SA’s new wave of online optimism

The South African Facebook pages Good Things Guy and #ImStaying collectively have more than half a million followers and members, and is growing daily. Despite the clouds of darkness hanging over the local landscape, the sun do seem to peak out at times.

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Sometimes pure herders animals, then again swimming against the stream. Somewhere in the middle is that genuine South African ubuntu – the caring and compassion and consideration for and towards one’s fellow humans. It’s the extra bread and milk in the shopping trolley, the almost-never-worn outfits, that piece-job on a Saturday.  Sometimes it is also just a sympathetic and willing ear to hear the lamentations of everyday life.

Almost six years ago, Brent Lindeque decided to pay it forward after a NEC nomination (online drinking competition) from a friend from Australia. On January 31, 2014, he posted his version, renamed RAK (Random Act of Kindness) nomination, on YouTube and urged others to assist those in need. At first, it was South Africans who were called to action, later it spread through the rest of the world and then with people like Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres giving it a mention, it went viral.

(YouTube links for Brent’s first RAK nomination video on January 31, 2014 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-wztJ4m6xE)

With that RAK nomination as inspiration, Good Things Guy (https://www.facebook.com/goodthingsguy) officially launched on August 1, 2015 as “the home of all that is good and these are the things that really matter ”. It has been his mission from the beginning to shift people’s focus and what they pay attention to through these platforms, to change what people talk about and to give South Africans a more balanced look at the news in, from and about the country, says Brent.

“We believe there is good news all around us and the more than a million people who read our stories every month show that we are right. We’re going everywhere for these types of stories, not only from South Africa, but also in the rest of the world. I stand by the philosophy of empowerment through the power of positive thinking.”

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It is this philosophy of holding on to faith, to not give up that made Jarette Petzer decide one morning just over a month ago – yes, in this country the prospects look rather bleak, but up to here and not an inch further! A friend encouraged him to start a Facebook group and share a short video from his personal page, in which he mentions the things he is grateful for in South Africa, on the new page. #ImStaying is created on 7 September (https://www.facebook.com/ImStayingSA/).

According to the page, #ImStaying is “dedicated to women and men of all races, cultures, religions and creeds that choose to grow and improve South Africa.  This group is to honour all those who still believe that we as a nation can turn things around. We focus on the people, beauty and positivity in South Africa and all the good vibes. To all those who choose to work as one, to grow this beautiful country we call home!  This group belongs to all willing to make a positive difference! Good Thoughts – Good Words – Good Deeds”.

Jarette says the unprecedented growth has knocked him off his feet, but even more so, has given gave a connection between ‘ordinary’ South Africans.

“It was a huge surprise to me. I have connected with so many ordinary South Africans from every walk of life. We all love this country. This is our home. We all want to see the economy grow, for people to be employed and create businesses. We all want a good place for our children and their children to grow up in.”

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Brent is that person, the Feel Good/Do Good guy. But on Wednesday he wrote on Twitter (@BrentLindeque) “I’m not looking for sympathy”. In that moment, a close friend’s suicide makes him the one who is looking for a shoulder to cry on and for whom life was just “incredibly sad”.

Twitter – @BrentLindeque – 10am:

“Airports are like a twilight zone… It is 10am on a Wednesday and there is a woman with a Chardonnay on my left and a man on my right who is sipping on a G&T. Departure halls do not appear to have time zones.”

Twitter – @BrentLindeque – Two hours later:

“I sit at the airport cafe and sob. I miss my friend with whom I spent most of my time on Varsity. I’m sad because he was sad. I’m angry because I didn’t see it. My heart is shattered because I couldn’t help him. None of this is right. Mental health awareness needs more attention… I think we should find a way to change our mental health conversation… We have to care for each other…”

Brent was on his way back to Johannesburg after addressing a conference of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) in Durban when I tried to get in touch. The theme of the five day conference was ‘The Butterfly Effect’. It began on the same day that Brent’s friend could not see a way out of his struggles, and which now makes him ponder if even the slightest of encouragements could have, would have made a difference. Prophetic?

It is amid this sad state of affairs and internal storm of emotions, and with the year coming to an end with so much still to be done, that Brent says he will not complain.

“Thank you for the nice message about my friend. It really was a gruelling week, but we are a close knit group of friends and we are helping each other stay strong.“

There are many official and influential awards in Brent and the Good Things Guy’s trophy cabinet – including Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans (2014), South Africans to Follow on Social Media (2016), 100 Young Mandelas of the Future (2019), 100 Most Influential Young South Africans – Winner Social Development and Philanthropy (2018).

This local and global recognition for a movement that has already spurred millions into action and still continues to spread good news through positive thinking and good deeds is not what Brent is all about. He remains a fearless dreamer and eternal optimist who sees only one path – forward and upward!

“I know I’m on the right track. Good Things Guy feels like a gift given to me to help South Africans to look at this beautiful country of ours with new eyes. I am grateful to everyone who reads our stories and is inspired by them, to go and be of service to someone else and to create a chain reaction. “