By: Thoko Mpumlwana
In the past weeks I have been waking up in the middle of the night asking myself where our world is going to if human beings can take children away from schools in order to drive their message across to the powerful or their ideological opponents. I ask myself whether those who have done it care at all for all the protests and solidarity activities that poured out the world over. What pleases me and gives me hope are the millions of the world who came out to condemn this action even though I tell myself that those who have done this do not seem to care for those girls.
I am glad, though, that this time the world has not looked away.
20 years ago in April 1994 in our beloved continent “we looked away”. In South Africa we were busy with our first democratic elections and consumed by our imminent freedom whilst about 2700 kilometers north of us in Rwanda 800 000 women, men and children were being killed for being different. Some may have called it a “just war” others dismissed it as a “domestic conflict”. The end result is that the world will never recover from yet another shameful behavior of ignoring or denying a genocide. The truth is, we looked away.
It is worth acknowledging that this time, as the world, we are not looking away. Even though South Africa had elections again in 2014, we did not look away. The solidarity and concern that the world has displayed for the missing Nigerian girls is moving. It shows that humanity still retains a lot of good. We have seen people coming out of their safe spaces and cocoons, and asking in desperation what they can do to make their voices heard, and for it to be known that they care. It is great to know that people do want a just and fair society even if they may not know what they may do to create such a world because “ubuntu” simply means, in the struggle slogan, “an injury to one is an injury to all”.
Imagine, sleeping in your house and not knowing what your abducted daughter is eating, where she is sleeping, whether her body has not been violated and whether all her limbs are still there. You wonder if she will ever come back alive. It is not surprising that the world has registered its disgust and shock at this action. If this is war then a war has rules and the rules should be just. War is a battle over power by those who wish to wrestle with each other. It cannot be that women and children should be used in these power struggles.
Having praised those who have not “looked away” at such injustice, I plead with those who justify such action and violations of the rights of schoolgirls, to reflect on their thoughts. Using force and power on the least powerful is simply an act of cowardice! Battles, if they are to be declared at all, should be openly fought in battlefields by people who choose to participate even though I believe times for violent wars are over.
People should seek humane methods of resolving their conflicts.
20 years on since Rwanda, I wonder if much has changed if we still have people justifying this act arguing that the situation in Northern Nigeria is complicated, ideological/political and historically understandable. This, for me, takes away hope for the world. How can we even justify such callous and inhuman action?
Fast forward, today we hear again that now mothers have been taken away! What cowardise!
I do, of course, believe that nation-states should be founded on values of tolerance, appreciation of diversity and the humanity of all, on sharing and caring. I believe nation-states should themselves reflect on what they should do make all their citizens feel that they belong. If they ignore this, then dogmatic fundamentalism creeps in, and tolerance of the other totally disappears, and citizens start to lose their humanity and “ubuntuness” and do what Boko Haram does.
When intolerance persists, then bombs are let loose on citizens;villages are pillaged, women raped and maimed, children killed, innocent lives lost and fear abounds in these power games. Social cohesion is eroded, such that countries become shells and not homes.
Our girls in Nigeria are caught up in this situation and the reason given is that they dared to exercise their right to education.
Many weeks later, the girls are not back! I hope the world will keep on being in solidarity with them and their families and that, hopefully, a lasting solution will be found.
Let us not look away, especially those of us who live in the continent of Africa. As Martin Niemoeller, a German Christian said in his famous address to the United Nations:
“When Hitler attacked the Jews
I was not a Jew, therefore, I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked Catholics,
I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned,
And when Hitler attacked unions and industrialists,
I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned.
Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant Church-
And there was nobody left to be concerned.
As South Africans we should care when evil befalls others in our own country, and also outside our borders. Leaders of the continent please stand up! Human Rights activists speak out; parents or human beings of the continent make it known that you do not belong to the league of abductors and killers of people for being different. One’s diversity of views, gender, sex, religion, belief, culture, birth ethnic and social origin disability, age and so on has no bearing on the humanity of the other. Our frustration should not allow us to default to abuse and discrimination.
We want an Africa that cares and we will ensure that the next generation finds Africa a home worth living in. The African Union has put out many charters and protocols that paint a picture of a good Africa. Our leaders should abide by these, and as citizens we should cooperate towards building such an Africa where dignities, rights and freedoms will be protected and exercised; an Africa where women and men will help build communities. Bombs and violence will not take us anywhere! Undoing the emotional and physical damage caused by war is a mammoth task. We want peace and peaceful co-existence not war.