100% Human

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Hello. My name is Hakizimana. Haki in short, for all those who find my full name to be a tongue twister. I’m Rwandan by birth, but also a naturalized South African. I arrived in South Africa way back in 1996, two years after the genocide in my country that claimed the lives of just under a million people, mostly of the Tutsi ethnic grouping. I consider myself neither a Hutu nor a Tutsi. My mother is a Tutsi and father Hutu, but they also had mixed parentage, so yes, I’m just Rwandan, and South African.

I arrived in South Africa during what my friend Thabo, a South African, calls their ‘honeymoon’ period. Those were the heady days when the father of the Nation, Nelson Mandela, was president. Their rugby team had just won the World Cup, and their soccer team were the Champs of Africa. The economy was going through a boom. It felt good to be South African, Thabo tells me. Life was good. The world hailed the political miracle that was a world-first.

But as with all honeymoons, real life came calling. There were murmurs of discontent. For the first time in my three years in this beautiful country I heard references to tribalism. There were questions about why the two top positions in the country were occupied by Xhosas, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. You see, as far as I, Haki, was concerned, South Africa was more than a miracle. Here’s why.

Thabo had told me about how the system of apartheid had been designed to create artificial barriers between between tribal groups in the country. The government had gone as far as creating ethnic homelands for the various groups of black people. So you had a homeland for Xhosas, Zulus, Pedis, Tswanas, Tsongas etc. They even set up ‘governments’ for the various groups. But somehow, the wonderful people of this country overcame these artificial divisions, putting to shame those who had dreamt up such a system.

In my country of Birth, Rwanda, the Belgian colonialists had succeeded in putting a real wedge between the Hutus and Tutsis. By setting up Tutsis as better than Hutus way back in the 1916 Identity system, they had sown the seeds of the genocide. By the time the genocide happened in 1994, the Hutus were convinced that Tutsis were lesser people, cockroaches, and what good is a cockroach for except to be killed. Shivers run down my spine when I recall the blood churning acts I had to do to stay alive, simply because some foreign government had decided it was to their advantage to exploit the physical differences between our people to plant such hatred.

So it was with this in mind when I got alarmed at people suggesting tribalism in any form in my adopted country. See, I have learned that it can take up to a million lives to get to a point where people see each other for what they are, one million lives! Thabo says he watched Hotel Rwanda and found it interesting but had no idea that at the base of the war depicted by the movie was a lie planted way before in the 1920s, that Tutsi’s were better than Hutus.

Thabo and I work for the same company. Last week Thabo came to work driving a new car sporting a “100% Pedi” sign on the rear window. I congratulated him on the new car but was concerned about that sign. Lately, I’ve seen plenty of these on the road, 100% Zulu, 100%Venda and so on. All good and well, but I remember that in the days leading up to the genocide, there was an artificial pride that ran through the Hutu community in my country. A pride that suggested that yes it was good to be Rwandan, but even better to be Hutu. On the downside it was a curse to be a Tutsi amongst these 100% Hutus. I only hope that in their mistaken show of pride in their tribal or ethnic identities South Africans are not now posthumously paying homage to the architects of apartheid. After all, it took a couple of decades for the seed of hatred planted by the Belgian colonialists to bear horrible fruits in my country of birth.

Thabo says when our current president, President Jacob Zuma, was facing some charges in court some of his supporters showed their support through “100% Zuma” T-shirts which soon morphed into “100% Zulu T-shirts”. Why this is necessary no one has an idea. I remember that time quite well. Murmurs of tribalism could be heard, but mostly in hushed tones.

Enter Marius from accounts upstairs. Marius lives in a place called Kameeldrift just outside Pretoria. Their community is one they say is based on the Afrikaner culture and they would like to keep it exclusively Afrikaner, because they prefer to live amongst themselves. Much like they did in the old days, only then they had camped off everybody else into their own homelands and took 87% of the land for themselves. Now they only want a small community based on their Afrikaner values, no blacks, no Indians, no Portuguese etc. in other words, 100% Afrikaner.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If the 100% Zulus and 100%Tswanas and the 100% everybody else started demanding their own little enclaves, all of a sudden Thabo’s innocuous little sign takes on another meaning. I’m Rwandan by birth so I should probably be last person to stick my nose in anybody’s business because I’m not a 100% anything.

Recently a new political formation has hit our shores. It’s primary focus is to woo people by promising to ‘reclaim’ the land of their forefathers without compensation from the white population who didn’t ‘bring any land’ with them from Europe.

Now, I, Haki, from Rwanda have noticed that this pride, this 100% this and 100% that has started thriving only now that economic conditions are tough. Add Marius and his Afrikaner homeland, Thabo and his 100% Pedis to the mix as well as those wanting to ‘reclaim’ the land to the mix, you have a potentially explosive situation. And the architects of that vile system will celebrate from hell, like the colonialists must have celebrated the Rwandan Genocide. Their seeds would have shown signs of germination.

But I was encouraged by Thabo this week. His new car is no longer sporting that 100% Pedi sign. He says he watched the movie Hotel Rwanda again and this time got the message. No one person is inherently better than another. To believe otherwise is stupid, and could lead to genocides.

I rejoiced inside because that spared me the unpleasantness of having to recount to Thabo and Marius the harrowing details of people I had to hack to death to get to be part of the South African miracle. By the way, my name Hakizimana, means God protects. I want to play my role in “protecticting” South Africa’s people from the horrors of tribal strife. I hope my story gets to show someone that misplaced pride and tribalism should have no place in our country. I hope you are not such a 100% South African so as to be unsettled by me calling South Africa ‘my country’. I would rather we all became 100% human, like we are.

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17 responses

  1. I am amazed Sydney. This is an eye-opener and heart-wrenching at the same time. Thanks a lot for sharing this one.

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  2. Wonderful Post! You know, there is a saying, what one generation bleeds to build…the third generation will tear down (paraphrasing here…I don’t remember the exact quote/saying) – I always found truth in the saying. I hope your words serve to provoke the kind of thought that will prove the saying false. Will do all I can to share this story far and wide. Be well…. keep your words flowing. Your words matter!

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    1. Thank you for reading Leni. Your saying rings so true. Usually, the current generation has no idea of the kind of seeds they are planting, only to have the coming generations reap the violence.

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      1. Stories like yours matter. I learned more about humanity _ my own and that of others_ from my Mother’s tales of her youth in war-torn Yugoslavia, and her tales of her Uncles and her Grandfather and their struggles under the pre WW1 and WW1 Austrian regimes…than I did from school textbooks. The oral tales were alive and real, while the textbooks and teachers were dry and statistical. (The humanist tone was missing.)

        I even remember that as a small child I came across an old issue of National Geographic and how horrified I was at the pictures and story of the then normative and accepted Apartheid. The horror and sorrow has never left me. Nor has the image of the helplessness I saw in my Mother’s eyes when I showed her the magazine left me. it was then that my need to advocate for all that is good in humanity was born. I had barely entered early elementary school.

        Strangely, I STILL have trouble believing… REALLY believing that apartheid is gone. I still remain hyper-vigilant and on guard. Perhaps because I know it is possible and I fear the inhumanity humanity is capable of inflecting on one another. i am not even sure that I want to become complacent and sleep peacefully believing it is all in the past… yesteryear’s bad dream. I doubt those National Geographic images… and the helplessness a young child cannot help but feel… will ever leave me.

        It is wise to remember that power thrives on conquering and controlling by sowing seeds of discontent and divisiveness in the masses they seek to control and profit from. It is only by sowing seeds of compassion, understanding and equal fellowship with our neighbors that sanity and peace can diffuse the destructive cycle that powers Power. It is the only way that peace and equality can flourish.

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      2. Wow Leni, I wish I had access to your parents and grandparents, it would have certainly brought history lessons to life for me. I believe all human beings are born with a sense of justice, and the world teaches us out of it. I truly believe that it’s the actions of people like you, who never allowed their sense of justice to be suppressed that apartheid is now history. You are right, seeds of compassion planted by caring human beings will definitely lead to a better world.

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      3. I agree with your statement “I believe all human beings are born with a sense of justice, and the world teaches us out of it” – It is a fundamental truth I think. It is very important that as authors, mentors, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, we remain ever-vigilant and work to counter-balance the ‘teaching out’ by encouraging others to see into the hearts of others… and not be distracted my outward appearance or environments. It does not hurt to remind our youth… and our more mature and worldly adults… that our leaders and ‘experts’ are only as human as we are ourselves. We must make our own peace with our humanity and foster that which is good in each of us. We are all unique… there are no stereotypes… and there are no races. Only people.

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  3. Well said…..these stickers have always left a great amount of discomfort with me & to date have not had the courage to say anything about them,even to folks I know.
    keep writing more eye opening pieces,I’m proud of you.God Bless

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    1. My man, thank you for reading and I pray that I’ll always find the wisdom to pronounce on what I consider helpful to us as people. I’m eternally grateful for the encouragement.

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  4. Thank you for writing this, Sydney. You are a teacher to us all. The scariest thing is when the feeling of being different is taken to extremes and people begin to think that the ‘others’ are somehow less ‘human’ than themselves.

    On a lighter note,I remember back in Germany, when I was a child, people saying ‘jokingly’ that because we were Bavarians, we were ‘better’ than the Northerners. People from the north were equally convinced that we were all rough, countrified idiots who drank too much beer. When some relatives came to visit from northern Germany with their kids, we tormented them mercilessly by speaking about them in such a heavy accent that they couldn’t understand us. Now, from a distance, I can see how silly all these divisions are.

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    1. Heidi, in connection to my comments above about my childhood you brought another memory to mind… one that I am not proud of. I came home from school one day after a particularly engaging history class at school about WW2. I was incensed over the horrors of genocide. I was about 10 years old at the time.

      I came racing into the house and immediately launched into a full scale rant while my Mother was having tea with her best friend, my favorite adopted ‘Aunt’ Bertha. I went on and on about the horrors… and interjected the bias I had taken in from the history lesson content. I loudly and forcefully denigrated the German PEOPLE as whole for the atrocities. My beloved Aunt Bertha was German. She was a war bride who had married a Canadian and emigrated to Canada. She never let on for a moment that this was a sensitive topic for her… she was very much aware that I had no real concept of ‘nationality’ ,,, she was just my Aunt Bertha and her son John was my best friend. I really had no clue about her nationality…

      After she left, my Mother sat me down and explained the difference between politics and people… and that one could never – ever make judgements about people because of where they were born. That ‘they’ thinking was a very bad way of thinking or speaking. She explained that my Aunt Bertha was German and had lost her entire family and her home during the war. I was beyond devastated over having hurt my beloved gentle Aunt Bertha….

      I think that was the day I learned to ‘think critically’ and not trust everything that I read or heard. I have never gotten over the shame of my behavior that day.

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      1. I’m certain your Aunt forgave you in time. Words being words, they must have stung when you uttered them, but I’m certain in her own good time she realized you were just a passionate ten-year old. I’m quite impressed you learned that early about the offense that “they” kind of thinking causes. It’s just as wrong as the “you people” kind of thinking, of which we still get a lot here. We recently had a senior Tax commissioner of Asian descent advising his subordinates about the perils of mixing with the wrong kind of people and living the fast life. “You people seem to love the nice life of lavish cars and many women, avoid that if you want to make it in public life”. Only, all his subordinates were blacks of African descent. Although playing a guiding fatherly role to his protégés, “took” a lot of offense because it was obvious his thinking was warped. He was gracious enough to apologize and one could only hope it was a lesson well learnt.

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      2. Poor Leni. I’m sure she would not have judged you, you were only a child. She would have seen herself back in Germany how easy it is to manipulate people. When I first moved to Australia, I was bullied at school and called ‘Hitler’ by kids who had no doubt grown up on a diet of war movies where Germans were the nasties. That was in the late 70’s. My sister did ok, she spoke good English and was good at sports, dancing and all the stuff that makes it easy to fit in with the crowd as a teenager!

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      3. Heidi, My adopted Aunt Bertha both understood and forgave me before she ever left the house that day. She was a wonderful woman! She was always so unfailingly kind and generous with me that I couldn’t believe how I had inadvertently caused her pain.

        You see, I understood her pain. I was being raised in one culture (Italian) but required to interact in a completely different culture (North America). My early youth was not unlike yours I suspect. Being part of the ‘in’ crowd depended on where you lived, how you spoke, what your Mother served at your Birthday Party or provided for you in your school lunch! I had learned early to stand up for the underdogs in the schoolyard and I accepted that I was ‘different’.

        Up until that day I still had ‘faith’ in authority figures – teachers, spiritual leaders, adults in general, and of course textbooks and encyclopedias. That unconditional faith and trust was not a good think was a shocking lesson… Learning that lesson served me well in the end. Nevertheless, it was hard to accept that I would always have to look for the ‘hidden story’… or the ‘hidden truth’.

        Now I feel somewhat sorry for those who never learned those same lessons because they were part of the ‘in crowd’ or lived a more ‘entitled’ lifestyle. At the same time, I know the world would be a better place if all of us learned the value of critical thinking in our early youth.

        You know… a half-century later it STILL makes me angry that children learned the type of bias that left them feeling ‘right’ about tormenting you. It is just wrong. I wish I had been your schoolmate! 🙂

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    2. Heidi, as ever, thank you for reading. I can relate to your playing games with those who took you for bumbling beer-drinking idiots. We have a lot of West Africans in our country, particularly from Nigeria and Ghana. I have been told more than once that my features would allow me to fit into West Africa without raising any suspicions. Now, the locals also mistake me for a Nigerian or Ghanaian. Whenever a local makes that mistake I happily play along, pretending not to understand any of the local languages, reverting to English at all times. It’s fun until they say something nasty about Nigerians or Ghanaians and I’m forced to defend “my people”. This I do in a local language, much to the embarrassment or shock of whoever I’m talking to. I hope blog about this at some point in the future.

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      1. That can be quite funny. I’ve listened to German tourists whingeing and making derogatory comments a few times without letting on that I could understand what they were saying. Now that my daughter’s Chinese is getting more fluent, it will be interesting to hear her stories when she comes back from her trip to China (she’s going for a month in November) because they will not expect her to be able to speak the language…

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  5. Reblogged this on All Things Moocable and commented:
    I have been too busy to focus on this particular Blog recently. I have been busy fostering the networks and relationships that MOOCs have introduced into my life.
    Rather than focusing on what MOOCs are and who is or isn’t supporting them, I have been living within the MOOC communities and exploring the artifacts participants have been generating and sharing online as a direct result of their immersion into the MOOC culture. People the world over are exploring what matters to them and many are using there new-found knowledge and skills to make the world a better place.
    I would like to share a sample of one type of MOOC inspired artifact. A Blog devoted to making the world a better place… one article…. and one reader… at a time.

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    1. Leni, AWESOME prelude to this article. How nice of you to promote it and the MOOC way of living. Thank you for doing all that you do to make the world a better place.

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