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Defence of the defenceless

As you’ve all read and/or watched, people in Gaza have suffered 2 days of bombings by Israeli forces.  The death toll stands at nearly 300 while several hundred more are injured, many severely.

It is difficult to make sense of the destruction of life and property and even more difficult, the callous disregard of world leadership.  It is disheartening to read news sites such as the BBC and the witness how people flippantly justify the carnage.

While I’m not certain that letter-writing will have an influence in easing their present suffering, I would urge you to write to your local member of parliament or equivalent.  And to donate funds to any non-profit organization you trust to provide medical and supply aid to those injured and displaced.

(Images Courtesy of The New York Times)

I’ve been riding on a very wonderful euphoric high that started sometime last night after I heard Senator McCain’s concession speech and knew that America had a new president. But I was snapped out of my trip down euphoria by this very rude awakening…

I am now beyond outraged! How could they?! Are we to join the ranks of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and every other rag-tag nation that uses religion to victimise and oppress women and children.

The Somalia I’ve been taught about is not a country which stones 13-year old gang-rape victims for adultery, while the rapists roam around free (and probably with pride)!

I can’t believe this that I’ve been sitting here angry and in between tears. May God Rest Her Soul in Peace. My deepest and sincerest condolences to her family.  And may those who stoned her and her rapists Rot in Hell both in this life and in the hereafter. I’ve never cursed anyone, but this time I do!

I should stop this post here… I’m too upset to write coherently.

Go President Obama!

obama-barack-biden-joe-vice-president-announcement

Many many congratulations America from a Brit!

Firstly, I express my pride and gratitude to each and every one of you who went out today and voted, regardless of who you voted for.

Secondly, you’ve finally showed the world today with your votes that you can vote with your minds and no longer with your hearts as you so often have.

Congratulations President-Elect Barack Obama and your running mate Joe Biden!

I wish you all the best and may you lead with intelligence and courage as you’ve promised your people and the world.

America is now officially in the 21st Century. Obama and his election as president has revolutionised your country’s political system to confer with how you define yourself – as the multi-racial and multi-religious country that is largely very tolerant of all, that you most certainly are.

This today folks is the official end of the Civil Rights Movement!

I am very proud of you America today.

PS: Despite his loss, John McCain is an honourable good man, excellent politician and a very patriotic American. I hope that Obama realises his worth and makes him a member of his team.

African Poetry 1

I was to write this long discussion on one of Africa’s many ailments when I decided that it was about time someone wrote something hopeful for a change. Why go into a long diatribe on how miserable life is, when one can post a beautiful poem which might touch on some of those diatribes but does it in such an anonymous manner? So this will be the start of a once-in-a-blue moon post on African poetry, and whenever such is the case, there will be a link to the poet’s website (and/or infomation) if available.

Anywho moving on, today’s poet is Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001), Senegal’s first president, world-renowned poet, cultural theorist, and philosopher. I mean this was the man who coined the concept of ‘Negritude‘ which was defined as the literary and artistic expression of black African culture. In historical context the term has been seen as an ideological reaction against French colonialism and a defence of African culture (so frigging what, right?) Anyways, it has influenced the strengthening of African identity especially in the French-speaking black world. I mean he did coin the phrase:

“L’èmotion est nègre, la raision est héllène.” (emotion is Negro, reason is Greek)

But let me get back on track – I’m not here to expound the man’s many theories on life and identity (btw, if any of you ever get a chance, you should look into them – he was brilliant) – but to post a very beautiful poem of his, so without further ado, here is…

Nuit de Siné

Femme, pose sur mon front tes mains balsamiques, tes mains douces plus que fourrure.
Là-haut les palmes balancées qui bruissent dans la haute brise nocturne
À peine. Pas même la chanson de nourrice.
Qu’il nous berce, le silence rythmé.
Écoutons son chant, écoutons battre notre sang sombre, écoutons
Battre le pouls profond de l’Afrique dans la brume des villages perdus.

Voici que décline la lune lasse vers son lit de mer étale
Voici que s’assoupissent les éclats de rire, que les conteurs eux-mêmes
Dodelinent de la tête comme l’enfant sur le dos de sa mère
Voici que les pieds des danseurs s’alourdissent, que s’alourdit la langue des choeurs alternés.

C’est l’heure des étoiles et de la Nuit qui songe
S’accoude à cette colline de nuages, drapée dans son long pagne de lait.
Les toits des cases luisent tendrement. Que disent-ils, si confidentiels, aux étoiles ?
Dedans, le foyer s’éteint dans l’intimité d’odeurs âcres et douces.

Femme, allume la lampe au beurre clair, que causent autour les Ancêtres comme les parents, les enfants au lit.
Écoutons la voix des Anciens d’Elissa. Comme nous exilés
Ils n’ont pas voulu mourir, que se perdît par les sables leur torrent séminal.
Que j’écoute, dans la case enfumée que visite un reflet d’âmes propices
Ma tête sur ton sein chaud comme un dang au sortir du feu et fumant
Que je respire l’odeur de nos Morts, que je recueille et redise leur voix vivante, que j’apprenne à
Vivre avant de descendre, au-delà du plongeur, dans les hautes profondeurs du sommeil.

(Léopold Sédar Senghor -De: Chants d’ombre (1945) , © Editions du Seuil, Paris)

Night of Sine

Woman, put on my forehead your balsam hands, your hands softer than fur.
Up there, the tall palm trees swinging in the night breeze rustle
hardly. Not even the nurse’s song.
Let the rhythmic silence rock us.
Let’s listen to its song, let’s listen to the beating of our dark blood, let’s listen
To the beating-of the dark pulse of Africa in the mist of lost villages.

Look how the tired moon sinks towards its bed of slack water,
Look how the burst of laughter doze off, and even the bards themselves
Dandle their heads like children on the backs of their mother.
Look how the feet of the dancers grow heavy, as well as the tongue of the alternating chorus.

This is the hour of the stars and of the Night that dreams
Reclining on that range of clouds, draped in its long gown of milk.
The roofs of the huts gleam gently. What are they so confidently telling to the stars?
Inside, the hearth extinguishes in the intimacy of bitter and sweet scents.

Woman, light the lamp of butterclear oil, let the Ancesters, like their parents, talk the children in bed.
Let’s listen to the voice of the Ancients of Elissa. Exiled as we are
They did not want to die, their seminal flood is lost in the sand.
Let me hear, in the smoky which I visit, a reflection of propitious souls
Let my head on your breast, warm as a dang taken from the fire and smoking
Let me inhale the smell of our Dead, let me collect and repeat their living voice, let me learn
To live before I sink, deeper than the diver, into the lofty depth of sleep.

(Tr. by Germain Droogenbroodt)

**As Senghor defined it, “Negritude is the totality of the cultural values of the Black world.”

Not to focus too much on South Africa but I thought a follow-up might do no harm. I was reading the London Review of Books, the other day, and came across the Jenny Diski’s essay on post-apartheid South Africa. I found it to be thoughtful and well-observed without being cynical, as most others are. I would have put up excerpts, but I think its better read in its entirety (here).

Food for thought: Political changes, no matter how hard people fight for it, almost always end up being different than what anyone expected. Minds don’t change as quickly as governments do.

My friend Z. was excitedly telling me not two days ago how she was happy that her best friend who was in a study abroad programme the past year would be returning this Friday. And since I have it on good authority that the most favourite study abroad programmes for Americans are usually in Europe, imagine my surprise when she told me very smugly that this was in South Africa.

I recovered from my initial shock very quickly, and politely asked how the friend had liked the experience. Instead of responding to my question, Z. proceeded to tell me how she was impressed that “Considering how long the oppression of minorities had gone for, she was pleased that South Africa has surpassed that summit of racism and oppression.” I was too caught with “minorities” to only look at her with a wide-gaped expression, before she continued in the same smug tone, “Now, if you compare it to how America has dealt with its slavery past, it is something for South Africa to be proud of.”

I can forgive Z. – she doesn’t mean much harm as I have been assured by the same authority – but I was so flabbergasted by the comments since they triggered the below memory (which I also related to her) that I had to write this post.

I don’t know how many of you read the reports, in February, about an incident that took place at the University of the Free State (UFS) in South Africa. In summary, a bunch of racist white students decided to torture black employees and then posted a video of their exploits on the internet as a warning against the integration of residence halls on campus!

Seriously speaking: Which world do these the-present-is-so-peachy people live in? These are the same people who wonder why Jacob Zuma fans still sing old songs about machine guns. How confounding is it to get that after hundred of years abuse and oppression that blacks were forced to endure under white racists in South Africa, they still found it in their hearts to forgive and move on, and then to be still confronted with this savagery from a bunch of white thugs who seem to have been so confident of their impunity as to post the evidence themselves? It’s very sickening and disheartening.

What can be done? I don’t know. But I am glad that I can share at least a more rational view from Sean Jacobs.

South Africa’s Ugly Present
By Sean Jacobs

It will be interesting to see over the next few days how western (and South African) media (including South Africa’s racially skewed blogosphere) will report on the racist incident on a university campus in South Africa’s Free State (sic) province.

If you have not seen or heard about it yet, a group of white students forced black staff to eat food that had been urinated on.

If the BBC’s tone is anything to go by, get ready for some apologetic reporting.

The BBC used scare quotes to describe the incident. As a friend reminded me, “why, in reporting an appalling recent incidence of abuse of blacks by whites in South Africa, did the BBC opt to use quotes? The headline reads “Outcry in SA over ‘racist’ video”. So which is it – is it racist? Or is it merely ‘racist’?”

I hope I am proven wrong, but I doubt we will see a serious discussion and reportage about how racial apartheid lives on in South Africa’s rural provinces, its small city campuses (like the University of the Free State) and schools, as well as its small towns and farming districts where things have not changed much.

Last June, I visited the district in Small Karoo (Klein Karoo in Afrikaans) where my mother was born. She’s the daughter of farm workers who moved to Cape Town as a young woman in the 1960s to do domestic work for whites. We witnessed the still-feudal labour and living conditions that still exist there, and are very similar, she reminded me, to when she was a child.

I am also reminded of a trip I took with three other friends (two black and one white American) to the Oppikoppi music festival in the North West Province a few years back (this was after 2000). We were settling in at the camp ground when a car with the flag of the 19th century white Afrikaner republic drove past our camping spot and the occupants, looking in our direction, gestured: “Wat maak die kaffers hier?” (Literally translated: “What are the niggers doing here?”)

We also now learn that the racist students at the Free State University were not just a few bad apples. The case highlights a greater, institutional culture at the university that tolerated this kind of behaviour. That black people had been complaining for a while about racist incidents. These included “… an advert on the university intranet system requesting a roommate who ‘should not be black and should be Christian’, dehumanising initiation practices and lecturers making fun of a student with an albinism condition.”

Watch over the next few days as the victims get blamed. For being the “collateral damage” of “racial tensions” on the campus, or the result of too much integration of the university’s residences by “pushy” black students. And the protests already under way will be scrutinised; the behaviour of protesters and protest leaders will be judged in terms of how “responsible” they are in keeping black “anger” in check. There will be calls for the situation to calm down so we can get things back to normal.

Some will also hope, like the “liberal” South African Institute for Race Relations has already done, that this mess will go away, as it bedevils “race relations” and South Africa’s “reputation”.

What they mean is that the current set-up, by which South Africa is the most unequal country in the world along racial lines, will be threatened. As if the current set-up is the best thing South Africa can afford. My wife has a phrase to describe white liberal sensibilities in South Africa: “Freedom is [the] freedom to get in line behind us.”

Already in some quarters (the “racial tensions” framers like the leader of the “opposition” Democratic Alliance) there are attempts to give equal weight to the University of the Free State incident and the recent murder of four black people by a young white man in the country’s northwest on the one hand, and on the other the frivolous charge by white journalists that they were denied entrance to a meeting by the private Forum of Black Journalists. (On the latter issue, there is nothing wrong in principle with a black journalists’ forum, given the history of that profession in South Africa. That is not the same as having an opinion about the people currently running it.)

The larger context is, of course, that it has become an article of faith inside and outside South Africa (and in some quarters within the country, especially among white liberals), as well as among those with an interest in developments there (including foreign journalists), that:

• Overt racism is a thing of the past.

• That the changes from white minority control to a more equitable society are moving too fast.

• That blacks expect too much.

• That the changes since 1994 are all “reverse racism”.

• That the current state of affairs should be laid at the door of the “black” government.

Yes, it is true that every day in South Africa, black people are not forced to eat food laced with urine by whites, dragged behind trucks, fed to lions or murdered for no other reason than they are not white.

It is also true that not all whites act like this.

And it is certainly the case that since 1994 South Africa has been governed by a democratic government. The faces of the national government, and the majority of provincial and city governments today, are black faces, be they Thabo Mbeki at national level, Beatrice Marshoff at provincial level in the Free State or Gertrude Mothupi, mayor of Bloemfontein, the city where the University of the Free State is situated.

Since 1994 the size and relative wealth of Africans, and blacks in general, as a class have grown considerably, whether personified by the success of communications magnate Cyril Ramaphosa or mining entrepreneur Patrice Motsepe. As the Guardian reported in 2004:

“A decade later, according to the department of trade and industry, black people have moved from zero to 10% of company ownership and occupy 15% of skilled positions. The richest black people’s incomes have risen 30% and you see them spending it in air-conditioned shopping malls and pricey restaurants.”

This is encouraging, but note, however, that blacks comprise about 80-85% of the population.

So while it is true that blacks and whites at the top are integrated (and the Forum for Black Journalists “dispute” reflects the kind of politics of this “new” non-racial elite), outside of this small stratum, the worlds of whites and black South Africans are, to a great extent, still separate ones.

The rate of intermarriage is negligible; integrated neighbourhoods like those in soap operas are, with a few urban exceptions, quite literally a fiction. Working together in an office does not qualify as integration.

Today, 61% of blacks are considered poor, as compared to 1% of whites. According to government statistics, about one in ten African adults suffers from malnourishment and at least one in four African children suffer from stunted growth. Only 17% of “coloured” households and 10% of African households earn incomes to put them in into the top income quintile. By contrast, 65% of white households are in the top quintile.

And while crime is rampant, and does not discriminate on the basis of race, the majority of victims of crime are black.

The University of the Free State and this state of affairs are the real racism(s) in South Africa.

Like all inflated dreams, we were so excited to research, write, advocate, and inform a wide audience on Somalia and related issues. This was to be our forum, which unfortunately we did not take advantage of, myself included.

So, here is A. who in a fit of euphoria feels like a conqueror. I want to reopen, restart, breath some new life into this project. Perhaps, the contributors of whom I only know Isseh, Aya and Shafi, can write on whatever pertinent issue that they feel strongly about – not to change the focus of the website but perhaps an Africa-wide focus might provide us with some much-needed impetus.

Shafi, as our resident Somalia and Somali-related issues expert, is who I volunteer as the lead in the Horn matters. We can look to guidance to Isseh, analyst extraordinaire. And, finally, Aya whose humour will bring a smile to anyone’s face can (if she does not bite our heads off for our previously displayed laziness) be the inspiration and muse for us all.

Where would I fall in this grand scheme induced by sleeplessness at 3am? I am not sure – my head is usually all over the place and besides I am very lazy. Perhaps, I might find my niche somewhere – hopefully soon.

With that said, here is my first concrete contribution to this site.