A couple walks into a KFC. Nonhhlanhla Soldaat and Hector Mkansi are a young South African couple who very clearly in love. Before the meal is over, Hector has gone down on one knee and has proposed marriage to his clearly moved girlfriend. With hand over mouth and a tear in her eye she accepts. Someone films the incident and posts it on Twitter.
And then, because it’s social media, a disparaging comment is made, along the lines Hector being “cheap” by propping at a fast food outlet. No one finds it funny and momentum begins to gather. The country reacts. Within hours, #KFCProposal becomes the number one trending hashtag on South African Twitter and the couple, who were since identified, have been gifted with a honeymoon, flights, a wedding, clothes, shoes, famous entertainers, wedding cakes, groceries, two cows (it’s a South African thing) and many more items. There is in fact a two-page spreadsheet that lists all the gifts so far. While some “gifters” might have used the event as a public relations stunt, the spontaneity of the outpouring of love and generosity is undoubtedly genuine.
South Africa is a country with significant challenges. The state of the economy following years of merciless government corruption, the high crime and ailing infrastructure plays heavily on the psyche and morale of its citizens. The Jewish community, although still strong and intact, is impacted in much the same way and is not shielded from these factors. The result is that many are leaving with the hope of seeking a stable future.
But it is not all doom and gloom. Early September a Facebook group called #ImStaying was formed. The idea was to showcase the positive aspects of South African society. Within two months more than 800,000 people had joined, signalling a desire to look not only at the negative, but also the positive.
The optimism continued this week with South Africa’s win at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. The spirit that South Africa calls “Ubuntu,” which is togetherness, showcased the magnificence of the spirit of the country. The county’s backing of the “Bokke” unified a people who are justifiably stressed and anxious. It elucidated what can be achieved when country that has worked so hard to break down racial divide sees beyond colour. It has been evidenced over and over that it is the South African spirit that managed to achieve the impossible.
That is the spirit that has made the Shabbos Project a global movement. It is the spirit of “Ubuntu” that Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein has bottled and exported to the world. It is the desire to see beyond levels of religious observance and of religious grouping. It is not denial of a world that rages outside our homes, but a refuge within that gives us the resilience to face the world when shabbat ends. It is a respite from the stress and anxiety and the worry and a focus on the basic principles of it means to be human.
It is the simplicity of a young couple with little financial means becoming engaged at a KFC over lunch. It is the singing of songs when the Springboks win the Rugby World Cup and it is a Facebook group that says, yes there is negative, but here, on this platform we are celebrating each other .
It is why South Africa was and always has been, uniquely positioned to gift the Shabbos Project to the world.