SOMEWHERE in Darfur, the Sudan, or in a small village or town in another part of that country, there is a man, a woman, a child, a family, or a whole community still living in fear, anger, or both.
They also live in disappointment and possible despair. They live with this fear, anger, disappointment or despair because the world, Africa, and certainly South Africa, let them down dismally since 2003.
They failed them by doing very little, if anything, to rid them of an African despot whose army and militias were out to rape, slaughter and chase them away from the villages and the homes they had occupied for many years prior to the onset of the armed conflict, dubbed ‘genocide’ in some reports.
Houses and whole villages were thus burned down to ashes and brutally emptied of their inhabitants.
Unlike us here in South Africa, the Sudanese victims of state violence and other forms of human rights abuses do not enjoy the freedom of expression, assembly and access to free media that many have come to take for granted in South Africa.
They cannot look the powers that be in the eye and speak truth to them. And they cannot call in to radio stations to complain about the politicians in their country, write letters to newspapers editors or complain on social media platforms about them.
The term “push-back against political encroachment” doesn’t exist in their precarious existence. And don’t mention the words “picketing” and “toyi-toying” to them; they will stare back at you as if there were visibly loose screws in your brain.
Elsewhere on the continent including, I imagine, in the Sudan, and other parts of the world, many were taken by surprise when South Africa chose to abstain from an important United Nations resolution in 2016 aimed at protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities wherever they live under constant threat around the world.
People were taken aback because South Africa has already enshrined the protection of the fundamental rights of such threatened communities in its Constitution and Bill of Rights.
It didn’t make sense, therefore, to claim to and boast about protecting LGBT human rights at home but shy away from doing so in other parts of the world.
We have to remember, too – despite pockets of violent homophobia driven largely by archaic traditional norms and practices in parts of South Africa – that this country is already home to thousands of refugees from gender identity persecutions from several parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world.
African solidarity above all
When, in a subsequent media interview, South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation was asked to explain the rationale for the country’s abstention, she reportedly told the media that it was all done in the name of African solidarity.
South Africa would not want to be seen to be walking too far ahead of its peers on the continent.
Put in layman’s terms, South Africa understood and sympathised with the persistent levels of homophobia permeating much of the continent, especially the largely obstinate gerontocratic political classes that continue to control the continent’s reputational fortunes.
The land of Nelson Mandela and the most progressive Constitution in the whole world would therefore not be seen trying to lead where others were too old-fashioned to tread for fear, it seems, of embarrassing the elders.
This stance by South Africa was a betrayal of its own republican values and of the many South Africans at home and in the diaspora whose national pride is fed, in part, by their country’s investment in such progressive values.
It’s because we can neither hear the cries nor see the pain of the victims of gross human rights abuses in the Sudan and elsewhere in Africa that we have opted to defend in the name of African brotherhood the only people we can see and hear, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and other despots like him.
We have lost our way.
Back at home the vision we all – at least by default – signed up to at the dawn of our democracy, one that would ensure that we progressively distance ourselves from racial laagers of the past and forge a country that would be a home for all, has also been betrayed.
This has happened thanks to the combination of bad, unethical, corrupt, selfish and greedy leadership and an education system that failed to place sufficient emphasis on the journey we were all embarked upon.
Too many whites still fail to appreciate the lasting effects and pain of apartheid. Too many blacks still find it easier to blame all whites for their apparent slow socio-economic progress, or lack thereof – even where responsibility clearly lies in the hands of black leaders they have embraced – than to call black leaders to account for their iniquities.
Can Mandela’s SA ever really come back?
While addressing commonwealth leaders gathered in London from across the world last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa gleefully told them that the South Africa that Nelson Mandela built, one that they used to look up to and be proud of, is back.
I smiled when I listened to him. But that begs the question: what, exactly, did he mean by that?
Did he simply mean that the toxic, corruption-infested, Zuma-led South Africa was a thing of the past and that those who had begun to shun the country as an investment destination could start reconsidering their stance now that he was in charge, or did he mean more?
Assuming he meant a lot more than that, perhaps the president would do well to repeat the same messages to us, here at home, and spell out exactly what he meant.
Would he mean, for instance, that it’s time to bury the racial hatchet, irrespective of the direction it comes from, renew our national marriage vows – already enshrined in our Constitution and Bills of Rights – and hold hands across all historic divides and restart the journey to build a united South Africa for all?
What would it take for this to become reality?
A small, yet significant, platform to kickstart crucial conversations will be opened by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng next week in Cape Town, in the form of the South Africa Brand Summit at which local and international delegates will discuss ways to strengthen South Africa’s country brand positioning to help it regain lost reputational appeal and strengthen chances of a sustainable economic recovery.