In the week that Oscar Pistorius has dominated all forms of media, one is tempted to go against the grain and write about life, you know, the other thing that’s happening outside the High Court in Pretoria. Just in case I come across as insensitive let me declare right now that I have given my views about Reeva Steenkamp’s tragic death, and those have not changed in the period leading up to “the biggest trial since OJ Simpson’s trial”. Those views are not dependent on whether the Blade Runner is found innocent or guilty at the end of his trial.
Right then, moving right along. Have you ever felt like there is a bigger struggle going on out there and for some reason you are only on the periphery, looking in, a little bemused at times but keeping a not-so-interested-but-interested eye on things? Ok, so it never happens to you? It happens to me all the time.
I think I’ve declared on this blog that I’m a Christian. Only I’m one of of those Christians who really get bothered when people want to justify their bigotry through their beliefs. So when Uganda played the ultra-Christian card and made homosexuality punishable by death I got that feeling that I was telling you about. The whole world was condemning their move but it felt as though I’m standing outside looking in, powerless to shout “No! Jesus never commissioned us to murder others!”.
If he had, then I would find it very hard to leave out the thieves and the murderers and the gossips and those that steal from the poor(Mugabe and Museveni included). In fact, we would have a hanging orgy. But then again, like I said, I feel like an outsider looking in, powerless to stop the insults aimed at the objects of this sexually-holier-than-thou crusade.
This feeling is not entirely different from the one I get when I’m told that big multinationals in the oil space are busy pestering the South African government for the rights to prospect for shale gas in the Karoo, which could just be the key to the solution of our unemployment problem. I feel powerless because it was multinationals that mined the gold out of our abundantly rich gold mines and left our young government with an acid mine drainage problem so big that it threatens all our water resources.
These multinationals have to be begged and threatened to resolve an environmental problem which is entirely of their own making. I know, I know, you think the oil companies are not the same with the mining companies. Well,pull the other one! A multinational is a multinational. They come in, extract the most profits they can whilst they can and leave when they can’t maximize profits anymore. Our beautiful Karoo is under threat. That helpless feeling in me multiplies when I think of the lengths to which these companies will go to gain their rights to plunder our resources and leave us feeling used. It’s a fracking problem if you ask me.
This was the same feeling I got when His Holiness The Dalai Lama was refused entry into South Africa a few years ago. One of the most wonderful lessons Mandela taught us was that we should never let anyone tell us who our friends must be. He famously refused to cancel a meeting with Gaddafi on his release from prison, and refused to shun Fidel Castro when the West demanded, famously quipping: ” when the West were labeling us terrorists, these are the only people who called us friends, the West cannot choose our friends for us”.
I was left feeling like an outsider looking in when our government let China dictate whether The Dalai Lama could be our friend or not. The West can’t choose our friends for us but the East can? The feeling was almost sickening because this was a principle we had fought hard for. “You can do business with us but our souls are not for sale”.
Now there are murmurs that basic Mandarin could be introduced into our primary school education system, what gives? Are we allowing the Chinese to be the New West in exchange for what, a few jobs? Imperialism is imperialism wherever it comes from.
This feeling, the one of a powerless outsider looking in also threatens to overcome me when the powers that be pass very suspicious legislation on our behalf in the name of protecting state information. The Protection of State Information Bill that seeks to deny even journalists the right to protection when they publish information in the public interest got very little resistance from Joe Public.
Internationally Wikileaks and Edward Snowden had set the stage for us to vigorously defend the right of citizens to open democracy, but locally some in our midst defended the right of the state to do things in secret in the name of protecting the State. It wasn’t so long ago that government set up hit squads, police torture farms and other clandestine operations under the guise of protecting state information. The zeal with which the newly formed ‘security cluster’ has gone about defending indefensible acts by Number 1 leaves no doubt in my mind that given a chance, ‘state information’ would be protected by any means necessary, jail and torture if they deemed it fit.
I’m left feeling like an outsider looking in when thousands of people across the globe are waging struggles against environmentally harmful practices and all we can do is host the odd conference on global warming but carry on with life as usual. And then we wonder why Africa’s voice is still largely ignored. Fighting for our right to be heard on the international stage means fighting to stay prominent on all issues affecting our world.
That despondency feeling grows a little worse when I hear a head of state heap insults on a western leader in the name of Pan Africanism. Remember when Tony Blair was told to keep his Britain and “I’ll keep my Zimbabwe”? A lot of “Pan Africanists” applauded his statements. With Pan Africanism having morphed to mean anything that’s anti-West even demagogues who plunder their countries and cling onto power are now regarded as Pan African heroes.
I too detested Blair, the “creator” of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But for a head of sovereign state to engage in public insults makes me feel despondent about the kind of leadership he exercises over his own country. The very same Pan African leader waits for France and the rest of the West to take action over strife in an African country, the Central African Republic.
A lot of things happen in the world when one is busy trying not to notice, one only needs to choose what to get worked up by.