is an effective way to get perceived aggressors to face the consequences of whatever misdeed they may have enacted. Whether this is true or not is a point that could be argued endlessly. On one hand, there are cases where allegations alone carry more weight than the actual process of finding out the truth. For example, in early 2021, two popular South African entertainers were dismissed from their jobs at a major media house after an anonymous woman opened a case of assault against them, after previously alleging on social media that the two had drugged and raped her. As of the writing of this article, the case has been dropped by the courts, both entertainers have not returned to their previous place of work and have subsequently sued the woman for damages. Conversely, there are other instances that have different results. Case in point, an American comedian elicited an outcry from a marginalised community after making comments that were perceived to be hateful and prejudicial by said community. Despite numerous “callouts”, the comedian suffered no impactful consequences - the material wherein the comments were made is still available for any and all to consume, and they are currently on a tour that has been attended by members and supporters of the disgruntled community.
I make the above examples to illustrate the following: We are able to take power in the act of publicly identifying antagonists, and we also happen to live in a time where new forms of communication have made it easy for someone who may feel wronged to call out and point fingers at the person they believed has wronged them. However, this doesn’t always guarantee consequences or change.
As an artist, I have seen many of my contemporaries take power in calling out individuals who made attempts, successfully and unsuccessfully, to adversely affect their lives and livelihoods. In 2019, actress Vatiswa Ndara wrote an open letter on Twitter to Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa to intervene and stop independent film productions from using performers as “modern-day slaves''. In the letter, she lifted the lid of the alleged abuse, exploitation and bullying that she and other performers had to endure at the hands of a local production company. She further detailed how said company wouldn't pay any of the lead actors a fair rate for their services, and how there were rumors of cash flow problems. During filming, Ndara also sustained an injury but, “there was no first aid assistance. The show had to go on,” she said.
Here we have a case of an employee alleging she had been repeatedly mistreated by her employers.
As is the case with most of these cases, the employers threatened legal action - an expensive and potentially taxing enterprise. While the actress received industry and public support, she was also subject to the unavoidable eventuality of being blacklisted by the producers.
None of this amounted to any formal proceedings where the validity of claims made were proven/disproven. Only those familiar with the production, and the local TV & film industry can truly opine on the matter. This should not have been the case, especially considering the fact that the minister had promised to conduct an investigation, and release the findings thereof. Moreover, this was a work dispute, therefore other regulatory structures such as the department of labour had a mandate to intervene in such a situation. The systematic failure of parties who are tasked with shepherding the relevant industry seems to validate the argument that pointing fingers, in whatever fashion, is not a certain way to resolve conflict.
As such, what interests me here, is that in Ndara's account, she willfully owns up to her part in the matter. She is honest about how she stayed and continued to work despite low pay, deteriorating work conditions and a general disregard for her safety and well-being.
Ndara clearly implicates herself, although she could have easily argued that there was no wrongdoing on her part. As I mentioned before, we choose who we become, we show people how to treat us,and we are the only ones who can clearly articulate what we want and don't want. That being said, there is an urgent need for not only artists, but for people in all spheres of life to resist poor treatment and to change the course of our existence in a progressive way.
I am of the belief that many people are aware of this, but have no understanding of how to apply it in real life.
Considering this, I would like to offer the opinion that we have been taught to rationalise all contention by identifying and distinguishing between the active and the passive. This makes it easier to pick sides and it makes it easier for us to protect ourselves from assuming responsibility. If you can claim and validate your passiveness, then you can automatically shift all obligations to the active participant. Furthermore, we are ego-driven creatures and our ego tends to make us believe that which is untrue, even about ourselves, purely to feed said ego. Our ego makes us buy into the notion that others owe us honesty, loyalty and respect. This is simply not the case. It is for this reason that we ought to take responsibility and accountability even when we feel wronged, because we may be valid in declaring how we feel, however those incidents may also be part of a much larger karmic sequence for ourselves and others. So in addition to recognising ourselves as active agents in what may very well be defining moments of distress, we also need to devise healthy ways of protecting ourselves, whether it be leading with disclaimers of treatment you will and won’t tolerate, or giving ourselves apologies that we may never receive from others.
I believe that only we have the power to determine our circumstances and reality. By shifting the blame wholly to another party, we fundamentally tell ourselves that we had no part to play in the things that happen to us, and that we can only find peace once that blame is assumed by another. This is destructive and offers no sustainable resolution to discord, which is a constant that we must all learn to navigate at various points in our lives.
We owe it to ourselves, to tap into our intuitive centers, so as to take control of our lives and to have an inner compass which we can always be accountable to so as to find methods to change circumstances through positive resistance. We can only do this by living in a constant state of honesty and reflection, taking stock of our flaws, habits, and our patterns while intentionally extending grace to ourselves first and then to others.
So even if you are reading this and you know that you can rightfully shift the blame for your misfortunes to someone else. Maybe you even think it would be wise to call out or point fingers, ask yourself, "what am I doing for myself". How am I being responsible and accountable for myself?
Instead of responding to hurt by hurting others, deflecting it or denying you did anything wrong - stop. Stop and think about the reaction you are having to this article. Are you reacting emotionally or responsibly? Perhaps you are experiencing a mixture of reactions. That too is valid. Take it upon yourself to reimagine how you can resolve that reaction or any incident where you have felt embattled, powerless or stunted.
Once you are able to determine that, you'll find yourself doing a lot more for yourself and being less concerned about what others have or haven't done for you.
Niza Jay (he/him) is a multi-disciplinary entertainer and SAFTA nominated actor who obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Dramatic Arts from the University of the Witwatersrand in 2017.
He has had starring roles in the South African films, Inxeba (2017), STAM (2020) and You're my favorite place (2022). Niza is also part of the star-studded ensemble cast in the South African and European Co-Production, “Blood Psalms”- an 11 part mythological fantasy series on
Showmax and Canal+.
He also works as a filmmaker, musician and entrepreneur. He founded his production company Unizon Entertainment in 2018. The company produced the play "While we Hate" which ran at The Joburg Theater and PopART Maboneng in 2019 .Unizon Ent is currently producing Niza's debut musical project with assistance from Tshepang 'RMBO' Ramoba of alt rock band The BLK JKS.
Niza's work extends to human rights advocacy, and he has partnered with organizations
such as The Other Foundation, The Meantime Men Los Angeles and Accountability