Today was not born at daybreak. It has been long in the making and even longer in the coming. Time, the mother of all things, is also the light that shines on yesterday’s lies, baking them into today’s truth. It is said that time heals all wounds – I say it covers all wounds, fades all memories. Sometimes, it makes fact of legend.
The people of Thokoza, Katlehong, Vosloorus didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that there will be war between their respective communities and people who lived in the hostels in those townships. These communities had until the fateful 80s lived side by side with the migrant labourers who lived in the hostels, albeit with a measure of mutual contempt. Reportedly all this was beef between Inkatha and SDUs (self-defence units). This was a long time coming. We could take a trip back to the days of Mfeqane and the nation building efforts of king Shaka and Moshoeshoe. But then you would lose interest. The short version is that there are different nations, delineated primarily by language, customs and cultural practices. The common ingredient to the nationhood seems to be the enduring contempt of the other, whoever they may be, as long as they are not of us. Whatever that means. Sol Plaatjie writes beautifully of the bloodletting in Mhudi – worth a read.
Batswana, apparently unmatched in their cowardice (according to amaZulu), would be heard shouting “ko matebeleng”, to the Ndebeles, whenever there is a twister blowing through the township. Mind you, Matebele is shorthand for all those that are of Nguni descent. Similarly, amaZulu would have some choice words for the Basotho and so on and so forth. Recently, the South Africans of a darker hue refer to similarly hued Africans as makwerekwere. We all know how that all progressed; from looting businesses to torching a man alive to gruesome public stabbing of another. Then of course an elderly gentleman refers to me, by extension to be fair, as a kaffir without batting an eyelid. He too would be called something unpleasant by another group and so it goes – a series of yesterdays building up to today. Here we are, unconsciously if not seemingly comfortably standing on a ledge – taunting an avalanche.
The thing about name-calling is the death that seems to follow. The death that is so long in the coming that the yesterday on which it rode to get here is blissfully forgotten. It is all taken to have been a sudden change of events, an inexplicable turn of relations where neighbour took arms against neighbour. A sudden madness that gripped ordinary folk who otherwise would not harm a fly? As sudden as the bloodletting that took place between the Thutsi and Hutu people perhaps?
This is an age-old science, it seems. A science as old as humanity maybe? It seems human beings simply can’t help themselves. We make less of the other and that way when the killing begins, it is not killing as it is extermination of something less than human. It is the enemy, the women, the homosexuals, the infidels, the albino, the blacks and so on and so forth. Even as we kill and denigrate and make less and all those things; sometimes in the name of a higher goal or out come – we covet. Somehow we believe that by killing off the other, we stand to attain some better position. The problem is, we can’t kill off the other. The children, even generations later, return to avenge their own. The long coming yesterday becomes a blood-drenched today – building up to a similarly blood-drenched tomorrow.
Perhaps it gets better or even stops, when we realise that as we US, we OTHER. Come to think of it, aren’t nations the cause of all wars like living is the cause of all dying?Letting me be, offensive as my being may be to you, is the ticket to you being, whatever that may be. Let’s try a different tomorrow, we’re too late for today.