Memory: A force of resistance

via Memory: A force of resistance – NewsDay Zimbabwe March 2, 2016

In this country we think in terms of confrontation, of “them” and “us”. The concept of an all-embracing citizenship which leaves no-one out has always been very weak, if not non-existent. The year 1980 should have wiped out this dividing line and the discrimination that went with it.

Rhodesia was considered to be “a white man’s country”, the majority being relegated to the “tribal trust lands” and “townships”. This was deeply resented, and led to war.

The freedom fighters, being in a war situation, also could not help thinking in terms of “friends” and “foes”. Despite those famous words, “If yesterday I fought you as an enemy, today you have become my friend and ally with the same national interests, loyalty, rights and duties as myself. …..”, the revolution which they called for did not take place.

Discrimination between “them” and “us”, between those who belong and those who don’t, those who enjoy privileges and those who sit in the shadows as in the past, persisted.

If you did not belong to the party and had the right card to prove it , you might just as well not exist at all. You were excluded, a nobody in no-man’s land.
Though born in the country, you could and can be deprived of your citizenship which is not all-inclusive (never mind the Constitution), but reserved to “us”.

If you are excluded for political or ethnic reasons, you might even be deprived of this most fundamental right listed in our Constitution: the right to life. If you belong to “them” and threaten “us” who do not just have government under control, but simply are the State, there is no place for you. You will be wiped out in a “mad moment” — like a Rwandan cockroach — and thrown into a deep well, or a disused mineshaft, annihilated, removed from the face of the earth.

If you don’t belong, are without that little “book of life”, the party card, you are not included among those worth to be saved from famine. What a precarious position to be in as we have another drought in this “house of hunger”! Donors hesitate to give emergency food, lest it be “politicised” and withheld from those “lesser human beings”.

Now party people are mutually excluding, banning, suspending, criminalising, indeed dehumanising each other.

Through incessant hate speech, they draw ever new dividing lines, reducing one’s rivals’ living space to less and less, until they have been choked altogether.

Grudges, resentment, hatred do not build relationships, do not connect, create communities or create a new society. Hatred threatens to take life, wipe the excluded out of existence, finally kills. Through hatred, we deny each other a future. Hate speech is like playing with hand grenades, or mixing sticks of dynamite with firewood. Violence will just blow up in your face, including verbal violence.

So why do we hate and kill? Do we want to push those who “do not belong” into permanent exile, simply deny them a place within humanity? Rented executioners who professionally “disappear” people think they can do that. I doubt it.

There is a subversive force resisting. It is called “memory”. “Gukurahundi” and other genocides in history are extremely well documented. You cannot make people vanish into oblivion.

There are always witnesses. There are poets who cannot forget, writers who compulsively write down names of victims and tell their stories. I knew a doctor who memorised the names of many hundreds of soldiers, his comrades, whom he had seen die, and eventually contacted their wives, to tell them: I saw your husband die, do not wait for him, he fought a war, but now he is at peace….

You cannot have peace and reconciliation without truth. The survivors of “Gukurahundi” have a right to that truth. Indeed, the dead, too, demand it, they want the truth to be known, and that the ones responsible bow before that truth and ask for mercy. God alone can grant that mercy and bring peace. No one else.

We need to remember. If we allow ourselves to forget, to wipe names and faces, words and actions from our memories, we collaborate with those hired killers who want us to do precisely that: forget! We must remember, so that those who were “disappeared” continue to be present among us, if only through our remembrance.
There is One who will never forget: “Can a woman forget her child? Even if these may forget, I will not forget you.” The God of justice does not want us to forget either.

People who can only remember fighting and beating one another, violence and terror — what a horrible legacy to cope with in later life! A boy who can only remember being beaten by his father who was daily assaulting his mother will be a violent adult. He will always want to settle disputes by crashing his fist into the face of his wife.

Combatants are never “ex”: Their immediate reflex will always be to knock down the opponent and render him helpless. If you remember the houses of your neighbours you made to go up in flames in wartime, you don’t mind driving a bulldozer right through family homes today. The crying women and their children leave you cold. The wars of your youth have left your heart without feeling.

You see how much healing still has to be done?

Let us give our children good memories. Let them remember their parents making it up embracing, or through a kiss. Let them remember anger ending in laughter, forgiveness shown by being hugged.

Only if they see their elders asking for forgiveness and receiving it, will they ever forgive themselves.

Will we ever see violent people break down and ask for forgiveness? Will a fighter ever confess that he meant to bring freedom and build a new country, but ended up spreading more terror and cutting deeper wounds than the old enemy?

What an example this would be for the young, opening up for them a future never dreamt of!

Only people who remember can tell us that they were wrong, misled, lost, that there must be another way, that of facing up to the horrible truth of the past will open up a way into an as yet unimagined future.